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Trump indicted for racketeering over 2020 election interference

Donald Trump was indicted Tuesday on charges of racketeering and a string of election crimes after a sprawling, two-year probe into his efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat to Joe Biden in the US state of Georgia.

The case — relying on laws typically used to bring down mobsters — is the fourth targeting the 77-year-old Republican this year and could lead to a watershed moment, the first televised trial of a former president in US history.

Prosecutors in Atlanta charged the Republican leader with 13 felony counts — compounding the legal threats he is facing in multiple jurisdictions as a firestorm of investigations imperils his bid for a second White House term.

Eighteen co-defendants were indicted in the probe, including Trump’s former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who pressured local legislators over the result after the election, and Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

“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 read.

“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.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis holds a press conference after a grand jury voted to indict former US President Donald Trump and 18 others on August 14, 2023. The Georgia prosecutor who brought sweeping charges against former president Donald Trump said that she wants to hold their trial “within the next six months.”
 (Photo by Christian MONTERROSA / AFP)

With Trump already due to go on trial in New York, south Florida and Washington, the latest charges herald the unprecedented scenario of the 2024 presidential election being litigated as much from the courtroom as the ballot box.

The Trump campaign released a statement as the charges were being processed calling Fulton County’s chief prosecutor Fani Willis, who is a Democrat, a “rabid partisan” who was “persecuting” the former president with “bogus indictments.”

The twice-impeached Trump was charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, as well as six conspiracy counts over alleged efforts to commit forgery, impersonate a public official and submit false statements and documents.

He is also accused of lying in statements and filing fake documents, as well as solicitating public officials to break their oaths.

Most serious threat

Under federal law, anyone who can be connected to a criminal “enterprise” through which offenses were committed can be convicted under RICO. The broader Georgia law doesn’t even require the existence of the enterprise.

Georgia, which Biden won by fewer than 12,000 votes, presents perhaps the most serious threat to Trump’s liberty as he leads the field comfortably for his party’s nomination to bid for reelection.

Even if he is returned to the Oval Office, he would have none of the powers that presidents arguably enjoy in the federal system to pardon themselves or have prosecutors drop cases.

The harsh penalties associated with RICO cases can be an incentive for co-defendants to seek cooperation deals, and the statutes are usually used to target organized crime.

Under federal law, anyone who can be connected to a criminal “enterprise” through which offenses were committed can be convicted under RICO. The broader Georgia law doesn’t even require the existence of the enterprise.

Atlanta-area authorities launched the probe after Trump called Georgia officials weeks before he was due to leave the White House, pressuring them to “find” the 11,780 votes that would reverse Biden’s victory in the Peach State.

former US President Donald Trump walks with Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after returning to the White House from an event at the WWII memorial in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2020. The indictment named a number of co-defendants including Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

Meadows, who is accused of trying to get a public official to violate his oath, was on the call.

Willis empaneled a special grand jury that heard from around 75 witnesses before recommending a raft of felony counts in a secret report in February.

She alleges that Trump’s team worked with local Republicans on a scheme to replace legitimate slates of “electors” — the officials who certify a state’s results and send them to the US Congress — with fake pro-Trump stand-ins.

Criminal intent?

Donald Trump (R) listens as his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks to the City of New York Police Benevolent Association on August 14, 2020.  The indictment named also Rudy Giuliani, who pressured local legislators over the result after the election, and Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

Giuliani, who faces 13 felony counts, was being investigated over accusations of harassment of two Fulton County poll workers while other Trump allies were charged over the accessing of sensitive data from an election office in a rural county south of Atlanta, one day after the 2021 Capitol riot.

Trump is already facing dozens of felony charges after being federally indicted over the alleged plot to subvert the election, and further prosecutions over his alleged mishandling of classified documents and keeping allegedly fraudulent business records.

Authorities in Atlanta installed security barricades outside the downtown courthouse in anticipation of a potential influx of Trump supporters and counter-protesters in the latest case.

Lawmakers investigating Trump’s efforts to cling to power heard evidence in a series of congressional hearings last summer that would challenge his potential defense that he genuinely believed he had been cheated of the election.

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