Why Donald Trump’s Indictment in Georgia Carries the Most Risk

5 minute read

All of the signs have been there for months. Back in February, the forewoman of a special grand jury hinted to all who would listen that her advisory panel had recommended criminal charges against “not a short list” of familiar names in connection to an effort to overturn the results of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. The prosecutor in May asked a county judge to keep the courthouse clear and prepared for any potential violence, just in case she moved ahead with a second grand jury seeking an indictment of those close to ex-President Donald Trump, or perhaps even the top guy himself. Work-from-home preparations were put in place in case bedlam broke out. On July 27, orange barricades encircled the Fulton County courthouse compound, seemingly telegraphing as clearly as possible that the former Leader of the Free World was about to face a judicial summons, even as he leads the pack of rivals for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2024.

And, as Monday’s work at the Fulton County courthouse ended well after the typical close of business, those convinced the ex-President deserves to face the consequences for his attempts to set aside his legitimate loss in Georgia back in 2020 found they were not alone. The majority of the 23 grand jurors agreed to send Trump’s case to trial, and it stands to have the latest history-making reverberations.

Put simply: Monday’s indictment of Trump includes 13 state charges of racketeering, seeking public officials to violate their oaths, conspiracies to to impersonate a public official, to commit forgery, to falsify writings and statements, and then filing false documents.

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Another 18 people will also face charges for their alleged roles to toss Georgia into Trump’s win column. And the 41-count indictment suggests there are 30 other unindicted co-conspirators. The 98-page filing was as expected as it was unprecedented. It takes Trump’s total criminal charges to date to 91. And, it may be the only one that Trump cannot escape with a self-pardon or payoff. Unlike the case facing him in New York, which is potentially costly but still a civil one about bogus business records, the Georgia one carries potential jail time. Unlike the civil slander verdict already found against Trump in the case of a columnist who alleged sexual assault, the question in Georgia can similarly not be resolved by checkbook. And, unlike the federal cases in Florida about alleged mishandling and misrepresenting classified documents and in D.C. over his alleged role in sparking the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the one in Georgia would not presumably go away should Trump return to the White House.

Oh, and there are tapes, which include Trump explicitly asking Georgia’s top elections officials to simply “find” enough votes for him to win.

In other words, the Georgia case may be the most durable, most threatening, and most important headache facing Trump because he can’t pay a fine or pardon himself. Georgia’s alleged crimes are beyond the scope of federal pardons, and they may set up a collision course over whether state laws can compel a President to face the music, even if he’s busy prosecuting wars, negotiating trade deals, or just trying to keep Americans’ national security safe. America has never faced a scenario of asking whether someone in the clink can also have the nuclear codes or have visiting hours limited by local wardens. This is no longer some academic exercise. Voters—especially GOP primary voters—would do well to just take a beat with that remote possibility.

In typical fashion, Trump blew off the news and unleashed a personal screed against prosecutors in Georgia and beyond—even before the indictments were unsealed in Fulton County. If history is any guide, Trump will have a bumper few days of fundraising. But there are signs of fatigue; Trump’s second indictment day proved less profitable than the first. And his rivals for the nomination are growing ever so slightly more bold. 

Trump’s critics will naturally find a way to brush aside these charges, too. They’ve been doing so for years at this point. The first New York Times/ Siena College poll of the 2024 cycle, released last month, indicates Republicans are entirely indifferent to the allegations against Trump regarding election tampering. Among GOP primary voters, 71% said the GOP should rally behind Trump as he faces investigations. And 71% also don’t think Trump has committed serious crimes.

All of which explains how this latest indictment—perhaps the most lethal to Trump’s legal fortunes—may yet again prove a net upside in his quest to win the GOP’s nomination for a third time. It’s as if the LOL, Nothing Matters faction of the Republican Party has colonized the GOP. Only it is no longer an inside joke but rather a stewing national security threat.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com