Georgia grand jury indicts former US President Trump, alleging 'conspiracy to unlawfully change outcome' of 2020 presidential election

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Sunday, August 20, 2023

Trump at last month's Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Monday, a Fulton County, Georgia grand jury seated in Atlanta indicted nineteen people, including former United States President Donald Trump, on 41 counts overall, Trump himself facing thirteen. Referencing the Republican's election loss to President Joe Biden in 2020 in Georgia and nationally, it alleged they "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."

The grand jury's indictment continued: "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."

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told press later the accused had eleven days to surrender.

Trump faced a charge of violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) along with his co-defendants; three counts of soliciting a public officer to violate their oath; conspiracy to commit impersonation of a public officer; two each of conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, and false statements and writings; conspiracy to commit filing false documents; and filing false documents.

Trump said the day of the indictment: "I didn't tamper with the election!" Ahead of the announcement of the charges, his 2024 presidential campaign claimed the prosecution the Democratic Willis was leading was "election interference". In a statement the campaign said: "The timing of this latest coordinated strike by a biased prosecutor in an overwhelmingly Democrat jurisdiction not only betrays the trust of the American people, but also exposes true motivation driving their fabricated accusations." He previously repeatedly asked for her disqualification based on her public remarks on the case.

On Tuesday, he wrote on his social media website, Truth Social: "A Large, Complex, Detailed but Irrefutable REPORT on the Presidential Election Fraud which took place in Georgia is almost complete & will be presented by me at a major News Conference at 11:00 A.M. on Monday of next week in Bedminster, New Jersey".

On Thursday, he announced he would not stage the press conference, posting to Truth Social: "Rather than releasing the Report on the Rigged & Stolen Georgia 2020 Presidential Election on Monday, my lawyers would prefer putting this, I believe, Irrefutable & Overwhelming evidence of Election Fraud & Irregularities in formal Legal Filings as we fight to dismiss this disgraceful Indictment".

This fourth case followed indictments of the former president in New York City, on state-level charges of falsification of business records to conceal hush money payments, the first indictment of a US president Miami, Florida, on federal charges of purposeful retention of classified documents; and Washington, D.C., on federal charges of "[pursuit] of unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting" the 2020 election.

Unlike impeachment and conviction by the US Congress, a criminal conviction unrelated to insurrection would not have legal effects on Trump's campaign, but, as the charges were state-level, a US president could not pardon those, if any, found guilty or remove state prosecutors.

In its 98 pages, the indictment mentioned 30 more involved in the conspiracy, but did not charge or name them. It said Trump and associates, including lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, both indicted alongside him Monday, unsuccessfully attempted to persuade state officials involved in the certification of the results.

It described Trump asking Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, to interfere with the results — calling Raffensperger on January 2, 2021 to ask him to "find" votes so Trump could overcome Biden's victory and US Department of Justice employees to pronounce the results "corrupt".

It said Trump made false claims of election fraud in, without success, petitioning courts to undo the results in lawsuits against Georgia.

The indictment.
Image: State of Georgia.

According to the indictment, Trump organized individuals to present themselves as legitimate electors, including state Republican Party chairman David Shafer and Cathleen Latham; some said the Trump campaign told them they would cast their presidential votes only if Trump's legal efforts to overturn Biden's victory were successful. The grand jury indicted Shafer and Mike Roman, another alleged participant in the scheme, who worked on Trump's 2020 campaign.

The indictment continued Trump attorneys three times attempted to convince members of the Republican-majority Georgia legislature to present their election fraud allegations. It said the US Department of Justice's civil division's top official, Jeffrey Clark, prepared a never-sent letter asking legislators to "convene a special session" on the results and the electors it would certify to vote for president, charging Clark.

The grand jury described how "several of the Defendants [...] falsely accused Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman of committing election crimes", then used these claims as basis for their argument the Georgia legislature and others in its government should alter the results.

Mark Meadows was another facing charges. The grand jury accused the one-time Trump Executive Office Chief of Staff of trying to gain unauthorized entry to a Cobb County, Georgia civic center where state law enforcement was conducting audits of election-related signatures in December 2020. "Is there a way to speed up Fulton county signature verification in order to have results before Jan 6 if the trump campaign assist financially", he texted Raffensperger's Chief Investigator Frances Watson. The grand jury indicted him on violating RICO and soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, the latter stemming from scheduling the Trump–Raffensperger phone call.

Latham, the grand jury charged, also participated in a pro-Trump scheme to compromise ballots and election machines in Coffee County, Georgia.

In Georgia, prosecutors have had the option of convening special grand juries for investigations before a regular grand jury hears its findings and considers indictment, and Willis did so about a year into her investigation in 2022. Among those who testified to the special grand jury before it dissolved in January were Eastman, Giuliani, Meadows, and Ken Chesebro, all of whom the regular grand jury charged. Others who testified were Mike Flynn, a national security advisor to Trump, and legislators Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Representative Jody Hice of Georgia, both Republicans.

Both Willis and Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury's work, said Shafer was at the greatest risk of prosecution of the pro-Trump electors.