Donald Trump has been criminally charged to overturn the election. Prosecutors brought charges, including forgery and racketeering, and soliciting a public official to violate their oath of office, among other charges. Prosecutors charged 18 other people, including Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, and the lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman. The charges mark the second time Trump has been indicted in connection to his push to overturn the will of American voters after losing to Joe Biden in 2020.
Unlike the federal charges filed by Jack Smith, the special counsel for the justice department, the Fulton County case will proceed in state court. That means that Trump would have less capacity to interfere with the case if he is elected president next year, and he could not pardon himself. Trump is essentially accused of leading an organized crime racket in Georgia via the varied efforts of a web of people collectively to achieve the overturning of his election loss there.
In the indictment by the state of Georgia, the state wrote: “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. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity.”
The group, the state charges, “constituted a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities including, but not limited to, false statements and writings, impersonating a public ofﬁcer, forgery, ﬁling false documents, inﬂuencing witnesses, computer theft, computer trespass, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state, acts involving theft, and perjury”.
Trump waived his right to appear in court for a formal arraignment on the charges, pleading not guilty on 31 August.
What is this case about?
Donald Trump lost Georgia to Joe Biden in the November 2020 presidential election. After the election, Trump and his allies made an aggressive but unsuccessful push to invalidate the election results in Georgia as part of an effort to overturn his defeat nationally.
On 2 January 2021, Trump called Brad Raffensperger, the Republican who serves as Georgia’s top election official, and asked him to overturn the election. “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state,” Trump said to Raffensperger on the call. Raffensperger refused.
The call came as Trump and his allies, including Rudy Giuliani, were spreading outlandish lies about the election in Georgia in order to seed doubt about the results. Most notably, Giuliani and others amplified misleading surveillance video from State Farm Arena they claimed showed election workers taking ballots out from under a table and counting them after observers left for the evening. The claim was false – counting had not stopped for the evening when the ballots were tallied.
Just as he did in other swing states, Trump convened a slate of fake electors in Georgia. The group of 16 people met discreetly in the Georgia capitol in December 2020 and signed a certificate affirming Trump’s purported victory that was sent to the National Archives. Some involved in the scheme have said they merely believed they were preserving Trump’s options amid pending litigation. The alternate slate of electors, both in Georgia and elsewhere, would later become a linchpin of Trump’s effort to overturn the election.
One of those fake electors, Cathy Latham, also was involved in a separate incident in which Trump allies obtained unauthorized access to Dominion voting equipment. On 7 January 2021, Latham helped a firm hired by the Trump campaign get access to voting equipment in Coffee County, a rural county 200 miles south-east of Atlanta. The data was uploaded to a password-protected site, where other election deniers could download it as they sought to prove the baseless allegation that Dominion voting machines had been rigged and cost Trump the election.
Why is this case taking place in Fulton County?
Nearly all of the key events connected to Trump’s effort to overturn Georgia’s election results took place in Atlanta, the state capital, which is in Fulton County.
Raffensperger was in Atlanta when he received the phone call from Trump urging him to overturn the election results. Trump and Giuliani targeted election workers in Atlanta and the fake electors convened at the state capitol in the city in December 2020.
What is the Georgia Rico Act?
Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act essentially allows prosecutors to link together different crimes committed by different people and bring criminal charges against a larger criminal enterprise. The law requires prosecutors to show the existence of a criminal enterprise that has committed at least two underlying crimes.
Prosecutors have long used the federal Rico Act to go after the mafia. But Georgia’s version is even more expansive than the federal statute. It allows prosecutors in the state to bring racketeering charges if a defendant attempts or solicits a crime, even if they don’t bring charges for those crimes themselves.
How is this case different from other criminal cases pending against Trump?
This is the second case that has sought any kind of criminal accountability for Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. It is the fourth time the former president has been charged with a crime this year.
