(The Hill) – A sprawling, multi-defendant indictment. An ex-president’s trial televised for the world to watch. Potential charges typically used for organized crime.
Before charges have even been announced, the possible indictment of former President Trump in Georgia — hinging on his efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results to remain in power — already has the makings of a watershed moment in U.S. history.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) has signaled charges in her years-long investigation are imminent, setting the stage for the former president’s fourth indictment this year. Trump’s prior charges have stemmed from probes into his business dealings, handling of classified documents and behavior after losing the 2020 presidential race.
“The work is accomplished,” Willis recently said. “We’ve been working for two-and-a-half years. We’re ready to go.”
The Georgia probe is expected to produce the last Trump indictment after months of back-to-back charges. But its broad scope and potential consequence — likely to play out on the world stage — sets it apart from the rest.
While the Georgia case would deal with a narrower set of facts than the Justice Department‘s election interference case, focusing only on Trump’s conduct in the Peach State, in many ways it’s a broader case.
The Justice Department’s indictment of Trump was narrowly focused on the former president, casting him as the ringleader of a far-reaching plot across federal and state governments.
While it lists six co-conspirators, they remain unindicted.
Meanwhile, Willis has sent target letters to at least 17 individuals notifying them that their conduct was being reviewed in the probe. That group includes former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, as well as 16 Georgians who agreed to serve as fake electors in the campaign. Half of them, however, have since struck immunity deals.
But it’s possible Willis may cast an even wider net.
And while federal prosecutors brought charges on four counts in its Jan. 6 case, Georgia law includes several statutes that could be used for charging numerous defendants.
Who else might be charged
Willis’s investigation has multiple targets beyond Trump, including those in his inner orbit and individuals who aided in efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia.
Those individuals could soon find themselves indicted alongside the former president. The foreperson of a special grand jury convened in the investigation has publicly said they recommended multiple indictments, and CNN reported that Willis is expected to seek charges against more than a dozen people.
Some of the potential defendants overlap with the unindicted co-conspirators in Trump’s federal criminal case stemming from the 2020 election, such as Giuliani, who pressured legislators during multiple committee hearings convened following the election.
It’s possible the indictment could also touch on others close to Trump who received little attention in the federal case, such as former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Willis in particular has probed an infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” the margin Trump needed to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
Also on the call with Trump were Meadows and attorneys Cleta Mitchell, Kurt Hilbert and Alex Kaufman.
The probe has also reportedly looked at a breach into an elections office in Coffee County, a rural area of Georgia located south of Atlanta, one day after the Capitol riot.
Footage that surfaced in September 2022 showed a forensics team working for Sidney Powell, an attorney allied with Trump, gaining access to the office and copying data from voting machines.
Charges will differ
With charges expected to cover a greater number of defendants, the case is also likely to tap a wider number of statues than Trump’s federal case.
Some experts say Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law could be an asset in bringing a case against Trump and several co-conspirators.
RICO statutes are typically used for organized crime, but the Georgia statute is broader than its federal counterpart and can be geared toward any “enterprise,” enabling the use of the statute for a wider variety of conduct.
Doing so would help weave together different elements of the Trump campaign’s efforts, connecting a plot carried out by numerous actors, but it would also allow prosecutors to sweep in criminal statutes in Georgia that aren’t directly tied to elections — such as making false statements and computer trespassing, following the Coffee County incident.
The various pressure campaigns on state officials could each support charges for criminal solicitation of election fraud and implicate other statutes that bar seeking to interfere with an official carrying out their duties, including those involved with overseeing an election.
The false elector scheme could trigger other charges, including interference with primaries and elections and conspiracy to commit election fraud.
Transparency in court proceedings
The unique rules that run Georgia’s courts could also set it apart from Trump’s other criminal cases.
“Historically in Georgia, there has been a value on transparency,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University. “That’s not that’s not the case in other jurisdictions.”
Federal courts by and large prohibit the photographing and broadcasting of judicial proceedings from courtrooms, while state courts have grown more lenient over time.
The court in Fulton County, however, is “comfortable with televising proceedings,” Kreis said. In fact, Judge Robert C.I. McBurney of the Fulton County Superior Court — who has overseen matters tied to Georgia’s Trump investigation so far — has a YouTube channel where he televises his court’s proceedings.
Given this information, it’s likely Trump’s case will be televised — from pretrial proceedings through a possible trial. The outcome would grant unprecedented public access to one of the most high-profile trials in U.S. history.
“It would really afford the public to see and to evaluate evidence for themselves, and to also understand, or at least appreciate, the process involved — to kind of get a sense of why things are happening the way that they are, as opposed to having to filter everything through court sketches and reports from the courtroom,” Kreis said.
Additionally, members of the grand jury deciding which charges Trump will face in Georgia — or whether he’ll face any at all — will be made public if an indictment is handed down. Georgia law specifies the format of indictments, which includes space on the paperwork to list the grand jurors’ names.
That might encourage some jurors to speak out about their deliberations, offering insight into their decision-making.
“I think that their willingness to be put in the public eye will kind of dictate how some of that works,” Kreis said.
‘No quick, easy out’
In the two federal cases where Trump faces criminal charges, questions have swirled over how Trump might use a future presidential reelection to evade potential consequences.
Some have speculated that Trump could direct his Justice Department to stop investigating the cases against him, or that he could issue a self-pardon on any conviction. But Georgia’s case is “different,” said Alan Rozenshtein, a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
“Trump can’t pardon himself, nor can he direct Fani Willis to dismiss charges,” he said.
The Constitution grants the president the ability to issue pardons for “offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” But one of the pardon clause’s two caveats — that clemency may only be granted for offenses against the U.S., not individual states — would prevent Trump from exonerating himself after a conviction in Georgia.
Only the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles could issue a pardon to Trump if he is convicted of criminal charges in the state, according to Kreis. Even then, the board can only consider a pardon if the convicted individual has fulfilled their sentence and five years have elapsed, he said.
“There is no quick, easy out for Donald Trump — or any person convicted of a felony — in the state of Georgia,” Kreis said.