This Indictment Hits Different
Could the Georgia case really put Donald Trump and some of his co-defendants behind bars?
LATE MONDAY NIGHT, a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia handed down a sweeping 98-page indictment against Donald Trump and 18 others—including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and lawyers Jeffrey Clark, Kenneth Chesebro, John Eastman, Jenna Ellis, and Rudy Giuliani.
The indictment lists 41 crimes that the defendants are allegedly responsible for in varying degrees. Everyone from the top down is charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. The slew of other crimes includes Solicitation of Violation of Oath by Public Officer (recall the infamous Trump call asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes); False Statements and Writings; Impersonating a Public Officer (think: the fake electors scheme); Forgery in the First Degree (ditto); and Filing False Documents (ditto). Given the complexity of the indictment and the number of defendants, there are multiple related forms of several of the charges—so, not just False Statements and Writings but also Conspiracy to Commit False Statements and Writings as well as Criminal Attempt to Commit False Statements and Writings.
The indictment’s introduction elegantly sums up a story that we already know so well:
Defendant Donald John Trump lost the United States presidential election held on November 3, 2020. One of the states he lost was Georgia. Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and 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 to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states.
Much of the commentary thus far has focused on Georgia’s RICO law, which allows prosecutors to indict people who are part of a criminal “enterprise,” like a mafia mob or a gang, without showing an actual agreement (as the crime of conspiracy, by contrast, requires), and without having to prove a particular state of mind on the part of the mob “boss” (that is, Trump). The law requires prosecutors to prove a pattern of unlawful conduct—not necessarily separate crimes—with at least two of them occurring within a four-year time span. The indictment lists a whopping 161 predicate acts as part of the alleged enterprise.
IN THE MONTHS LEADING UP to this indictment, Trump’s lawyers tried mightily to kill this case, filing a 483-page motion seeking to have District Attorney Fani Willis removed and the report from the investigative grand jury (or “special” grand jury) that preceded the charging grand jury thrown out. The motion was denied, but the effort signaled that Trump may be especially worried about this case. He should be, for these reasons:
First, Georgia’s RICO statute carries a five-year minimum prison term if convicted, and could stretch up to twenty years.
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Second, because this indictment does not involve federal crimes, Trump can’t try to evade the law with a self-pardon, either lodged in a drawer for safekeeping before he left office (a disturbing possibility that would presumably spark a major court fight) or issued if he is elected for another term (in that event he wouldn’t need a pardon—he could just shut down the DOJ probe). In Georgia, Trump can’t even rely on a Republican governor to wave a magic wand and issue a pardon. Georgia is one of only a handful of states that assigns the power to a special panel, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor but serve staggered, seven-year terms. Pardons are only available post-conviction and after a defendant has served five years of his sentence.
There is thus a very good chance that Trump will go to jail at some point. Even if he wins four more years in the White House, that will not stop this state criminal trial or the execution of a sentence, which, if he were re-elected to the presidency, he could presumably be forced to serve after his term ends.
Third, this indictment is the only one that arguably includes metaphorical ‘dead bodies’ strewn across the stage—so that jurors can viscerally understand the case, which will be necessary if they are going to convict a former president. So far, it’s unclear what harm, if any, befell national security as a result of the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. Prosecutors need to figure out a way to show that Trump’s astonishing recklessness actually hurt people. The January 6th indictment consists of three conspiracy charges and one count of obstructing an official proceeding—all important charges for our democracy and for the rule of law, but relatively abstract concepts that could be hard for jurors to get upset about.
The Georgia indictment, however, is different. It involves real people with respectable lives who suffered serious harm. In addition to the charges listed above, it includes Influencing Witnesses (as well as Criminal Attempt to Commit Influencing Witnesses). These charges relate to the heartbreaking story of two election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss. According to the indictment, Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani labeled Freeman “a professional vote scammer and known political operative” who “stuffed the ballot boxes.” She and her daughter were accused by Trump and his operatives with being “responsible for fraudulently awarding at least 18,000 ballots to” Biden. Another co-defendant, Trevian Kutti, Kanye West’s ex-publicist, allegedly traveled to Freeman’s home and attempted to pressure her into admitting baseless fraud claims or face arrest within 48 hours.
Moss told the House January 6th Committee that an anonymous caller told her: “You should be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920,” a phrase that appeared to invoke the violent history of Southern segregation and lynching. Said Moss:
It has turned my life upside down. I no longer give out my business cards. I don’t transfer calls. I don’t want anyone knowing my name. I don’t want to go anywhere with my mom because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I don’t go to the grocery store at all. I haven’t been anywhere at all. I have gained about sixty pounds. I just don’t do nothing anymore. I don’t want to go anywhere. I second-guess everything that I do. . . . All because of lies, of me doing my job, same thing I have been doing forever.
Her mom gave an account of how the episode has affected her life, too:
I wore a shirt that proudly proclaimed that I was, and I am, Lady Ruby. Actually, I had that shirt on—I had that shirt in every color. I wore that shirt on Election Day 2020. I haven’t worn it since, and I’ll never wear it again. . . . I’ve lost my name, and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security, all because a group of people, starting with Number 45 and his ally, Rudy Giuliani, decided to scapegoat me and my daughter Shaye—to push their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen.
Fourth, the Georgia indictment includes charges of Conspiracy to Commit Election Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Computer Theft, Conspiracy to Commit Computer Trespass, and Conspiracy to Commit Computer Invasion of Privacy. It them outlines a series of illegal breaches of election equipment in Coffee County, Georgia, allegedly made in an effort to reveal evidence of fraud that never materialized. Sidney Powell and other co-defendants allegedly “trespassed” into election computer systems “with the intention of removing voter data and Dominion Voting Systems Corporation data.” That’s the same Dominion Voting Systems that won a $787.5 million settlement with Fox Corporation in a defamation case that exposed the network’s lies about the integrity of the voting systems in this country.
Jurors of whatever political stripe will understand that hacking into voting systems is a no-no. They will understand it because the claim was the basis of Team Trump’s months-long assault on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.
In other words, this case exposes the Big Lie for what it is: a massive projection from Trump’s disturbed mind, which pathologically accuses everyone else of things that only he and his allies had the audacity to do.