A grand jury in Georgia voted to indict Donald Trump on Monday, along with more than a dozen of his allies, for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, marking the fourth criminal case leveled against the former President this year and the second related to his efforts to stay in power.
Fani Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney, charged Trump with 13 counts, including violating state racketeering laws and soliciting a public official to violate his oath of office, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree, conspiring to file false documents, and making false statements.
"Trump and the other Defendants charged in this indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump," the indictment reads.
The sweeping charges in Georgia are almost certain to add to Trump’s already packed court schedule and increase his legal bills as he aims to win the GOP presidential nomination and reclaim the White House.
Special Counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump earlier this month on four federal charges, including knowingly spreading lies about election malfeasance, defrauding the U.S. government by orchestrating a scheme to present fake electors to the Electoral College, and engaging in a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, which culminated with his supporters violently storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Smith is separately prosecuting Trump for mishandling classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, in a case set to go to trial in May. At the same time, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is set to take Trump to trial in March on 34 counts of falsifying business records.
Several of Trump’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination have said they would pardon him if elected. Trump has also routinely claimed that a president can pardon himself. But the latest charges out of Georgia present a unique danger to Trump’s future freedom. Notably, no president could grant Trump clemency in the Georgia and New York cases, as presidential pardon power only applies to federal charges. In Georgia, only an independent state board enjoys pardon authority.
The Fulton Country indictment is focused on five main areas of legal impropriety, including the deliberate dissemination of election fraud falsehoods by Trump allies to manipulate the Georgia legislature; Trump’s efforts to intimidate state officials, including Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to overturn Biden’s victory; the breach of voting data in Georgia’s rural Coffee County; the targeted abuse and harassment of state election workers; and the orchestrated attempt to send alternate electors slates to Congress to undermine the will of the voters.
Willis didn’t stop with Trump. A number of his closest associates were also charged under Georgia’s anti-racketeering law for conspiring to nullify the election, including Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who was Trump’s personal attorney at the time; former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Cheseboro, both of whom devised a scheme to send alternate Trump electors to the Electoral College; and other lawyers in Trump’s orbit who pushed wild or legally dubious theories for how to reverse the election outcome, such as Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis. A handful of Georgia-based Trump attorneys and advisers were also included in the indictment.
All in all, the historic indictment brought a grand total of 41 charges against 19 people. They collectively face a gamut of different charges but are all being prosecuted under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, what are known in legal parlance as RICO Statues, which have typically been used to prosecute members of the mob.
In a statement Monday night, Trump’s campaign dismissed the new indictments as a partisan attempt to kneecap his 2024 campaign. “Ripping a page from Crooked Joe Biden’s playbook, Willis has strategically stalled her investigation to try and maximally interfere with the 2024 presidential race and damage the dominant Trump campaign,” it said. “All of these corrupt Democrat attempts will fail."
The campaign’s comments were less vituperative than Trump’s own attacks on Willis, who he has called a “racist” and “Phoney Fani” and has baselessly accused of having an affair with a gang member she once prosecuted, a claim that Willis has denied and has since been debunked.
Trump has strenuously fought to stop Willis’s case in its tracks. In July, he filed and lost a petition to the Georgia State Supreme Court to bar Willis from prosecuting him. The request, if granted, would have also forced the investigative special grand jury that met last year to toss out the final report.
The Georgia case will test just how far someone with outsized political power can influence the election process. Trump is being prosecuted under more than a dozen charges to use his weight as president to illegally change the vote tallies and send fake electors to Washington to alter the election result.
The Willis investigation into Trump dates back to early 2021, shortly after The Washington Post reported on a Jan. 2, 2021 phone call in which Trump asked Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to "find" 11,780 votes—one more than the number he lost by in the decisive swing state. Raffensperger refused. At that point, Georgia officials had already counted the votes three times, won multiple lawsuits over the outcome, and debunked extravagant fraud claims from Trump's team. At each turn, Biden’s victory was confirmed irrefutably. Trump has said he did nothing wrong, calling the phone was “perfect”
But while many legal analysts have characterized the leaked conversation as something of a smoking gun, Willis has presented a much broader case, as her investigators have examined an extensive and multi-faceted effort by Trump to exert political muscle and disseminate brazen lies to remain in office despite the will of the voters.
Trump’s allies, including Rudy Giuliani, harassed election workers and propagated patently false claims of a rigged election. On Dec. 14, 2020, the same day Biden’s electors were confirmed, a group of 16 fake electors met separately at the state capitol building to sign a false certificate stating that Trump had won the election.
A separate grand jury investigated the matter last year, and concluded that some witnesses may have lied under oath, recommending indictments in the case, according to its own report, portions of which a Georgia judge released earlier this year. The grand jury in that probe also unanimously found that “no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election that could result in overturning the election.”
Willis’s prosecution against Trump may not only increase his criminal vulnerability liability. It could also provide a road map for other jurisdictions to pursue election interference charges. Special Counsel Smith’s indictment alleges that Trump tried to influence the outcome in Georgia as well as six other states. “It certainly raises the question of whether or not there are going to be investigations in those states and potentially, if there are, if those investigations will lead to further indictments,” says Richard Serafini, a former federal prosecutor.
The more cases Trump faces, the harder it will be for him to maneuver his way out of the justice system’s grip. Some of his most famous tactics—from lying to intimidating potential foes—are more likely to yield far more severe consequences in a court of law than in the political arena. And with the Georgia charges, unlike the federal cases, he can’t hope to win the 2024 election and grant himself a pardon or appoint an attorney general who will squash the matter altogether. It’s why it may be the indictment that scares him the most.
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