A televised trial with no pardons on the horizon: Why Trump’s fourth indictment is unlike the others

The 19 defendants accused of electoral interference in Georgia face one of the toughest measures in the U.S. system: RICO, a law against organized crime and racketeering

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis holds a press conference after the indictment of Donald Trump.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis holds a press conference after the indictment of Donald Trump.ELIJAH NOUVELAGE (REUTERS)
Macarena Vidal Liy

Donald Trump is facing a criminal investigation — another one — that will go to trial. The case focuses on his efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential elections in the state of Georgia, and is the most detailed and extensive of the four indictments against the former U.S. president. The new indictment, which was announced Monday night, may also become the most dramatic. Unlike federal or New York trials, Georgia law provides that, with few exceptions, hearings are televised. This means that the country may be able to watch Trump — the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination — and his collaborators standing trial right in the middle of the 2024 election campaign.

With the indictment from Georgia, Trump is now facing 91 charges from the four cases against him. These range from falsifying business documents to violating the Espionage Act. If found guilty of everything, he would face tens of years in prison.

The Georgia indictment may cost Trump dearly. Of all the states that voted for Joe Biden in 2020, the defeat in Georgia hurt Trump the most. Firstly because he lost by such a narrow margin — fewer than 12,000 votes — and, secondly, because he lost a state that had voted Republican for the past 30 years. Trump and his allies’ efforts to subvert the results in the state were especially intense and left many traces, according to the indictment presented by the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, after a two-and-a-half-year investigation.

Trump is accused with 18 other people of breaking various criminal laws. Willis has tied their alleged misconduct together to implement one of the toughest legal tools available to prosecutors in the United States: the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). This law was designed to target the mafia and other criminal groups, and imposes long prison sentences for those found guilty: the minimum is five years and the maximum is 20.

Giuliani, from prosecutor to prosecuted

One of the ironies in this case is that one of the defendants, Trump’s personal lawyer and former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, made a name for himself as a ruthless prosecutor by frequently using RICO when he was a district attorney.

Willis, who is also considered an expert in RICO, has accused the 19 defendants of forming a “criminal enterprise” to keep Trump in the White House. “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 states.

Trump has been charged by Special Counsel Jack Smith for his effort to overturn the federal results of the 2020 presidential election, and that indictment also alludes to his collaborators. But the Georgia indictment goes one step further: it not only charges Trump, it also charges 18 co-defendants.

“Rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result,” Willis said Monday night after the indictment was made public.

The fact that the indictment is from Georgia could also cause possible complications for Trump in the future. The former president has discussed the possibility of pardoning himself if he wins the 2024 election. As president, he could also appoint an attorney general to close open federal cases. But neither of the options are possible in Georgia. It is a state case, which means a federal attorney general has no jurisdiction. Presidents also cannot issue pardons in state cases. This task typically falls to the governor. But in Georgia, even the governor cannot grant a pardon: only the State Board of Paroles and Pardons can do so.

Trump and his co-defendants have until noon Friday, August 25, to appear in court. At the arraignment, they will be read the charges against them and issue a plea. The case has been assigned to Judge Scott McAfee, a recent appointment of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has been in office for just six months. Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff who has been charged with Trump, has requested his case be transferred to the federal court, with the hope that those judges decide to dismiss it.

No special treatment

It’s still not known if the arraignment will be televised, or if any special measure is planned for the former president and his co-defendants. In Trump’s previous cases, he was allowed to appear in court without handcuffs and avoided having a mugshot taken. But Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat has previously said that he did not intend to give the detainees any special treatment.

Meanwhile, Trump has gone on the attack. On Tuesday, he claimed the case was a “witch hunt” to prevent him from returning to the White House. Indeed, even before the terms of his indictment were known, Trump had attacked Willis — trying to discredit the prosecution is a tactic the former president has used in all the legal cases against him.

Trump has called a press conference for next Monday to present a report that he claims will prove his allegations of election fraud in the 2020 election in Georgia.

“The only election interference was done by those that rigged and stole the election. Those are the ones you should be going after, not the innocent people that are fighting for election integrity!” Trump posted on his social network, Truth Social. Giuliani, for his part, has accused prosecutors of being “the real criminals.”

So far, Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination have mostly opted for cautious silence. Former governor Chris Christie, who is very critical of the former president, has limited himself to saying that the new indictment is “unnecessary,” as it overlaps with the indictment from Special Counsel Jack Smith. Vikram Ramaswamy, who on several occasions has said he would pardon Trump if he wins the election, claimed the new indictment demonstrates the existence of a “police state.”

The prosecutor opened the investigation after a recorded phone call between Trump and Georgia’s then-Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican, was made public. In the January 2, 2021, call, then-president Trump pressured Raffensperger to “find” him 11,780 votes, one more than those won by Biden in the state.

Willis’ investigation also led her to examine illegal access to the computer systems of electronic voting machines in a rural county, and a plot to use fake electors in a bid to capture the state’s electoral votes for Trump rather than Biden. The idea was to send an alternative group to vote for Trump and force then-vice president, Mike Pence, to recognize those votes as legitimate. Other efforts included pressuring election officials, dozens of calls to Raffensperger — the head of state election management — and harassing staff who participated in the recount.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS