OPINION: How Georgia became Donald Trump’s Waterloo

November 8, 2019 Marietta: President Donald Trump is greeted by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp as he arrives at Dobbins AFB on Friday, November 8, 2019, in Marietta.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

November 8, 2019 Marietta: President Donald Trump is greeted by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp as he arrives at Dobbins AFB on Friday, November 8, 2019, in Marietta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The Fulton County indictments against Donald Trump and his 18 codefendants read like a Netflix thriller at some points. A man lures an election worker to a secret meeting to warn her she’s in trouble. The president tells his acting Attorney General, “Just say that the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”

There are secret meetings, taped phone calls, and a president with a singular desire to overturn his loss in the 2020 elections.

But the indictment includes a surprise ending for Trump, namely that it was a parade of Republican leaders, not Democrats, who stopped Trump from overturning the state’s elections. From Gov. Brian Kemp to House Speaker David Ralston to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and staffers up and down the food chain, Trump met one brick wall of resistance after another in the state — and they were all from his own party.

The tick-tock of the indictment starts with Kemp, whom the indictment says Trump called in an attempt to persuade the governor to convene a special session of the General Assembly to appoint electors for him instead of Joe Biden, even though Biden narrowly won the election.

When Kemp refused, Trump tweeted the next day calling Kemp a “so-called governor” and demanding a special session anyway. “So easy!”

The following week, Trump tweeted that Kemp was a fool and a clown. “Could have been so easy, but now we have to do it the hard way,” he wrote, again demanding a special session, which Kemp insisted he had no power to call.

Two weeks later, Trump and his allies were still going, drafting a letter to Kemp from Department of Justice officials outlining “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia.” The letter included multiple criminally false statements, the indictment says.

With time ticking toward the end of his presidency, Trump kept lashing out at Kemp, with no success. Finally, he demanded that Kemp resign. “He is an obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG!”

Another name that appears frequently in the indictment is Ralston’s. Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani called him separately in early December to push him to call a special session.

Ralston refused them both and later told the Fulton County special grand jury that when Trump asked him who would stop the Speaker from doing it, Ralston responded, “A federal judge, that’s who.”

Striking out with Kemp and the Speaker, Giuliani called Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller and, the indictment alleges, made false statements about the 2020 elections.

Of course, the most prominent Republican in Trump’s way was Raffensperger, whom Trump infamously called and asked to “find 11,780 votes,” one more than his election loss in the state. The indictment lists 13 criminally separate false statements in the call, and Raffensperger refuted them one by one.

When Trump tweeted the next day that Raffensperger could not answer his questions, the Johns Creek Republican responded, “Respectfully Mr. President, that is not accurate,” adding mysteriously, “The truth will come out.”

The mystery was quickly solved when Raffensperger leaked the recording of the call, which Fani Willis heard like the rest of us on her first day on the job as Fulton County District Attorney. The rest, as they say, is history — or will be soon.

With the indictments now official, Willis has at her disposal a set of Georgia laws that make the state especially perilous for Trump and his fellow defendants, from its broad racketeering statute to the fact that neither a president nor a governor could issue a pardon if they’re convicted. Only the Board of Pardons and Paroles can do that and, as Georgia law says, only after a person’s sentence is complete.

If the case eventually goes to trial, Georgia law could also allow it to be televised, when, allowing Americans to see the same Republicans Trump failed to pressure take the witness stand against him.

It has to be said that plenty of Georgia Republicans did try to help Trump, from the state lawmakers who let Giuliani present false testimony at official hearings in December of 2020, to the Trump electors who signed documents saying he had won when he didn’t, and the operatives who harassed Ruby Freeman after Trump’s false public attacks on her. They decided to go along with Trump then and find themselves in deep legal peril with him now.

And even the Republicans who refused to help Trump overturn his loss passed an election law overhaul that the state didn’t need in order to mollify Trump’s angry supporters, who remained convinced that the entire process was rigged against him.

The full indictment illustrates the choice Georgia Republicans had to make, under withering pressure from the former president, to either stand up to Trump or to go along with him, even if it was bad for the party, bad for the country, bad for them personally, or all of the above.

Incredibly, Republicans have the exact same choice today.

Still beating the drum about the Georgia elections and, now, the indictment against him, Trump posted a note to his social media platform Tuesday promising that he’ll soon present “a large, complex, and irrefutable REPORT” that will finally prove fraud in Georgia and fully exonerate him.

And one more time, it was Kemp, the Republican governor, who shut him down.

“The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen,” Kemp wrote in his own social media post. The governor pointed out that in three years, no valid evidence of fraud has ever been presented under oath in a Georgia court, and he implored Republicans to look ahead to the 2024 election, when he has said he will still support Trump for president if he’s the GOP nominee again.

Beyond that, Kemp declined to comment on the specifics of the indictment, citing his likely role as a potential witness against Trump in any future trial — another plot twist in the thriller that never seems to end.