Trump's Fulton County indictment, unpacked
Trump and 18 others face felony charges for being part of a conspiracy that began before the 2020 election and continued after January 6.
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The latest Trump indictment is out, and it’s a blockbuster. Let’s start with the numbers, shall we? A grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, returned an indictment that has:
19 defendants, including the former president of the United States and 6 lawyers in his orbit
41 criminal counts across all defendants
13 criminal counts against the former president himself
8 types of manners and methods used to further a criminal enterprise
161 overt acts of racketeering activity
Many of the defendants are already familiar. Rudy Guiliani, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, and Sidney Powell are all attorneys who are likely some of the unindicted co-conspirators in the federal January 6 case. Others are people whose names have surfaced repeatedly during the various 2020 election investigations, such as Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis, and attorney Ken Chesebro, who wrote the first memo suggesting the fake elector scheme. Others, like fake electors Shawn Still and David Shafer, aren’t household names.
RICO, briefly explained
The 161 overt acts in the indictment form the basis for Count 1, violating Georgia’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. All 19 defendants are charged with violating that law, and you can think of it as an umbrella charge that scoops up much of the misconduct.
If you’ve ever watched a mob movie set after 1970, when the law was first passed, you’ve probably heard of the federal RICO Act. It was designed to charge people for acting in concert with one another in furtherance of a criminal act. This was a big breakthrough because in sprawling criminal enterprises, people at the top — gang leaders, mob capos, etc. — could insulate themselves from criminal liability by having other people do their dirty work. But the advent of RICO meant that if you helped mastermind the heist but didn’t do the burglary, for example, you could still be held liable. The law isn’t just used against the Mafia but has also formed the basis for prosecuting people who run Ponzi schemes and gangs, among other things.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who brought the Trump charges to the Fulton County grand jury, has used the state’s RICO Act before to go after non-violent defendants, such as prosecuting Atlanta educators for conspiring to inflate standardized test scores.
Notably, the criminal enterprise doesn’t have to succeed for people to be charged under RICO, which is useful given the oft-deployed assertion from MAGA types that Trump can’t be held liable for trying to overturn the election because he failed to overturn the election.
The indictment details how Trump’s effort to overturn his loss actually began before he lost
According to the indictment, Trump and his co-defendants used at least eight methods to try to undermine the election: (1) Making false statements to members of state legislatures, including Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia; (2) Making false statements to high-ranking state officials in Georgia, such as the secretary of state and the governor; (3) creating a slate of fake electoral voters; (4) harassing and intimidating a Fulton County election worker; (5) soliciting high-ranking members of the United States Department of Justice to make false statements to government officials in Georgia; (6) soliciting Mike Pence to reject electoral college votes properly cast by Georgia’s electors; (7) unlawfully accessing voter equipment and voter data; and (8) making false statements and committing perjury to cover up the conspiracy.
The first public act in furtherance of the conspiracy started the day after the election when Trump gave a speech falsely declaring victory. Trump had discussed a draft speech to that effect three days before the election, in which he planned to declare victory and claim voter fraud. In other words, Trump was already prepared to attempt to overturn the election before election night even happened.
You can expect Trump fans to trot out the same nonsense defenses they’ve done with previous indictments and complain that the indictment criminalizes free speech. Indeed, many overt acts here are speech, such as press conferences and dozens of phone calls to Georgia elected officials. But no one is trying to say Trump, or anyone else in the indictment, can’t make phone calls. No one is saying that Trump, or anyone else in the indictment, can’t complain about the 2020 election. What this indictment lays out is that 19 people who knew they were lying about the election took dozens of affirmative steps to get other people to undertake actions to overturn the election.
It’s not a crime to make a phone call about an election. But if that phone call is part of a coordinated plan to accomplish something illegal, it can be one of the overt acts. Think about it this way: renting a car is not illegal. However, renting a series of cars as part of a nationwide scheme to rob banks can be an overt act, as can being the person who does all the planning even if they never go on a bank job.
The criming continued even after January 6
The Georgia indictment also highlights that this was not an organic grassroots effort by Republicans across the country who were unhappy with the election results or concerned about voter fraud. Instead, it was an effort by Trump and his allies that involved repeatedly reaching out to state legislators in multiple swing states to sway them to participate in the fake elector scheme. That’s why the indictment discusses how the criminal enterprise didn’t just happen in Georgia. It happened in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — any state perceived as Republican enough to be vulnerable to Trump’s pressure.
