Federal prosecutors investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results have evidence to charge the former president with three felonies, including section 241 of the United States legal code that makes it illegal to conspire to violate civil rights, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
The potential charges detailed in a target letter sent to Trump by prosecutors from the office of special counsel Jack Smith, who also accused Trump of withholding classified documents last month, were the clearest sign of an imminent indictment.
Prosecutors appear to have evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States based on the target letter, two statutes released by the House select committee that examined the Capitol attack January 6 criminal referrals for the past year.
The target letter to Trump identified a third charge not previously considered, the sources said. That is section 241 of title 18 of the US codewhich makes it illegal to conspire to threaten or intimidate a person in the “free exercise” of any right or privilege under the “Constitution or laws of the United States”.
The statute, enacted to protect the civil rights of Black voters targeted by white supremacist groups after the US civil war, is unusual in that prosecutors typically use it in law enforcement misconduct and hate crime prosecutions, although its use has increased in recent years.
It’s unclear what the potential charges mean for Trump.
Prosecutors are examining various cases where Trump pressured his officials such as his former vice president Mike Pence, but Trump’s efforts to block the transfer of power could also be interpreted as a conspiracy to defraud voters in general.
The other two statutes, meanwhile, indicate that a central part of the case against Trump is focused on the so-called fake voter scheme and the former president’s attempts to use the fake slates in a conspiracy to stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election victory on January 6, 2021.
The target letter did not mention any positive conspiracy, incitement to rebellion or deprivation of rights under color of law – other areas where legal experts suggested Trump could be a legal risk.
A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the content of the target letter, although a senior adviser to Trump did not deny that section 241 was listed when reached late Tuesday night.
The New York Times also reported that the statute was included.
Trump, who is facing an unprecedented legal challenge as he leads the pack of candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, called the target letter “Horrible News” in a post on his Truth Social platform, where he first disclosed the development.
Last year, a House select committee that investigated the Capitol attack concluded that Trump committed multiple crimes in an attempt to reverse his 2020 victory over Joe Biden, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding.
The committee issued symbolic criminal referrals to the Justice Department, although the Justice Department has since stepped up its criminal investigation with the addition of new prosecutors in the spring of 2022 before being folded into the special counsel’s office.
House investigators also found that there was evidence that prosecutors had charged Trump with conspiracy to commit fraud and obstruction of an official proceeding. They also issued referrals for sedition, which were not listed in the target letter.
If prosecutors were to indict Trump in a federal investigation on January 6, the case could go to trial much faster than the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case – before the 2024 election – because pre-trial proceedings would not be delayed by rules governing national security matters.
Trump was accused last month of withholding national security materials and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them. Trump and his co-defendant, henchman Walt Nauta, who was charged with conspiring to obstruct the FBI and make false statements to it, have both pleaded not guilty.
The target letter to Trump comes weeks before Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis expects to charge Trump and his allies with their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the state of Georgia, the Guardian previously reported.