With a third indictment of Donald Trump now seeming quite likely — this one involving his attempts to remain in power after losing the 2020 election — today’s newsletter will cover three big questions about the case.
One, what would be the specifics of such an indictment? Two, would an indictment include significant new evidence, or focus on information that’s already known? Three, what are the chances that Trump may one day face prison time?
1. The specifics
Yesterday, Trump said he received a letter confirming he was a target in the federal investigation into his attempts to stay in power after the 2020 election, including any role in inciting the Jan. 6 attacks. Such a letter is typically a sign of an imminent indictment, my colleague Charlie Savage wrote. Any charges will require months to work through the legal system.
On what grounds could Trump be charged? Several possibilities exist: his attempts to obstruct Congress’s Jan. 6, 2021, proceedings; possible fraud related to fund-raising; and efforts to recruit so-called fake electors from states he narrowly lost. (Hours after Trump revealed the letter, Michigan authorities charged 16 people in the fake elector scheme.)
We know only a little about where prosecutors are focusing, and that information comes from the letter to Trump. It cited statutes that could be applied in a prosecution, including a potential charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and a broad charge related to a violation of rights.
2. New information?
Without seeing the evidence, experts are unsure how strong the case against Trump is. In the classified documents inquiry, investigators uncovered new evidence, including photos of documents in a bathroom at Trump’s Florida home and Trump suggesting in a recording that he knew he wasn’t supposed to have the papers. So far, the public evidence around Trump’s attempts to cling to power is less explicit.
Consider Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 riots: He made suggestive comments, including earlier that day at a rally in Washington. But none of them were explicit orders for an attack, and he eventually encouraged his supporters who had breached the Capitol to disperse.
Trump “is often both all over the place and yet somewhat careful not to cross certain lines,” my colleague Maggie Haberman, who covers Trump, has said. “At his rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, he told people to go ‘peacefully and patriotically’ but also directed them to the Capitol with apocalyptic language about the election. Frequently, people around him understand the implications of words, even when he’s not being direct.”
(He also has tried to recast Jan. 6 in a more positive light, Maggie explained.)
If investigators do have evidence that more directly links Trump to any potential charges, we will find out in the coming days or weeks, if an indictment is filed and made public.
3. The prison possibility
In addition to this case, Trump already faces state charges in New York of falsifying business records to cover up potential sex scandals before the 2016 election as well as federal charges in the classified documents case. And Trump may face separate state charges in Georgia over his attempts to stay in power; a local prosecutor is expected to announce an indictment decision soon.
Any of these cases could lead to a conviction and prison time. Or Trump could beat the charges in court.
There is one other possibility that his advisers have raised: He could win the 2024 election, potentially making it too difficult to imprison him or allowing him to use the powers of the presidency to drop the federal investigations and charges.
“When he was indicted in the documents investigation, his advisers were blunt that in their view, he needs to win the election as a defense against possible jail time,” Maggie wrote yesterday. “That only increases with an indictment related to Jan. 6 at the federal level.”
The circumstances put Trump’s presidential campaign in a different light. He is not running, as politicians typically do, solely to push a policy agenda, establish his legacy or gain power. He is running for self-preservation, too.
The U.S. has never confronted this scenario. Experts are divided over whether and how Trump could act as president if he were sentenced to prison. No one knows for certain how America’s political and criminal justice systems would handle that outcome. As Jessica Levinson, an election law expert, told The Times, “I don’t think that the Framers ever thought we were going to be in this situation.”
More on Trump
A few Republican presidential candidates were more critical of Trump than they were in the face of his earlier legal problems. “We can’t keep dealing with this drama,” Nikki Haley said.
Other primary rivals stayed more muted. Ron DeSantis said Trump “should have come out more forcefully” against Jan. 6 rioters, but added, “I hope he doesn’t get charged.”
The judge overseeing the classified documents case expressed skepticism about prosecutors’ request for the trial to start as soon as December and about Trump’s desire to put it off until after the presidential election.
THE LATEST NEWS
Henry Kissinger, the 100-year-old former secretary of state, made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders.
Data briefly posted by one Chinese province suggested that it may have had as many Covid deaths this year as the government has admitted across the mainland during the entire pandemic.
A U.S. soldier facing assault charges in South Korea dashed into North Korea, which took him into custody.
An Australian man was rescued with his dog after three months lost at sea. He said he survived on raw tuna and rainwater.
War in Ukraine
Other Big Stories
The F.D.A.’s approval of over-the-counter birth control is a promising sign for other medical advances that could help offset state abortion bans, Dr. Daniel Grossman writes.
Housecleaning in the Russian military after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny will only worsen its campaign in Ukraine, Dara Massicot writes.
Here’s a column by Carlos Lozada on competing views of U.S.-China relations.
Party report: Zucchini and celebrities in Gwyneth Paltrow’s yard in the Hamptons.
Wherever I go, there you are: Young people use apps like Find My Friends to affectionately keep tabs on each other.
A language haven: Descendants of Holocaust survivors in Australia are trying to preserve Yiddish.
Lives Lived: Angelo Mozilo led Countrywide Financial as it grew into one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders and then crashed in the 2008 financial crisis. He died at 84.
Major stakes: Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler are among the golfers facing the most pressure this week at the British Open.
Another Northwestern lawsuit: A former Wildcats football player accused the former head coach Pat Fitzgerald of negligence in the school’s hazing scandal.
Voices of hip-hop: Fifty years after the birth of hip-hop, The Times asked 50 artists to recount their time in the genre — how they discovered rap, began their careers and carved out places in its history. Together, they form a family tree of hip-hip that connects old-school figures like DMC and Kool Moe Dee to modern stars like Ice Spice and Lil Baby.
More on culture
As a movie about a product, “Barbie” can push only so far — but has moments of something like enlightenment, Manohla Dargis writes. Read her review.
Country Music Television pulled a video for Jason Aldean’s song “Try That in a Small Town” that was filmed at the site of a lynching.
The police searched a Nevada home in connection with the unsolved 1996 murder of Tupac Shakur.