Donald Trump was indicted last night for the fourth time, once again over his attempts to stay in power after he lost the 2020 election. The indictment contains some of the most sweeping allegations against Trump yet. It accuses him and some former top advisers of organizing a “criminal enterprise” to reverse the election results in Georgia, where a grand jury handed up the indictment.
The document cites eight ways in which Trump and 18 other defendants allegedly obstructed the election. Among them:
Lying to the Georgia legislature and state officials
Creating a fake pro-Trump slate for the Electoral College
Harassing election workers
Engaging in a cover-up
The conduct that prosecutors described goes beyond Georgia, incorporating Trump and his aides’ attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other states. The top charge was brought under a type of law originally created to prosecute the Mafia.
“The indictment alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result,” Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County who led the investigation, said at a news conference late last night.
The Georgia indictment is built around the state’s RICO law, short for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. This type of law primarily targets organized crime. In Trump’s case, prosecutors argue that he and his supporters engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy, with more than 160 acts aimed at keeping him in power.
Trump faces 13 charges, including violating the RICO law, soliciting a public official to violate an oath and filing false documents. (You can read the full indictment, annotated by Times reporters, here.)
Prosecutors pointed to a phone call in which Trump asked Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” nearly 12,000 votes, seemingly to change the state’s election results. He also falsely claimed that Ruby Freeman, an election worker in Georgia, was a vote scammer and political operative, prompting harassment against her and her daughter.
RICO “allows a prosecutor to go after the head of an organization, loosely defined, without having to prove that that head directly engaged in a conspiracy or any acts that violated state law,” Michael Mears, a law professor at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, told The Times. “If you are a prosecutor, it’s a gold mine. If you are a defense attorney, it’s a nightmare.”
The 18 others indicted include Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and some of his lawyers: Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and John Eastman. (The Washington Post explains who was charged.)
Altogether, the group faces 41 total counts. Here is a breakdown of those charges by type:
Many of the Georgia case’s details overlap with the third indictment against Trump, which also accused him of trying to subvert the 2020 election and was secured by the Justice Department’s special counsel. But experts say that the Georgia indictment matters potentially even more than the federal case does for two big reasons.
First, because the case is at the state level, Trump would have a much more difficult time doing away with the new indictment should he become president again. Trump could get the Justice Department to drop the two sets of federal charges against him, and he could try to pardon himself of federal crimes (although experts are divided on whether a president has the authority to pardon himself). But he would have no such power over state charges.
In other words, the Georgia case could hold Trump accountable for election interference even if he were to win the 2024 presidential race.
Second, the Georgia case could reinforce American democracy. Local and state governments largely run elections, including federal races — setting the rules, times and mechanisms for collecting and counting votes. The decentralized nature of voting in the U.S. helps keep power over the process from concentrating in few hands. But if counties and states want people to follow the rules, experts say, they have to hold lawbreakers accountable.
“If we’re going to have law enforcement used against attempts to steal presidential elections, state and substate governments have a really important role to play,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Trump and the other defendants have until noon on Aug. 25 to voluntarily surrender in Fulton County. “We look forward to a detailed review of this indictment which is undoubtedly just as flawed and unconstitutional as this entire process has been,” Trump’s lawyers for the Georgia case said in a statement.
After Trump is arraigned, a judge will schedule the trial. A conviction is not guaranteed. For one, a jury could be put off by the prosecution’s novel approach: Officials have never used the RICO law for this kind of case because there has never been a situation quite like this one.
“The indictment’s use of the phrase ‘cover up’ carries echoes of the Watergate scandal,” our colleague Richard Fausset, who is covering the case, wrote. “It is difficult to imagine that its deep resonance in American political history was lost on the authors of the indictment.”
The indictment alleges a vast conspiracy reaching from the Oval Office to an election official in a rural county. Read more about the case.
Trump’s arraignment is likely to mirror previous indictments. Here’s what happens next.
Rudy Giuliani led the legal effort in several states to keep him in power.
“Another disastrous Trump indictment”: Politico explains how Trump’s 2024 opponents responded to the news.
“What was once unprecedented has now become surreally routine,” The Times’s Peter Baker writes, referencing Trump’s four indictments in four months.
“Willis’s case may well be more straightforward — less legally problematic — than Smith’s election-interference case,” Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, writes in The New York Post.
Georgia allows court proceedings to be televised. “We know from the Jan. 6 hearings — as well as, in an earlier era, the Watergate hearings — the power of seeing and hearing these events firsthand,” Norman Eisen and Amy Lee Copeland write in Times Opinion.
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