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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally on July 29, in Erie, Pa.Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press

On Thursday afternoon, Donald Trump will walk into a Washington courthouse to be arraigned for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss – the third set of criminal charges to hit the former U.S. president in the last four months.

In a 45-page indictment, special counsel Jack Smith alleges that Mr. Trump knew his claims of election fraud were lies but relentlessly pushed them in a bid to illegally stay in office, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Mr. Trump is the overwhelming favourite for the Republican presidential nomination next year, making it likely he will be simultaneously defending himself against accusations of attempting a coup against the country’s democratic system at the same time as he campaigns to lead it.

Here is what to know.

What is Mr. Trump accused of doing?

The indictment details a wide-ranging plot by Mr. Trump to reverse election results in seven swing states he lost to Democratic candidate Joe Biden: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

First, Mr. Trump and his associates put pressure on Republican legislators and officials in these states to throw out Mr. Biden’s victory. Then, they assembled slates of fake electoral college members to vote for Mr. Trump. Next, they pushed then-vice-president Mike Pence and members of Congress to accept the fake electoral votes over real ones for Mr. Biden. They also tried to get the Department of Justice to cajole state governments into refusing to certify Mr. Biden’s victory.

When none of this worked, Mr. Trump summoned his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, and exhorted them to descend on the Capitol when Congress was meeting to certify Mr. Biden’s victory.

Most of the narrative about what Mr. Trump did was previously uncovered by a congressional committee investigation last year. But Mr. Smith’s indictment contains new details aimed at showing Mr. Trump did not believe his own claims that the Democrats had rigged the election.

When Mr. Pence refused to overturn the result, for instance, Mr. Trump told him that he was “too honest,” the indictment says. On another occasion, Mr. Trump privately admitted that one particularly outlandish allegation his campaign was making – that voting machines had manipulated the results for Mr. Biden – was “crazy.”

What specific charges does Mr. Trump face?

Mr. Trump is charged with four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.

The first charge accuses Mr. Trump of “using dishonesty, fraud and deceit” to thwart the U.S.’s election process. The second and third charges specifically relate to efforts to stop Congress from certifying the election result. The last one alleges that Mr. Trump attacked the right to vote by trying to invalidate millions of ballots for Mr. Biden; it is based in an 1870 law originally enacted to protect Black voting rights.

The obstruction charge, which comes from a 2002 law initially meant to stop people from thwarting judicial proceedings, has been used extensively to convict Jan. 6 rioters.

In Mr. Trump’s case, the facts – that he tried to get government officials and his supporters to reverse the election result – are largely not in dispute. Much of the court battle will instead turn on whether his actions met the legal definitions of these crimes.

The former president’s legal team has already floated one defence: that Mr. Trump’s exhortation to his base before the attack on Jan. 6 and his lobbying of officials over the previous weeks were “free speech and political advocacy” protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

What about the other indictments?

Mr. Trump is the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges. In March, he was indicted by New York State for falsifying business records related to a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. In June, Mr. Smith indicted Mr. Trump federally for taking classified documents out of the White House after he left office and obstructing government efforts to get them back.

On the civil front, Mr. Trump was found liable this spring for sexually abusing and defaming magazine writer E. Jean Carroll, and ordered to pay her US$5-million.

He is also the only president to be impeached twice: in 2021 over the Capitol riot and in 2019 for ransoming military aid to Ukraine in a bid to force Kyiv to help him tarnish Mr. Biden. In both cases, the Senate fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict him.

A grand jury in Atlanta, meanwhile, is expected to decide this month whether to bring state charges related to Mr. Trump’s efforts to have Georgia officials overturn Mr. Biden’s victory.

This week’s indictment describes the actions of six of Mr. Trump’s co-conspirators. They are not named, but the details allow five of them to be identified as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani; lawyers John Eastman, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro; and former justice department official Jeffrey Clark.

Mr. Smith has so far not sought charges against them but has said his investigation is not yet finished.

David Shribman: Trump indictment over 2020 election is shocking, but may come without political consequences

What does this mean for the 2024 presidential election?

There is nothing stopping Mr. Trump from running for or serving as president while under indictment or after a criminal conviction. He has not ruled out the possibility of trying to pardon himself if elected.

Mr. Smith has said he wants “speedy” trials, but it is very likely the proceedings will overlap at least partly with the election campaign.

In the documents case, Mr. Smith asked for the trial to start in December of this year, while Mr. Trump pushed for it to be delayed until after the election. Aileen Cannon, a federal judge in Florida appointed by Mr. Trump, split the difference and scheduled it for May of next year – after the Republican presidential nomination is likely to be decided but before the general election.

Washington-based judge Tanya Sue Chutkan, appointed by former president Barack Obama, will oversee Mr. Trump’s election case.

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