(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump and some of his top administration officials and associates were indicted in Atlanta over efforts to overturn the results of his 2020 election defeat in Georgia, the fourth criminal case against the former president as he campaigns for the White House.
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The indictment, approved by a grand jury on Monday, charges Trump and 18 other defendants, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and former senior Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, with racketeering and other crimes. The indictment sets the stage for another dramatic arraignment and, presumably, another plea of not guilty by the former president.
Trump, 77, was charged with racketeering, which was the central count in the indictment, and included 161 specific acts in furtherance of that conspiracy. That charge carries a minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison, but Trump would be expected to face far less time than the top end penalty.
In a press conference late Monday night, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis asked that all defendants surrender by Aug. 25. She said she intends to try all 19 defendants together, and to ask a judge to hold a trial within the next 6 months.
“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,” the indictment says.
Unlike the other cases, it’s likely that Trump’s trial in Atlanta would be televised under rules adopted in 2018 by the Supreme Court of Georgia, which seek to promote “increased public access to the courts and openness of judicial proceedings.” Criminal trials, including earlier proceedings in the Trump investigation, have been routinely televised.
‘Joined Criminal Enterprise’
Besides racketeering, the former president was also charged with false statements and writings, conspiracy to commit forgery, solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer, and filing false documents, among other crimes. Trump’s lawyers called the indictment “flawed and unconstitutional.”
The 41-count indictment assigns an array of alleged crimes across all 19 defendants, ranging from making false statements, soliciting public officials to violate their oaths, forgery, influencing witnesses, computer theft, and perjury.
Willis said they joined a criminal enterprise that pursued the illegal goal of helping Trump seize an election he lost in Georgia to President Joe Biden.
“The defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s election results,” Willis said.
The other defendants included a slew of conservative attorneys who advised Trump’s campaign and aided his efforts to overturn the results in Georgia and other states, such as John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis, and Sidney Powell. The indictment also featured David Shafer, the former chair of the Georgia Republican party.
Lawyers for those defendants, along with Meadows and Clark, didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
Giuliani said in a statement that “the real criminals here are the people who have brought this case forward both directly and indirectly.”
Earlier in the day, confusion reigned briefly after Reuters reported that prosecutors had filed their long-awaited legal action against Trump, citing a two-page court document that had been posted on the court’s website and then quickly taken down. The story was debunked by Georgia court officials, who called the document circulated in news outlets and social media “fictitious.”
Trump’s lawyers called the developments a “major fumble” by the DA’s office that undermined the credibility of the indictment.
“The events that have unfolded today have been shocking and absurd, starting with the leak of a presumed and premature indictment before the witnesses had testified or the grand jurors had deliberated and ending with the District Attorney being unable to offer any explanation,” Trump lawyers said.
The charges by Willis cover some events detailed in the Aug. 1 indictment by US Special Counsel John “Jack” Smith, who accused Trump of conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump was previously charged by Smith with mishandling classified documents, and by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over hush-money payments to a porn star. He pleaded not guilty in all three of those cases.
This fourth indictment will compound the demands on Trump’s schedule as he campaigns amid trials already scheduled for next year in the hush-money and classified documents cases. Trump is awaiting a trial date in the election interference case by Smith, who accuses him of conspiring to defraud the US by seeking to halt Biden’s certification as president, ultimately leading to an assault on the US Capitol by a mob of Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6, 2021.
Willis, a Democrat elected in 2020, secured the indictment as Trump holds a commanding lead in polls over his Republican rivals seeking the GOP presidential nomination next year. Trump has attacked President Joe Biden’s Justice Department, as well as Willis and Bragg, claiming they’re prosecuting him to weaken his candidacy. Those attacks have scored with GOP voters and boosted his campaign fundraising.
Willis used the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as RICO, to charge Trump, Giuliani and the rest of his co-defendants. RICO charges are typically associated with street gangs and mobsters, but Willis was the lead prosecutor at a trial that used the law to win racketeering convictions against 11 Atlanta public school educators.
Willis didn’t limit the scope of the allegations to her home district of Fulton County, alleging that the criminal enterprise she was prosecuting spanned the other battleground states — Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — and Washington, DC.
‘Find 11,780 Votes’
Willis began investigating Trump soon after news surfaced about his phone call on Jan. 2, 2021, to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger demanding he “find 11,780 votes” – or one more than Biden’s margin of victory out of 4.9 million ballots cast in Georgia. On the Raffensperger call, Trump bullied, pleaded and voiced discredited conspiracy theories.
“There’s no way I lost Georgia,” Trump told the Republican secretary of state. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
Raffensperger pushed back, saying: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
The Willis investigation was wide-ranging, examining two months of pressure applied to Georgia election officials. Beyond the Raffensperger call, Trump also phoned Governor Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and Georgia’s then-House Speaker David Ralston, who died in November. Raffensperger’s chief investigator Frances Watson also got a call from Trump, who urged her to look for fraud.
Willis has examined 16 Republicans who supported Trump and signed a false certificate saying they were “duly elected and qualified” presidential electors. They met at the State Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, as Democrats convened to cast their electoral college votes for Biden. At least eight Republican electors got immunity from Willis.
--With assistance from Natalie Choy and Sabrina Willmer.
(Corrects number of charges against Trump in graphic midway throuugh the story.)
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