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How Trump's latest indictment fits into the bigger Jan. 6 investigation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Former President Trump was indicted today by a federal grand jury for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Special counsel Jack Smith gave a brief statement from the Justice Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACK SMITH: The attack on our nation's capital on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies - lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government, the nation's process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.

CHANG: The indictment charges Trump with four criminal counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach has been tracking the criminal cases stemming from the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and he joins us now. Hi, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so can you just explain how these newest charges against Trump fit in overall with the broader investigation of January 6?

DREISBACH: Let's just go through those charges first. As you mentioned, we've got the charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, which is to use fraud and deceit to obstruct the government - in this case, namely the administration of the presidential election. There's allegation of conspiracy against rights. That's the conspiracy to - or conspiracy against the right to vote and have your vote counted. There's conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, which is to say obstructing Congress on January 6 when they were certifying the Electoral College vote.

CHANG: Right.

DREISBACH: Now, so far, the charges brought in January 6 cases on the rioters have really focused on the riot itself - the violence against police, destruction of property, planning and execution of storming of the Capitol. And even in cases against members of the far-right extremist groups - the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys - the Justice Department obtained convictions for seditious conspiracy against the United States. Notably, I would say, of more than 300 Capitol riot defendants - or 300 Capitol riot defendants are facing the exact same charge as Trump, obstruction of an official proceeding.

CHANG: Interesting. OK, then how does the case against Trump on that similar charge compare with their cases?

DREISBACH: Well, this case against Trump, as alleged by the special counsel, is quite broad. It encompasses a period from Election Day 2020 all the way up to January 6. It alleges a conspiracy involving attorneys, political operatives, officials to spread lies about the election, submit false slates of electors, pressure election officials in states and pressure the vice president to ultimately keep Trump in power. It also alleges that Trump continued to try to exploit the violence on January 6, that he then tried to use that chaos as part of the plot. There are also, I should say, six unindicted co-conspirators mentioned in the indictment. They are attorneys, a political operative, Justice Department official. But a key element that both the cases against those 300-plus rioters I mentioned and Trump shares is this allegation of knowingly and corruptly trying to obstruct Congress.

CHANG: OK. And also, we heard Jack Smith above say that the alleged Trump conspiracy was, quote, "fueled by lies." What kind of evidence of those lies does this indictment talk about?

DREISBACH: It goes on for great lengths on that point, you know, with evidence that allies of Trump told him repeatedly there was no election fraud that would change the outcome of the election. Among those people were Pence, senior leaders of the Trump Justice Department, director of national intelligence, senior White House attorneys, senior staffers on the campaign, etc., etc., etc. And yet, Trump kept pushing these election lies. And the indictment even alleges that people around the president got frustrated with this. In one instance, a senior campaign adviser allegedly complained that the, quote, "elite strike force legal team" on the Trump team kept making claims they could not back up. The Trump adviser wrote in an email, quote, "it's tough to own any of this when it's all just conspiracy bleep beamed down from the mothership." At another point, according to the indictment, Trump was angry with Vice President Pence because Pence said he could not block Biden's Electoral College win. And Trump allegedly told the vice president, quote, "you're too honest."

CHANG: Huh. OK. Well, let me ask you this, Tom. A politician lying is not a crime on its own, or maybe, I don't know, we'd be seeing a lot more arrests. So tell us why it is important here.

DREISBACH: Well, in this case, it goes to intent. Getting a conviction on obstruction of an official proceeding provide - requires proving beyond a reasonable doubt a corrupt purpose. So the special counsel is seeking to prove that Trump knew he lost the election and then went on this wide-ranging and unlawful campaign to hold on to power anyway.

CHANG: That is NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach. Thank you so much, Tom.

DREISBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.