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Donald Trump is indicted in Georgia for seeking to overturn the 2020 election

Former President Donald Trump is seen on Jan. 28 in Columbia, S.C.
Alex Brandon
/
AP
Former President Donald Trump is seen on Jan. 28 in Columbia, S.C.

Updated August 15, 2023 at 1:08 AM ET

For the latest updates on this story, follow our digital live coverage.

ATLANTA — A grand jury in Georgia has indicted Donald Trump for his role in failed efforts to overturn the state's 2020 election results, implicating the former president as the head of a sweeping conspiracy to subvert his defeat.

It's the fourth indictment in as many months for Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. And it's part of a massive case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis under Georgia's racketeering law, ensnaring 19 defendants that the DA alleges acted as part of a coordinated effort to pressure officials to change the election outcome.

In a 41-count indictment handed up Monday, an Atlanta-based grand jury outlined a series of charges against Trump, including solicitation of a violation of an oath by a public officer, citing his infamous call with Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump pushed him to "find" votes and reverse his loss in the state.

Those also charged include:

  • onetime Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Kenneth Cheseboro, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell; 
  • former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows;
  • former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark;
  • and a number of so-called fake electors, who signed certificates saying Trump won Georgia and that they were official electors, and which included former Georgia Republican Party Chair David Shafer.
  • All of those charged are accused of violating the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, as Fulton County prosecutors allege efforts to copy election data from a rural county office and hearings designed to convince lawmakers to throw out certified results were also part of a criminal enterprise.

    The indictment in Atlanta came less than two weeks after Trump pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election. The charging document in that case, led by special counsel Jack Smith, mentioned Georgia nearly 50 times. And the 2020 election cases follow federal charges against Trump for allegedly mishandling government secrets, and charges in New York City for his role in orchestrating a hush money payment to an adult film actress.

    Trump is the first former U.S. president to be charged with a crime.

    Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announces a sweeping racketeering indictment Monday night in Atlanta.
    John Bazemore / AP
    /
    AP
    Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announces a sweeping racketeering indictment Monday night in Atlanta.

    He has denounced the various investigations into his conduct as politically motivated "witch hunts" and attacked Willis, the Democratic district attorney in Atlanta, long before the charges were filed.

    In a statement, the Trump campaign called Willis "a rabid partisan who is campaigning and fundraising on a platform of prosecuting President Trump through these bogus indictments."

    In a news conference, Willis maintained that "the law is nonpartisan."

    A RICO indictment in Georgia

    The lengthy indictment in Fulton County features 41 charges, from forgery to filing false documents to conspiracy to commit election fraud.

    Georgia's RICO law — which the Atlanta DA has used as a prosecutorial tool against everyone from street gangs and public school teachers cheating on standardized tests — allows prosecutors to pursue charges against members of an "enterprise" that show a "pattern of racketeering activity" through a specific set of conduct known as "predicate acts." The state RICO Act is based on — and is broader than — the federal RICO law.

    Indeed, the Georgia indictments paint a complex picture of an alleged criminal enterprise to keep Trump in office after the 2020 election. Prosecutors argue the persistent efforts took many forms and involved many figures. In all, there are 161 predicate acts listed in the charging documents, covering a range of actions both inside Georgia and across the country.

    Willis previewed the politically explosive nature of the indictments earlier this year in a letter to law enforcement, as she asked for heightened security around the courthouse ahead of her decisions, citing a probable "significant public reaction."

    Police vehicles are seen near security barricades at the Fulton County courthouse on Aug. 7 in Atlanta.
    Brynn Anderson / AP
    /
    AP
    Police vehicles are seen near security barricades at the Fulton County courthouse on Aug. 7 in Atlanta.

    Trump's request to "find" votes

    The former president pushed conspiracies about the Georgia election to pressure officials to reverse his narrow loss to Joe Biden, unleashing a wave of harassment and threats against those that refused.

    Most notably, in a secretly recorded conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, Trump insisted repeatedly that he won the election and asked the official to "find" enough votes to give him the victory.

    "All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state," an angry Trump stated at one point during the early-January 2021 call. "Flipping the state is a great testament to our country. It's a testament that they can admit to a mistake. A lot of people think it wasn't a mistake, it was much more criminal than that. But it's a big problem in Georgia, and it's not a problem that's going away."

    Raffensperger refused Trump's entreaty.

    In a CNN town hall this past May, Trump defended the conversation. "This was a call that was made to question the results of the election," he said. "When we can't make a call to question the election results, then this country ought to just forget about it."

    Who else faces charges

    Also on the Raffensperger call was Meadows, Trump's chief of staff who also traveled to Georgia unannounced at one point to try and gain access to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation-led audit of absentee ballot signature envelopes and facilitated another call between Trump and the top elections investigator. Meadows is among those charged in the investigation.

