Judge rejects Trump’s attempt to derail Georgia election fraud probe

Investigators are getting close to filing charges. In addition, an indictment of the ex-president for his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol is likely to be handed down. The Republican says that it could happen ‘at any time’

Fani Willis caso Trump
Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney prosecuting the case against Trump in Georgia, with two associates in May 2022.Ben Gray (AP)
María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo

Unbeatable in the polls — the most recent one, published on Monday, gives him a 37-point lead over Ron DeSantis in the 2024 Republican primaries — Donald Trump’s judicial setbacks do not seem to be hampering his electoral prospects, although his legal defense has cost him over $40 million so far this year and about $56 million since he left the presidency. But his legal representation has not borne much fruit: Trump has not managed to avoid indictments in Manhattan and Florida, for the Stormy Daniels case and the confidential papers that he took to his Mar-a-Lago mansion, respectively; nor has he escaped judgments handing down millions of dollars in damages (for the Trump Organization’s tax fraud, $1.6 million, and $5 million for his sexual abuse and defamation of writer E. Jean Carroll).

His lawyers’ billable hours can only increase in the future, if two other likely indictments are confirmed: one in Washington for the events that led to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — the Republican believes that the indictment could occur “at any time,” as he said today on his social media — and the other case in Georgia for attempted electoral fraud. His defense team’s primary strategy of using delay tactics has not worked and also failed in this latest case. On Monday, the judge presiding over the Georgia grand jury investigating him rejected the former president’s attempt to disqualify the prosecutor, Fani Willis, from handling the case and to block any accusation arising from the investigation. His lawyers also unsuccessfully tried to remove New York Attorney General Letitia James from her investigation into his irregular business practices.

In the coming weeks, the Georgia investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 results in that state — where Joe Biden won by a narrow margin of votes — will conclude; it is expected that charges will be filed at that point. The ex-president’s defense team has also failed to get the judge to quash the special grand jury report with recommendations on the indictment. The document remains sealed pending the findings; Willis will ask the grand jury to vote for an indictment before Sept. 1. Most of her team is working remotely for security reasons, and police have already begun to install fences around the courthouse.

Willis is a Democrat, Trump’s usual argument for decrying his victimization. Indeed, the former president accuses all of the prosecutors in the cases against him of engaging in political witch hunts. This Monday he has reiterated this complaint in messages on Truth Social, his social media website, posting “ELECTORAL INTERFERENCE!” (in all capital letters) and “I assume that an Indictment from Deranged Jack Smith and his highly partisan gang of Thugs, pertaining to my ‘PEACEFULLY & PATRIOTICALLY Speech…”

In the Georgia case, the primary evidence is the recording of the call Trump made to the Secretary of State, also a Republican, Brad Raffensperger, on January 2, 2021, asking him to find enough votes to change the election results. “I just want to find 11,780 votes” — one more than the votes Biden won in that state — Trump is heard saying in the audio recording. Still president at the time (Biden was sworn in on January 20), Trump rebuked Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, pleaded with him to act and threatened the secretary of state with vague criminal consequences if he refused to act. The latter rejected Trump’s demands and explained that his claims were based on disproven conspiracy theories. Raffensperger made it clear to Trump that Biden’s victory in Georgia by a margin of 11,779 votes had been fair. “The data you have is incorrect,” the senior official told Trump.

Others are also implicated in the case in Georgia, one of the swing states that are decisive in the national electoral outcome. One such person is Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former personal lawyer. Last week, the former mayor of New York City put another obstacle in the way of Trump’s reelection campaign by confessing that he had lied in his efforts to get his boss the votes he wanted. Under investigation in the case, Giuliani admitted to having made false statements about two election officials who have since sued him for defaming them when he claimed that fraud had taken place in Georgia during the 2020 elections.

Georgia has become another thorn in Trump’s side, despite his broad support among the Republican voter base in his bid for reelection, according to Siena College’s latest poll for The New York Times, a survey that is generally reliable. Even if Trump is convicted, no law prevents him from running for election or even being re-elected president. But his wishes are no longer commands: in the November midterm elections, the ex-president wanted to exact revenge against the political figures in Georgia who refused to intervene in 2020, but Republican governor Brian Kemp, who also opposed Trump’s chicanery, was re-elected as governor.

Carlos de Oliveira, manager of Mar-a-Lago, arrives at the Miami courthouse on July 31.
Carlos de Oliveira, manager of Mar-a-Lago, arrives at the Miami courthouse on July 31.MARCO BELLO (REUTERS)

The arraignment of the Mar-a-Lago manager

The grand jury in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case added three new charges against Trump and a third defendant, Carlos de Oliveira, the manager of Trump’s social club. De Oliveira appeared in court for his arraignment on Monday in Miami. The former president allegedly ordered the manager of Mar-a-Lago to erase the contents of the server that temporarily stores images from the mansion’s video surveillance cameras to obstruct the FBI investigation. De Oliveira was arraigned and summoned to appear in court on August 10 in Fort Pierce, about 124 miles (200 kilometers) north of Miami, where Judge Aileen Cannon — who was appointed by Trump — is presiding over the case. De Oliveira was released on $100,000 bail. Trump is handling the legal expenses for both De Oliveira and the other defendant in the case, Walt Nauta.

De Oliveira, who was promoted to his position as manager of the Mar-a-Lago resort last year, allegedly asked a fourth unidentified worker to erase video footage that had been subpoenaed by the Department of Justice and requested by investigators. He is charged with obstruction of justice, corruptly “altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing” recordings and evidence and making false statements to federal investigators. Trump and Nauta pled not guilty to the initial 37 charges and are expected to plead not guilty to the three charges that were added last Thursday. Those include withholding 31 classified documents containing national defense information. The trial is scheduled to begin on May 20.

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