Donald Trump has been criminally charged for the third time in four months as he seeks to regain the presidency in 2024 – with the latest indictments relating to his attempts to overturn the previous election.
The charges announced on Tuesday are widely considered to be the most serious – with special counsel Jack Smith saying Trump’s lies “fuelled” the storming of the US Capitol building by his supporters in 2021.
Here we take a look at the possible penalties he might face, whether he will face trial, and the consequences for his presidential campaign.
The four charges against Trump have maximum sentences ranging from five to 20 years in prison.
The charges and possible penalties break down as follows…
Conspiracy to defraud the US
This charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.
It relates to the possible breaking of a law designed to prohibit efforts to obstruct or interfere with government functions by “deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest”.
The indictment alleges Trump used “dishonesty, fraud and deceit” to obstruct the counting and certifying of the 2020 election results.
Conspiracy against rights
This charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison if Trump is convicted.
Conspiracy against rights essentially accuses Trump of trying to rig the outcome of the 2020 election.
This post-Civil War era civil rights statute makes it a crime to conspire to interfere with rights that are guaranteed by the constitution.
In this case, it refers to the right to vote and have one’s vote counted.
Corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding
A conviction under this charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The official proceeding in relation to this charge refers to the joint session of Congress at which electoral votes were counted in order to certify Joe Biden as the official winner of the US election on 6 January 2021.
This was the same day Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, with the former president accused of inciting rioters in a speech before the disorder.
Prosecutors have used this law to charge more than 1,000 people involved in the riot – accusing them of obstructing the joint session of Congress to certify Mr Biden’s victory.
Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding
This is closely related to the previous charge and also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
When will Trump face trial?
Trump was ordered to make an initial appearance in a federal court in Washington on Thursday after the latest charges were announced.
Prosecutors will outline the charges against him and a judge will set his bail conditions.
He might enter a plea at that time, but much like his arraignment – a formal reading of his criminal charges – this could happen at a later date.
A judge will then set a schedule for pretrial motions and discovery, the months-long process when prosecutors hand over documents and other evidence to defence lawyers.
Trump’s attorneys will likely file a motion to dismiss in the coming months, but those are rarely granted in criminal cases.
Both sides are also likely to file motions seeking to shape what evidence and legal arguments will be permitted at trial.
It is unclear when his trial will take place, but it will likely be many months away.
A judge will set an initial trial date, but those are typically pushed back as both sides wrangle over legal issues and review evidence.
Trump could also appeal pretrial rulings by a judge, which would further slow down the case.
The former president is already scheduled to stand trial in March in the New York case stemming from hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign.
He is also due to stand trial in May in the federal case in Florida stemming from classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Mr Smith said prosecutors will seek “a speedy trial” in the latest case
Trump has signalled that his defence may rest, at least in part, on the idea that he truly believed the election was won illegally by Mr Biden.
However, prosecutors have amassed a significant amount of evidence showing that Trump was repeatedly told he had lost.
How will the latest charges affect Trump’s 2024 campaign?
Despite a dizzying and growing array of legal troubles, Trump has solidified his status as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, according to public opinion polls.
Trump has portrayed all of the prosecutions he is facing as being part of a politically-motivated witch hunt aimed at stopping him from returning to power.
The 77-year-old has shown an ability to survive legal troubles, political controversies and personal behaviour that might sink other politicians.
Despite the charges announced on Tuesday, most Republicans pivoted to attacks on the current president Mr Biden.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in Congress, said on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that the indictment was an attempt to “attack the frontrunner for the Republican nomination”.
Strategists said that while the indictments could help Trump solidify support within his base and win the Republican nomination, his ability to capitalise on them may be more limited in next year’s general election when he will have to win over more sceptical moderate Republicans and independents.
Could Trump face further charges?
Trump’s legal woes are continuing to grow.
In addition to the three indictments, Trump faces a fourth criminal investigation by a county prosecutor in Georgia into accusations he sought to undo his 2020 election loss in that state.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has indicated she plans to bring charges in that case within the next three weeks.
(Source: Sky News)