Trump’s Fourth Indictment: Five Ways Georgia Is Different

Donald Trump was indicted Monday on criminal charges for the fourth time, but the sprawling case involving his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia is different in several significant ways.

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump was indicted Monday on criminal charges for the fourth time, but the sprawling case involving his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia is different in several significant ways. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis secured a 41-count racketeering indictment Monday against Trump and 18 others, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, attorney John Eastman, and former senior Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark.

Willis, a Democrat elected in 2020, spent two-and-a-half years investigating how Trump and his allies pressured election officials in Georgia for two months to undo President Joe Biden narrow victory in the state. The indictment spells out how Trump and his conspirators made false statements to state lawmakers and election officials, created false documents to submit to the Electoral College, harassed election workers and breached election equipment in Georgia and elsewhere. 

Prosecutors began their investigation soon after news broke that Trump had called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, urging him to “find” 11,780 votes, or one more than he needed to prevail. 

The indictment was the fourth for the former president, following a case in New York state court over hush money payments to a porn star and two federal cases over the handling of classified documents and trying to obstruct the 2020 election. 

Here’s how the Georgia case is different than the others:

19 Defendants

The Fulton County grand jury returned a sprawling indictment that could create the kind of legal and logistical hurdles that Special Counsel John “Jack” Smith tried to avoid. Smith charged only Trump with conspiring to overturn the 2020 election before the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol. Smith separately charged Trump and two of his employees over classified documents.

“‘Less is more’ is the gold standard that Jack Smith used in the recent Jan. 6 indictment of just one defendant, Donald Trump,” said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor. “When you get 12 defendants with attorneys, they all have their own schedules and their calendars. It’s like herding cats.”

So many defendants and so much evidence would inevitably lead to delays, said Rossi, who predicted Trump wouldn’t go to trial in Atlanta until 2025. Trump is facing a March trial on the hush-money case and a May start date on the classified documents charges. Smith seeks a Jan. 2 trial on the federal election fraud charges. Willis said she’ll ask for a trial within six months. 

The defendants include David Shafer, former Georgia Republican Party chairman when 16 “alternate” electors met to certify Trump as the election winner; Giuliani, who testified to state legislators about election fraud claims that were later debunked; and Eastman, a law professor who advised Trump on strategies to overturn the election. All deny wrongdoing. 

Racketeering Charges

Willis brought charges under Georgia’s version of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization act, or RICO. It’s used to charge a group committing multiple crimes over a period of time through an unlawful enterprise, and it’s often associated with organized crime figures. The charge allows prosecutors to introduce more evidence than usual, and a conviction brings as many as 20 years in prison. 

Since her election, Willis has used RICO several times, including against Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug and more than two dozen others. That case has been crawling. Jury selection began in January, and a jury panel still hasn’t been seated.

“RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story,” Willis said last year in announcing charges against gang members. 

No Presidential Pardons

In the New York and Georgia cases, Trump wouldn’t have the option of pardoning himself if he were to win the 2024 election. In Georgia, only a state board can pardon defendants, and its power is limited, said Gwen Keyes Fleming, a former district attorney in nearby DeKalb County.

“Georgia is one of the few states in which the sitting governor cannot immediately pardon someone who is convicted of a crime,” said Fleming. “You have to wait until the sentence is completed and then wait an additional five years before you can apply.”

If Trump is convicted in either or both federal cases, and if he wins election to the White House in 2024, it’s theoretically possible he could pardon himself. No US president has been indicted, let alone convicted or tried to pardon himself. A self-pardon would likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court. 

Testimony From Victims

The indictment tells a gripping tale about the impact of election-fraud claims by Trump allies on ordinary people. State lawmakers heard testimony in December 2020 from Giuliani, who claimed to have “ample evidence” the election was stolen, 10,000 dead people voted, and election workers counted a suitcase of illegal ballots. He said two poll workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, passed USB drives as if they were “vials of heroin or cocaine.” The women were passing a ginger mint, investigators later determined in debunking the claims. 

Freeman, who is Black, received “hundreds of racist, threatening, horrible calls and messages,” she later testified. “When someone as powerful as the president of the United States eggs on a mob, that mob will come.” 

The indictment said several defendants falsely accused Freeman of committing election crimes. 

“Members of the enterprise traveled from out of state to harass Freeman, intimidate her, and solicit her to falsely confess to election crimes she did not commit,” according to the indictment. 

Freeman filed a defamation suit against Giuliani, who will concede making false statements about the women, court records show.

Cameras in the Courtroom 

Unlike the other cases, it’s likely that Trump’s trial in Atlanta would be televised under rules adopted in 2018 by the Supreme Court of Georgia, which seek to promote “increased public access to the courts and openness of judicial proceedings.” Criminal trials, including earlier proceedings in the Trump investigation, have been routinely televised. 

Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms, so those cases would not be televised.

(Updates with Fulton County indictments throughout.)

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