STORY: (What charges could Trump face for trying to overturn the 2020 election?)
A U.S. congressional committee is probing the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
It seeks to build a case that then-President Donald Trump behaved illegally
when he sought to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
(Liz Cheney, U.S. Republican Representative) "It has become clear that the efforts Donald Trump oversaw and engaged in were even more chilling and more threatening than we could have imagined."
But what charges might prosecutors bring against Trump and how might he defend himself?
Here are some ideas being floated now.
(Obstructing an official proceeding)
The committee detailed Trump's efforts to pressure his then-Vice President, Mike Pence,
to overturn his election defeat.
California Federal Judge David Carter said the president’s efforts likely violated a federal law making it illegal to "corruptly" obstruct any official proceeding, or attempt to do so.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top former White House aide testified
that Trump dismissed concerns some of his supporters at the January 6th rally were armed.
(Cassidy Hutchinson) “I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, you know, I don't effing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in, take the effing mags away.”
Hutchinson also said Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol to join supporters rioting.
(Cassidy Hutchinson) “The president said something to the effect of ‘I'm the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now’. To which Bobby responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing’. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel.”
Trump denied Hutchinson's account and called her story about him grabbing the steering wheel "fake" and "fraudulent."
The New York Times and NBC, citing sources in the Secret Service, said the head of Trump's security detail and the limousine driver were prepared to testify under oath that Trump never lunged for the steering wheel.
(Conspiracy to defraud the United States)
The committee says it’s likely that Trump and others conspired to defraud the United States,
which criminalizes any effort by two or more people to interfere with governmental functions "by deceit, craft or trickery."
The committee cited his attempts to convince state election officials, the public and members of Congress that the 2020 election was stolen,
even though several of his allies told him there was no evidence of fraud.
“You also noted that Mr. Rosen said to Mr. Trump, quote, DoJ can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election. How did the president respond to that sir?”
(SOUNDBITE)(English) FORMER ACTING DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, RICHARD DONOGHUE, SAYING: “He responded very quickly and said, essentially, that's not what I'm asking you to do. Well, what I'm just asking you to do is to say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
Prosecutors have already charged more than a dozen members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups who were at the January 6 riot with seditious conspiracy.
It’s a rarely used statute that makes it illegal to overthrow the U.S. government by force.
To prove seditious conspiracy, prosecutors would need to show Trump conspired with others to use force.
That’s according Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former federal prosecutor.
(Obstruction of justice)
At the end of Hutchinson's testimony, GOP Representative Liz Cheney revealed that some witnesses reported receiving veiled threats from Trump allies to do "the right thing."
The congresswoman later said during a broadcast interview
that the committee may make a criminal referral to the Justice Department on witness tampering.
Trump has repeatedly denied doing anything illegal in connection with the January 6 events.
The congressional committee cannot charge him with federal crimes.
That decision must be made by the Justice Department.
Experts say if the DOJ does decide to bring charges, prosecutors' main challenge will be proving that Trump acted with corrupt intent.
Trump could argue he sincerely believed that he won the election and that his efforts to pressure Pence and state election officials were not meant to obstruct Congress or defraud the United States, but to protect the election's integrity.