Atlanta prosecutor casts wide net with Trump indictment
The fourth indictment against the former president is the most ambitious yet
Former President Donald Trump has nine more days to surrender himself following his latest indictment, this time in Fulton County, Ga. He and 18 co-conspirators will be arraigned on 41 felony counts related to alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election.
Georgia law allows cameras in courtrooms as long as they do not disrupt proceedings—unlike in the federal and New York courts where Trump was previously arraigned. This court appearance could take place in full public view, further disrupting Trump’s presidential campaign.
This fourth criminal indictment against the former president, announced late Monday, is the most far-reaching to date. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis focused not only on the former president but also an array of White House aides, Trump’s legal counsel, and state-level leaders. The 98-page indictment is the result of nearly three years of investigation, two grand juries, and more than 75 witness interviews.
“Georgia, like every state, has laws that allow those who believe that results of an election are wrong … to challenge those results in our state courts,” Willis said at a late-night news conference on Monday. “The indictment alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result.”
Willis claims that Trump, 18 aides and allies, and 30 unindicted co-conspirators were part of a “criminal organization” intended to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and keep Trump in the Oval Office. In addition to 41 criminal counts, the indictment lists 161 “predicate acts” and “acts of racketeering activity” that Willis says amount to a criminal conspiracy. Other charges include filing false statements, conspiracy to commit election fraud, conspiracy to defraud the state, and soliciting an officer.
Who is Willis?
She has spent most of her 18-year career trying cases in Fulton County as an assistant district attorney. She ousted her longtime mentor in the Democratic primary in 2020. A month after she took office in 2021, Willis began investigating Trump’s communications with state officials. In 2022, she requested the authority to impanel a special grand jury to gather testimony from several witnesses who were not complying. The special grand jury had no indictment power but could compel testimony. They released a report that found no evidence of widespread voter fraud after interviewing 75 witnesses in February 2023.
Willis has a track record of applying racketeering charges to unorthodox cases. She secured racketeering convictions for a group of Atlanta public school teachers and administrators in a cheating case. Willis has said she likes filing racketeering charges when possible because they allow her to pull in more evidence to present a jury with a complete picture. Critics say that tendency makes her cases too large and take too long to bring to court.
The alleged enterprise
The indictment charges Trump and his co-defendants with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. It was originally created to prosecute mob bosses and organized crime rings. Georgia’s law is less specific than the federal RICO statute and can apply to any “enterprise.” A prosecutor must show evidence of enough acts, even if they are not illegal individually, to argue a pattern of criminal conspiracy or activity.
The indictment argues that Trump orchestrated several different schemes to overturn the 2020 election as part of a criminal conspiracy over which he was the head. One scheme included a call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021. In the recording, Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes to flip the result.
The racketeering charge incorporates more alleged plots, and not just in Georgia. The indictment outlines calls Trump made to other officials in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Willis cites several tweets Trump posted shortly after the 2020 presidential election that repeated unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud in the state. She argues those legal actions furthered the conspiracy.
“To say that a political adversary is engaged in and is engaging others in the knowing perpetuation of overtly criminal activity on a multistate level is just hard to wrap my brain around,” retired assistant U.S. attorney Thomas Swaim said. “Using the RICO statute in this way against someone like former President Trump is unprecedented.”
A racketeering charge is categorized as a “serious felony” in Georgia, carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Throughout the 2020 election season, Trump made statements critical of Dominion Voting Systems. After Election Day, he claimed that the electronic system rigged votes for Biden. Willis said he then targeted Georgia. The indictment accuses him of collaborating with former campaign attorney Sidney Powell to try to seize data and machines as part of a Justice Department investigation that didn’t exist. Powell is accused of coordinating with a forensic data firm to access a voting precinct in Coffee County, roughly 200 miles away from Atlanta. Security camera footage identified the county Republican Party chair letting the team inside on Jan. 7, 2021. The secretary of state described the act as “unauthorized access” of election equipment. He ordered a state bureau investigation, which is still pending. Though not in Willis’ jurisdiction, the RICO charges allow her to use the footage as part of her argument that Trump and the defendants were engaged in an illegal enterprise.
Each state assigns a group of electors to certify the Electoral College votes for a presidential candidate. On Dec. 14, the Democratic slate convened in the Georgia State Capitol to certify Joe Biden’s win and send the votes to Washington. But 16 Republican electors met in a conference room in the capitol and signed an alternative slate for Trump. According to independent journalists, the Republicans turned people away from the door and claimed it was an education meeting.
The Georgia indictment also digs deeper into a plot special counsel Jack Smith alluded to in his recent charges against Trump. Trump’s team allegedly asked Republican electors in seven states that Biden won, including Georgia, to cast votes for Trump anyway. In Willis’ indictment, Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney from Wisconsin, is accused of writing several memos outlining the plan. He also is accused of writing strategy memos to Trump aides instructing them not to tell the electors that this was illegal.
David Shafer, former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, is also listed as a defendant. He assembled the 16 electors and signed the slate. For this, Willis is charging him with impersonating a public officer and first-degree forgery. Shafer has testified that Trump’s team promised him the slate would only be used if a lawsuit determined election fraud had taken place. At least eight of the electors involved have agreed to immunity deals.
Georgia officials counted the presidential votes three times between November and December 2020. A late surge of absentee ballots with votes for Biden overtook Trump’s Election Day lead. As counting continued, Shafer posted that he saw election workers adding extra ballots to the stacks. In the following days, Trump insisted that votes from felons, unregistered voters, deceased citizens, and fake ballots caused him to lose the election. Although Raffensperger did find some counties incorrectly tabulated some votes or had scanning errors, the recount found the mistakes affected votes for Biden. The final tally left Biden more than 12,000 votes ahead of Trump.
On Dec. 7, 2020, Trump called then–Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and asked him to convene a special session of the legislature to address the fraud claims. Raffensperger, Kemp, and White House counsel all say they informed Trump they had investigated suspicious ballots and found no issues. Ralston testified before the special grand jury in July 2022 but passed away in November.
Trump directed attorney John Eastman to file several lawsuits in Georgia challenging the results. One, filed on New Year’s Eve, asked Kemp and Raffensperger to decertify the count. Each lawsuit claimed mass fraud, and Trump signed a court document attesting that his claims were true to the best of his knowledge. Willis’ and Smith’s indictments claim that staff from the White House, the Justice Department, and Trump’s campaign staff told Trump that his case was unfounded. Willis charged Trump, Eastman, and a Georgia-based attorney involved with filing false documents.
What happens next
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has been assigned to the case. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed him to the bench just six months ago. Willis filed court documents on Wednesday asking to schedule arraignment for September and to start a trial on March 4—the day before Super Tuesday. Trump’s team is expected to ask to hold the trial after the 2024 election. Willis said she plans to prosecute all 19 defendants as a group unless any plead guilty.
“Jack Smith’s indictment over a similar subject matter only indicted Donald Trump,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg told WORLD. “His indictment was built for speed. And by contrast, Fani Willis’ indictment, it’s like drinking from a firehose. It’s too expansive, and it’s going to be too complicated to get it done before the election.”
Trump announced Tuesday that he will release a report on election fraud in Georgia on Monday. He also accused Willis of political interference by waiting to bring charges until his reelection campaign was underway.
“The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen,” Kemp posted Tuesday on X, formerly known as Twitter. “For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward - under oath - and prove anything in a court of law. Our elections in Georgia are secure, accessible, and fair and will continue to be as long as I am governor.”
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