The action is the culmination of a 2 ½-year criminal investigation that was launched soon after Willis took office.
If charges are ultimately approved, it would mark the fourth time in as many months that Trump has been indicted — and the second time in August that he’s been charged for his attempts to retain power after his defeat in 2020.
Here’s what you should know about the Fulton case:
Major developments so far
Willis announced she was investigating election interference in February 2021, weeks after a recording leaked of a phone call Trump placed to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During the call, Trump asked his fellow Republican to “find” 11,780 votes, enough to reverse his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Nearly a year later, Willis requested that a rare special purpose grand jury be seated to help her subpoena reticent witnesses and compile evidence. That panel, which was seated in May 2022, heard testimony from about 75 witnesses over nearly eight months. At the end of their service, jurors drafted a final report recommending that Willis obtain an indictment against multiple people. Their suggestions were then sealed by a judge, though media organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are appealing that decision.
A separate grand jury must decide whether Trump and others will face criminal charges.
Willis’ investigative interests have expanded far beyond the Trump-Raffensperger phone call. Her team has questioned several other Georgia officials who were called by Trump between November 2020 and January 2021, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr. She honed in on falsehoods Georgia lawmakers were told — by Rudy Giuliani, then Trump’s personal attorney, and other campaign lawyers — about vote counting at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, as well as the meeting of “alternate” GOP electors at the state Capitol.
Prosecutors also sought testimony from people who were involved in the harassment of two Fulton County poll workers. They questioned why Trump loyalists were allowed to access sensitive election data in a South Georgia county. And they examined the abrupt resignation of Atlanta-based U.S. attorney BJay Pak in January 2021.
At least 18 people, including Giuliani and all 16 fake electors, were previously informed that they were investigation “targets.” Many of the electors have since struck immunity deals with prosecutors. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who also served as a Trump elector, successfully disqualified Willis from investigating him due to a political conflict of interest.
Even though Willis, a 51-year-old Democrat, is relatively new to the job of DA, she’s a veteran prosecutor known for her work ethic, intense nature and ability to connect with jurors during trial presentations. She’s perhaps best known for being the lead prosecutor on the Atlanta Public Schools test cheating case, during which Willis successfully — and controversially — used Georgia’s broad racketeering law to argue that APS was a criminal enterprise that harmed thousands of academically struggling students, most of them children of color. In 2020, Willis challenged her former boss, Paul Howard, and won. She’s up for reelection in 2024.
Racketeering and other charges
Willis is widely expected to charge Trump and others with racketeering, which in Georgia is defined more broadly than in federal law. The state’s RICO statute allows prosecutors to pull in evidence that wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to stand on its own in court and string together the actions of several people, if they can prove they were all working toward the same goal. Other charges Willis previously suggested she was considering: criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, violation of oath of office and involvement in violence or threats related to election administration.
How an indictment would happen
Prosecutors present their case to the grand jury, bringing in investigators to summarize evidence and the findings of the previous special grand jury.
They are also expected to call in witnesses to testify in person. One is Duncan, the former president of the state Senate who stripped the titles from a trio of lawmakers who backed Trump’s push to overturn the election of leadership posts. Another is Chidi, who stumbled upon the meeting of Republican electors at the state Capitol.
Two former Democratic state legislators, Bee Nguyen and Jen Jordan, have also been told they could be ordered to appear before the grand jury. Several others have confirmed privately that they’ve been summoned.
Prosecutors would need to convince at least 12 of the 23 jurors that there’s probable cause — more evidence for than against — that a person committed a crime to warrant a “true bill” of indictment. If jurors disagree, they’d vote for a “no bill.” After an indictment is handed up, it’s presented to a Fulton Superior Court judge in open court so it can then become an official public document.
How might Trump fight an indictment?
The former president is limited in what he can do before any indictments are issued, though his team has appealed to the state Supreme Court, a long-shot legal motion that would effectively halt Willis’ work. After charges are announced, Trump is expected to almost immediately try to move proceedings from state to federal court, which would presumably give him a more conservative jury pool.
Otherwise, the former president is expected to do everything he can to delay proceedings until after the 2024 election. He’s also expected to argue that he had no criminal intent and that it was within his First Amendment rights to complain to Raffensperger and other officials about potential election fraud in Georgia . If his behavior in other criminal cases is any indication, Trump is also expected to use his campaign rallies and social media accounts to criticize Willis, her underlying case and the appointed judge.
Could Trump end up in prison?
Yes, though it’s considered unlikely. Several of the state laws Willis has examined carry prison sentences for people convicted on felony counts. A racketeering conviction alone includes a sentence of five to 20 years. It can be a sentence solely of probation, of prison time or a mixture of both. Also, a person convicted of RICO could be required to pay a fine. If indicted and convicted, however, Trump is expected to appeal, which could drag out any resolution for years to come. It’s even less likely that Trump, 77, would end up in prison if he’s reelected to his old job in November 2024.
How does this compare to the other Trump cases?
This would be the fourth set of criminal charges against Trump — for allegedly orchestrating hush money payments to a porn star; for mishandling classified documents and an alleged subsequent coverup in Florida; and for his attempts to cling to power after the 2020 election. The only case with real overlap with Fulton’s is the latter, which was spearheaded by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith. While both Smith and Willis are interested in Trump’s phone calls to Georgia officials, the appointment of the alternate electors and the harassment of Fulton poll workers, Smith’s indictment is focused on alleged violations of federal laws, while Willis is looking at Georgia statutes.
Unlike the cases against Trump in Florida and D.C., which could presumably be dismissed by a future Republican president, the state cases in Georgia and New York would be far harder to make disappear. Georgia’s pardon process is not controlled by the governor, but an independent state board. A convicted person has to wait until five years after the completion of their sentence before applying for a pardon.
Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.