Additionally, the Georgia indictment brings home how hard denizens of Trumpland went after Ruby Freeman, a Fulton County poll worker who conservatives fixated upon as having overseen a massive voter fraud enterprise.
Guiliani told members of the Georgia House on December 10, long past when it was clear Trump had lost, that Freeman was “quite obviously passing around USB ports as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine” to infiltrate Dominion voting machines. The indictment shows that several of the named defendants —Stephen Lee, Harrison Floyd, and Trevian Kutti — all repeatedly called Freeman, called her neighbors, and showed up at her home, telling her she needed “protection” and offering to help. The help they offered was not much help at all, though — only that Trump and his allies would leave Freeman alone if she lied about election night and aligned her story with the fever dreams of Rudy Guiliani and friends.
Another thing surfaced in this indictment is that the efforts to undermine the election in Georgia didn’t end after January 6. The very next day, as the nation was reeling from seeing an insurrection play out on live television, Sidney Powell and three other defendants — Cathy Latham, one of the fake electors; Misty Hampton, an elections supervisor for Coffee County; and Scott Hall, a bail bondsman — began in earnest their efforts to illegally access Dominion voting machines. CNN had previously reported this appeared to be a “top-down push by Trump’s team” to access voting software and data and the indictment shows that as late as April 2021, an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator was illegally sending data copied from Coffee County voting equipment to an attorney associated with Sidney Powell.
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Where everyone is charged with the RICO violations, the remaining 40 counts only apply to certain defendants, sometimes in conjunction with Trump, and sometimes not. Trump is on the hook for 13, including trying to get the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives to call a special session to appoint fake electors and inducing people to be fake electors. The infamous “perfect” phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where Trump implored him to find 11,780 Trump votes, is also in there. Otherwise, for example, the fake electors are charged with crimes relating to being a fake elector, such as impersonating a public officer, and people like Powell, who improperly accessed voting machines, are charged with crimes relating to that, like computer invasion of privacy.
Part of what likely did Trump and his co-defendants in here is the specificity with which they made their false claims. Co-defendant Ray Stallings Smith, an Atlanta-area lawyer, didn’t just tell the Georgia Senate he thought there were illegal votes. He told the Senate that in 2020, 2,506 felons voted illegally, 66,428 underage people illegally registered, and 10,315 dead people voted.
Once you’re pushing that level of specificity, it’s straightforward to push back and demand proof and, when that proof repeatedly fails to materialize, to conclude someone is deliberately lying to try to get an elected official to take an illegal course of action.
Trump now faces a total of over 100 criminal accounts across 4 cases
Trump now faces four criminal cases while he runs for president. Trial dates have already been set in two of them: March 24, 2024, for his New York State hush-money trial and May 20, 2024, for the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. On August 28, Judge Tanya Chutkan is expected to set a trial date for his election obstruction case, where the special counsel’s office has asked for a January 2024 date.
RELATED FROM PN: Trump's J6 indictment isn't about words. It's about deeds.
Trump also has trial dates in three other civil cases: October 2, 2023, for the business fraud allegations against the Trump Organization, another E. Jean Carroll defamation trial on January 15, 2024, and, just two weeks later, a civil trial on whether he engaged in a pyramid scheme by marketing a useless phone service that relied upon investors continually bringing in new recruits. Trump isn’t required to attend those civil trials, however.
In the Georgia case, Willis has said she would like to try all 19 defendants in this matter together and to do so within the next six months, but such a timeframe is unlikely, given how complex the case is. There’s also the real chance that some defendants will turn on each other. As Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law, explained, violations of Georgia’s RICO law carry a minimum five-year sentence. Because of that, there’s every reason for co-defendants, particularly the Georgia defendants who aren’t high-profile or high-powered, to give evidence about Trump to avoid prison time. While that may have a pleasing ring to it, such deals take time to put together.
Unfortunately, Trump’s die-hard supporters don’t seem to care a bit that their hero now faces over 100 different criminal counts across his four criminal cases. It’s utterly surreal, and it’s a testament to just how broken the modern right is.
That’s it for today
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