Former President Donald Trump orchestrated a sweeping criminal enterprise, committing more than a dozen felonies, as he tried and failed to overturn his defeat in Georgia’s 2020 election, according to an indictment handed up Monday by a Fulton County grand jury.
The indictment also lodged charges against 18 of Trump’s allies, who helped him spread false conspiracy theories and twist the arms of top state officials as he scrambled to cling to power.
The blockbuster 41-count, 97-page indictment said Trump and his co-defendants refused to accept the fact that Trump lost in Georgia. But “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.”
The criminal enterprise, the indictment alleged, “operated in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the state of Georgia, in other states including, but not limited to, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and in the District of Columbia.”
In the RICO charge alone, the indictment lists 161 separate acts — from phone calls and meetings to lying under oath to the grand jury itself — as part of the alleged conspiracy by Trump and his co-defendants.
The indictment makes clear that the identities of the unindicted co-conspirators are “known to the grand jury.” For example, one unindicted co-conspirator was Trump’s speechwriter who spoke with the former president about a draft of a speech made on Nov. 4, 2020, in which Trump declared victory.
It marks the fourth time that Trump has been criminally charged ― and the second time this August the former president has been indicted for interfering in the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
But the Georgia case is far different because it also charges a large cast of alleged accomplices – from former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former state Republican Party chairman David Shafer.
Also charged: state Sen. Shawn Still; attorneys John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, Bob Cheeley, Ray Smith III and Kenneth Chesebro; former assistant U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Clark; former Coffee County GOP chairwoman Cathy Latham; Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall; former Coffee County elections supervisor Misty Hampton; GOP strategist Michael Roman; publicist Trevian Kutti; Illinois pastor Stephen Cliffguard Lee; and Harrison Floyd, who briefly ran for a suburban Atlanta U.S. House seat before serving as director of Black Voices for Trump.
‘Shocking and absurd’
In a statement issued before the indictment was made public, Trump’s campaign called Willis a “rabid partisan” and accused her of politicizing the judicial branch to help Biden.
Trump’s Atlanta lawyers — Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg — lambasted what appeared to be an accidental post by the Fulton County clerk’s office Monday afternoon showing the charges Trump would be facing. The post was quickly taken down but not before it was published by Reuters.
The Trump team called the mishap ““shocking and absurd” and said it was emblematic of the dysfunction that has plagued the whole investigation.
“We look forward to a detailed review of this indictment which is undoubtedly just as flawed and unconstitutional as this entire process has been,” they said in a statement.
Giuliani also issued a statement, saying the indictment “does permanent, irrevocable harm to our justice system.” He added, “The real criminals here are the people who have brought this case forward both directly and indirectly.”
Areas of investigation
The charges are the culmination of a 2 1/2-year criminal investigation launched by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis shortly after Trump’s leaked Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Brad Raffensperger, during which he asked the Georgia secretary of state to “find” him 11,780 votes.
The indictment lays out several different areas of alleged criminal misconduct.
- The phone calls Trump made to Georgia officials, including Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp.
- The “alternate” GOP electors who cast Electoral College votes for Trump on Dec. 14, 2020 while the official Democratic electors cast votes for Biden.
- The false testimony given to state House and Senate committees, which led to threats against Fulton County poll worker Ruby Freeman.
- The copying of sensitive Georgia elections data in Coffee County, some 200 miles southeast of Atlanta, the day after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Prosecutors covered a lot of ground. In the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charge alone, the indictment lists 161 separate acts — from phone calls and meetings to lying under oath to the grand jury itself — as part of the alleged conspiracy by Trump and his co-defendants.
‘The facts and the law’
The grand jury issued arrest warrants for the 19 defendants, Willis said at a press conference that ended shortly before midnight. She said she is giving the defendants until noon on Friday, Aug. 25th, to surrender voluntarily.
“I make decisions in this office based on the facts and the law,” Willis said. “The law is completely nonpartisan. ... We look at the facts, we look at the law and we brings charges.
Willis said she will seek a trial date within the next six months but made clear the scheduling is up to the judge who presides over the case. The Fulton County’s court docket said that will be Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, a former federal prosecutor and state inspector general who was appointed to the Fulton bench by Kemp.
Harassment and intimidation
The indictment specifically references “harassment and intimidation” of Freeman, who was called out by Giuliani and others with baseless accusations and who later testified before the Jan. 6th congressional committee.
“In furtherance of this scheme, members of the enterprise traveled from out of state to harass Freeman, intimidate her, and solicit her to falsely confess to election crimes that she did not commit,” the indictment alleges. Those members, the indictment alleged, were Floyd, Lee and Kutti.
In addition, the indictment alleges, members of the racketeering enterprise lied to “high-ranking state officials,” including Kemp and Raffensperger, and asked them “to violate their oaths to the Georgia Constitution and to the United States Constitution by unlawfully changing the outcome” of the 2020 presidential vote in the state.
The indictment cited the creation of false Electoral College ballots which were cast by Republican electors at the state Capitol and then sent to various officials in Washington as legitimate ballots.
”The false documents were intended to disrupt and delay the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021, in order to unlawfully change the outcome of the November 3, 2020, presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Similar schemes were executed by members of the enterprise in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin,” the indictment stated.
Credit: Richard Elliott, WSB-TV
Credit: Richard Elliott, WSB-TV
Three of Georgia’s 16 phony GOP electors were indicted for this alleged scheme — Still, who represents a district which includes portions of Fulton, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties; Shafer, the who presided over the vote; and Latham.
Willis took the unusual step of convening a separate special grand jury in 2022 which investigated election interference in Georgia for eight months. They heard from almost 75 witnesses and recommended who they thought Fulton prosecutors should indict.
The fourth indictment
The Georgia charges come two weeks after a federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment that charged Trump with using lies to advance a widespread national effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. That indictment, spearheaded by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, covers a lot of the same ground as the Fulton charges. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the federal case.
Trump’s legal team is expected to use a little-known federal statute to try and move his case out of Fulton County and into U.S. District Court in Atlanta just a few blocks away. The benefit of shifting jurisdictions would be to get a more conservative jury pool.
Jurors from the U.S. District Court’s Atlanta division are culled from 10 metro counties. This includes Fulton County, where President Joe Biden won more than 72 percent of the vote in 2020. The DA’s office is expected to fight the move and attempt to keep the case in Fulton.
The Fulton charges add to an increasingly packed calendar for Trump, who is running for the Republican nomination for president for the third time.
In addition to the federal election case, Trump also has March and May court dates for two other cases. They are the scheduled New York state trial in March related to alleged hush money payments and the federal trial set for May in south Florida relating to the alleged mishandling of classified documents after Trump left office. Special counsel Jack Smith is asking that Trump be tried in January in U.S. District Court in Washington on charges he conspired to overturn the 2020 election.
The Fulton case, however, could ultimately have some of the most staying power if Trump is convicted. That’s because unlike the federal cases, which could be dismissed by a future Republican president, Georgia’s pardon process is in the hands of an independent board, not the governor. Under the state’s rules, a person needs to wait five years after they serve any prison sentences before they can be considered for a pardon.
Staff writers Greg Bluestein, Jozseph Papp and Shaddi Abusaid contributed to this report.