    Weeks before the Raffensperger call, as Georgia was finalizing its recount of the presidential race — the third tally in as many weeks — a number of Trump allies descended upon an unofficial Georgia state Senate hearing to convince lawmakers they had the power to pick different presidential electors than the certified results.

    The allies include Ray Smith, a Georgia attorney who has been charged in the case for his role in leading a portion of the hearing that outlined false claims about thousands of illegal votes in the state; and Eastman, who was an architect of the plan to keep Trump in power, and who claimed lawmakers were allowed to disregard election results under the Constitution.

    Rudy Giuliani arrives at the Fulton County Courthouse on Aug. 17, 2022, in Atlanta.
    John Bazemore / AP
    /
    AP
    Rudy Giuliani arrives at the Fulton County Courthouse on Aug. 17, 2022, in Atlanta.

    The most explosive charges stemming from the hearing are reserved for Giuliani, the man once called "America's mayor" for leading New York City through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Giuliani now faces criminal charges, potential disbarment and a defamation lawsuit for claims he made about Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, two Fulton County election workers depicted in a video alleging a debunked claim that "suitcases" of ballots were illegally counted.

    Giuliani accused the women of "surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin, of cocaine" that were actually ginger mints, Moss said in testimony to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

    Eastman and Giuliani were among the six unindicted co-conspirators listed in the federal indictment of Trump by special counsel Smith, along with attorney Powell and Clark, the Department of Justice official who proposed sending a letter urging officials to convene a special legislative session to appoint Republican electors, and Cheseboro, an attorney who help orchestrate the alternative elector scheme. All are charged here.

    Powell allegedly coordinated with Cathy Latham, the former Coffee County, Ga., Republican Party chair, to send a team that unlawfully copied data from the rural county's election equipment.

    Latham is one of 16 Republicans who met in the Georgia State Capitol and signed documents falsely claiming to be the official electors for the state, a process that was led by former Georgia Republican Party Chair Shafer.

    The fake electors have argued that they were doing so in case Trump's lawsuit challenging the results was successful.

    Also charged in relation to the Coffee County breach were Misty Hampton, a former county election official, and Scott Hall.

    The other defendants are attorney Robert Cheeley, former Trump campaign staffer Michael Roman, state Sen. Shawn Still, Stephen Lee, Trevian Kutti and Harrison William Floyd.

    A lengthy process for a complicated case

    Tuesday's charges come two and a half years after the infamous call between Trump and Raffensperger, and more than seven months after a special purpose grand jury wrapped up its investigation into the post-election period and delivered its report to the district attorney.

    The special grand jury, which had the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence but not issue indictments, met for roughly seven months and heard from more than 70 witnesses to determine what, if any, laws were broken.

    Some of those witnesses took immunity deals from the prosecutor's office in exchange for their testimony, including a number of fake Republican electors not charged in connection with the scheme, according to public court filings.

    The special grand jury issued a final report earlier this year with recommendations to Willis. Limited portions of that report were made public in February, after a judge decided that the recommendations would largely be kept under wraps.

    The district attorney had argued for the report to stay sealed to protect the rights of those who might face criminal charges, and now that indictments have been unsealed the full report is expected to be released.

    Several legal battles also played out throughout the investigative process, from witnesses fighting subpoenas to appear before the special grand jury to lawyers for Trump unsuccessfully filing numerous motions to block the investigation.

    Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, one of the sham electors in Georgia, successfully disqualified the district attorney from investigating him because of a conflict of interest: Willis held a fundraiser for fellow Democrat Charlie Bailey, who eventually became the party's nominee against Jones in the 2022 election. Jones is listed as one of nearly three dozen unindicted coconspirators in the filing.

    What comes next

    The next few weeks will be busy at the Fulton County courthouse as the defendants will appear for their arraignments. Willis said she's giving those charged the opportunity to surrender voluntarily no later than Aug. 25 at noon ET.

    That means potential booking photos and fingerprinting.

    "It doesn't matter your status. We have a mugshot ready for you," Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat said to reporters last week. "Unless someone tells me differently, we are following our normal practices."

    The large number of defendants and complicated nature of the case could see a lengthy period of time before a trial starts, though Willis said during the press conference Monday that she's seeking a trial date within six months.

    But her office is also prosecuting Atlanta rapper Young Thug and others under the state's RICO law, and jury selection has stretched for seven months with little progress.

    Another complicating factor for the former president's fortunes in Atlanta is his mounting legal jeopardy elsewhere, even as primary polling pegs him as the runaway frontrunner for a third straight Republican nomination.

    And unlike cases in other jurisdictions, the prospect of a pardon for these state level crimes would have to go through the independent Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and could not come until after any sentences are served.

    Copyright 2023 Georgia Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Georgia Public Broadcasting.

    Stephen Fowler
    Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.