Earlier in August, Smith filed four federal charges against Trump for trying to overturn the election. Trump has pleaded not guilty to those charges, and Smith has moved to set a trial date for 2 January. If Trump were elected president while the case was still pending, he would almost certainly move to fire Smith and get rid of the charges. He could also theoretically pardon himself if he has been convicted. The Georgia case is different because Trump cannot interfere in it, even if he is president, and cannot issue a pardon.
In June, Smith charged Trump with illegally retaining national defense information under the Espionage Act and obstructing the government’s attempt to retrieve the documents. Trump pleaded not guilty.
In March, Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in Manhattan. Those charges are connected to a $130,000 payment he made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star, with whom he is alleged to have had an extramarital affair. Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney at the time, paid the money to Daniels through a shell company and Trump reimbursed him, cataloguing it as a legal expense. Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, said that amounted to falsifying business records. Trump has pleaded not guilty.
Can Trump still run for president?
Yes. The US Constitution does not prohibit anyone charged with a crime, nor anyone convicted of one, from holding office.
The 14th Amendment, however, does bar anyone who has taken an oath to protect the United States and engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding office. Relying on that provision, a slew of separate civil lawsuits in state courts are expected in the near future to try to bar Trump from holding office.
Who is Fani Willis, the prosecutor bringing the charges in Fulton County?
Willis, a Democrat, was elected Fulton County District Attorney in 2020. She is the first Black woman to hold the office.
She worked as the prosecutor in the Fulton County district attorney’s office from 2001 to 2018 and is no stranger to high-profile cases. In 2014, she led the prosecution against a dozen Atlanta educators who conspired to cheat on test scores in order to win funding. She is also prosecuting the rapper Young Thug as part of a broader indictment of the YSL gang. Willis relied on the Georgia Rico Act in both cases.
How did the charges come about?
In January of 2022, Willis requested that a Fulton County judge approve a special purpose grand jury to assist her investigation into Trump. A special purpose grand jury can issue subpoenas, hear testimony and ultimately issue a report recommending whether or not to charge someone. It cannot issue an indictment.
A regular grand jury was convened in late July and ultimately voted to file criminal charges against Trump.
Cast of characters
In addition to Trump, Fani Willis has filed charges of violating the Georgia Rico Act and a variety of other laws against 18 co-defendants:
- Mark Meadows, former chief of staff heavily involved in efforts to keep Trump in office;
- Rudy Giuliani, an attorney to Trump who played a key role in national efforts to overturn the 2020 election results;
- John Eastman, an attorney to Trump and key to efforts to overturn the 2020 election result;
- Kenneth Chesebro, a legal adviser to the 2020 election campaign involved in the Georgia fake electors scheme;
- Jeffrey Clark, former justice department lawyer who became involved in efforts to overturn the Georgia result;
- Sidney Powell, a lawyer for Trump heavily involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 result;
- Jenna Ellis, an election campaign lawyer;
- Ray Smith, a Georgia lawyer implicated in the fake electors scheme;
- Robert Cheeley, a Georgia lawyer implicated in efforts to falsely show election fraud;
- Michael Roman, a former aide in the Trump White House implicated in the fake electors scheme;
- David Shafer, former chairman of the Georgia Republican party who signed the fake official certificate to send to Congress declaring Trump won the state;
- Shawn Still, a senior Georgia Republican and state senator who also signed the fake certificate;
- Stephen Cliffgard Lee, a pastor accused of bullying election workers over fake fraud claims;
- Harrison William Prescott Floyd, director of Black Voices for Trump, accused of influencing witnesses;
- Trevian Kutti, a publicist accused of pressuring election workers;
- Cathy Latham, who as chair of Georgia’s Coffee County Republican party signed the false certificate claiming Trump won the state;
- Scott Hall, a bondsman accused with others of breaching voting machines in Georgia;
- Misty Hampton, was accused of involvement in breaching voting machines while serving as Coffee County elections director.