Simply put, while you might be able to lie to the public in Georgia — or even lie to public officials on matters outside the scope of their duties — when you lie to state officials about important or meaningful facts in matters they directly oversee, you’re going to risk prosecution. Yet that’s exactly what the indictment claims Trump and his confederates did, time and time again, throughout the election challenge.
The most striking example is detailed in Act 113 of the indictment, which charges Trump with making a series of false statements to Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and his deputies in the former president’s notorious Jan. 2, 2021, telephone call. Most legal commentators, myself included, had focused on that call because it contained a not-so-veiled threat against Raffensperger and his counsel. In recorded comments, Trump told them they faced a “big risk” of criminal prosecution because he claimed they allegedly knew about election fraud and were taking no action to stop it.
Willis’s focus, by contrast, isn’t on the threats, but rather on the lies. And when you read the list of Trump’s purported lies, they are absolutely incredible. His claims aren’t just false, they’re transparently, incandescently stupid. This was not a sophisticated effort to overturn the election. It was a shotgun blast of obvious falsehoods.
Here’s where the legal nuances get rather interesting. While Willis still has to prove intent — the statute prohibits “knowingly and willfully” falsifying material facts — the evidentiary challenge is simpler than in Jack Smith’s federal case against Trump. To meet the requirements of federal law, Smith’s charges must connect any given Trump lie to a larger criminal scheme. Willis, by contrast, merely has to prove that Trump willfully lied about important facts to a government official about a matter in that official’s jurisdiction. That’s a vastly simpler case to make.
Yes, it is true that the individual lying allegations are also tied to much larger claims about a criminal conspiracy and a racketeering enterprise. But if I’m a prosecutor, I can build from that single, simple foundation: Trump lied, and those lies in and of themselves violated Georgia criminal law. Once you prove that simple case, you’ve laid the foundation for the larger racketeering claims that ratchet up Trump’s legal jeopardy. Compounding the danger to Trump, presidents don’t have the power to pardon state criminal convictions, and even Georgia’s governor doesn’t possess the direct authority to excuse Trump for his crimes.