The judicial vicissitudes of Donald Trump over his activities during his tenure as president of the United States continue to throw up surprises. In a fourth criminal case, this time issued by the state of Georgia, a grand jury voted to indict Trump over allegations he headed a criminal organization whose aim was to subvert the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, along with 18 other people including senior White House figures such as his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump legal advisor, and other low-level Republican officials.
The seriousness of the charges and the criminal proceedings opened by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office surpasses any of the other indictments against the former president, particularly the two brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, a Justice Department appointee. Smith’s aim was to simplify and expedite the case against Trump for the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, so the prosecutor ruled out including other suspects and avoided the complexity of an indictment for sedition and insurrection, concentrating instead on a total of four charges including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has instead opted to indict Trump using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a legal tool designed to tackle the mafia and organized crime, to charge the former president and his co-defendants with forming a “criminal association” to falsify the result of the election and annul Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Willis’ indictment has huge expansive potential as it extends the alleged criminal acts to six states and the electoral certification process in Congress.
The prosecutor is seeking a trial date in March that, like the other three cases against Trump, will coincide with the Republican primary campaign. Although the former president has managed to spin each new indictment to raise funds and fuel his theory of a Democratic conspiracy to hinder his return to the White House, his ability to participate in rallies and debates will be hampered by court appearances in New York, Florida, Washington and Fulton. It is even possible that the latest indictment could lead to the defendants being remanded in custody, which would provide the former president with a new element of propaganda. The direct broadcasting of the trial on television, which is mandatory in Georgia with few exceptions, could also have an impact on Trump’s primary campaign.
If Trump is elected president again and is convicted in Georgia on any of the 13 state charges against him, he will not be able to use federal presidential powers to pardon himself or appoint a like-minded prosecutor willing to dismiss the case, both hypothetical options if he is convicted of any of the 78 charges he has accrued in the three other cases. Georgia’s governor also has no powers to grant Trump amnesty if he is convicted, a decision that can only be made by the State Congress five years after sentencing.
The Georgia indictment demonstrates the vitality of the American judicial system, where the might of the federal government has no jurisdiction over the operation of the exclusive powers of the states. Due to this system of power sharing, these proceedings against Trump provide greater guarantees of law enforcement, transparency, and accountability on the part of a president who beat two impeachments while in the Oval Office and who has a special knack of turning every new legal setback into an electoral propaganda platform.
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