At the start of the week, Donald Trump faced 78 felony counts across three criminal prosecutions. Then, near midnight on Monday in Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis added a fourth case with 13 more.
In some ways, the new charges resemble the old. Like special counsel Jack Smith, Willis has accused Trump of orchestrating a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election. And like Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Willis has accused Trump of falsifying documents, albeit very different types of documents and for very different reasons.
Beyond the similarities, though, the Georgia case stands apart. In terms of the sheer scope of wrongdoing it alleges, the 98-page indictment sweeps far more broadly than any of the previous indictments against Trump. And for the first time, a panoply of high-ranking aides, attorneys and allies have been named as co-defendants alongside Trump.
“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 document says. “That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states.”
While the indictment lists a total of 41 felony counts, the 13 counts that apply to Trump fall into the following categories:
- One count of violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO.
- Six counts of making false statements and writings, filing false documents or conspiring to do so.
- Three counts of soliciting the “violation of oath” by a public officer.
- Two counts of conspiring to commit first-degree forgery.
- One count of conspiring to impersonate a public officer.
Those charges cover a range of alleged wrongdoing, including Trump’s efforts to pressure Georgia officials to undo the election results, his scheme to assemble false electors claiming to represent the state in the Electoral College, his submission of documents that contained lies about ballot fraud and his attempts to enlist the Justice Department to aid his pressure campaign.
Some of the charges entail automatic prison time under the Georgia criminal code. For instance, if convicted of conspiring to solicit a public official to violate the oath of office, Trump would face a minimum one-year mandatory prison sentence. (Willis alleges Trump committed that crime by pressuring the speaker of the Georgia House to call a special session to appoint fake electors.) The crime of first-degree forgery similarly carries a mandatory prison sentence of at least one year.
The prospect of mandatory prison time is a first among Trump’s criminal cases. In his other cases, some charges — like allegedly falsifying business records in his New York hush money case — are unlikely to result in any prison time for a first-time offender. Other, more serious charges — like Trump’s alleged violations of the Espionage Act and his alleged obstruction of justice in his federal case involving classified documents — typically result in significant prison sentences, but federal judges have discretion.
The gravest charge in the Georgia case is racketeering under the state’s RICO Act. In fact, that’s the only count in the indictment that is denoted on the court’s docket as a “serious felony.” (The other counts are all known simply as “felonies.”) Georgia law uses the “serious” designation to classify certain crimes that carry heavier penalties, in the same way that other states use “A” or “B” felony designations, according to Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University.
Although prison time is not automatic for a conviction under the state’s RICO Act (a judge can decide to dole out only a fine), if the judge does decide to impose a prison sentence, it must be at least five years.
John Acevedo, a law professor at Emory University, said he found the racketeering charge notable because it is “so notoriously difficult to prove.” The RICO count requires Willis to prove not only a conspiracy but also an ongoing enterprise, Acevedo said.
The indictment says that Trump and his co-defendants “constituted a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities including, but not limited to, false statements and writings, impersonating a public ofﬁcer, forgery, ﬁling false documents, inﬂuencing witnesses, computer theft, computer trespass, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state, acts involving theft, and perjury.”
It adds that, “The enterprise constituted an ongoing organization whose members and associates functioned as a continuing unit for a common purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise.”
Acevedo speculated that Willis’ willingness to bring such a charge likely has to do with an effort to pressure some of Trump’s 18 co-defendants to flip on him, because the heavier penalties the charge carries impose a significant threat.
“I think it does reveal a bit of her strategy,” he said.
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