Former US president Donald Trump was hit with a fourth set of criminal charges when a Georgia grand jury issued a sweeping indictment accusing him of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
By Andy Sullivan, Jacqueline Thomsen and Joseph Ax
WASHINGTON – Former US president Donald Trump was hit with a fourth set of criminal charges when a Georgia grand jury issued a sweeping indictment accusing him of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
The charges, brought late on Monday by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and which Trump called a “witch-hunt”, add to the legal woes facing the former president, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination for the 2024 election.
The sprawling 98-page indictment listed 19 defendants and 41 criminal counts in all. All of the defendants were charged with racketeering, which is used to target members of organised crime groups and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, and lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman were among those charged.
“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 at a press conference.
Trump and the other defendants have until noon EDT (1600 GMT) on Friday, August 25, to surrender voluntarily, rather than face arrest, Willis said. She said she intends to try all 19 defendants together.
“This one-sided grand jury presentation relied on witnesses who harbor their own personal and political interests,” Trump lawyers Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg said in a statement.
“We look forward to a detailed review of this indictment, which is undoubtedly just as flawed and unconstitutional as this entire process has been,” Trump lawyers added.
Trump, in a social media post overnight, repeated his verbal attacks against Willis and called the indictment a “witch hunt” as he seeks the White House a third time: “Why didn’t they Indict 2.5 years ago? Because they wanted to do it right in the middle of my political campaign.”
The 13 felony charges against Trump matched those listed on a document that was briefly posted on the court website earlier in the day and reported by Reuters before it disappeared.
Lawyers for those named either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a January 2, 2021, phone call, Trump urged Georgia’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to reverse his narrow loss in the state. Raffensperger declined to do so.
Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol four days later in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory.
The indictment cites a number of crimes that Trump or his associates allegedly committed from before the November 3, 2020, election until September 2022, including falsely testifying to lawmakers that election fraud had occurred and urging state officials to alter the results.
It says the defendants tried to subvert the US electoral process by submitting false slates of electors, people who make up the Electoral College that elects the president and vice president.
BREACHING VOTING MACHINES, HARASSING ELECTION WORKERS
It alleges that defendants breached voting equipment in a rural Georgia county, including personal voter information and images of ballots.
Prosecutors also said the defendants harassed an election worker who became the focus of conspiracy theories.
The indictment reaches across state lines, saying that Giuliani, Meadows and others called officials in Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to urge them to change the outcome in those states.
The indictment mentions 30 other co-conspirators, though they were not named or charged.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and has pleaded not guilty in three other criminal cases.
He faces a New York state trial in March 2024 involving a hush money payment to a porn star, and a federal trial beginning in May in Florida for allegedly mishandling federal classified documents. In both cases Trump pleaded not guilty.
A third indictment, in Washington federal court, accuses him of illegally seeking to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Trump denies wrongdoing in this case as well, and a trial date has yet to be set.
Georgia, once reliably Republican, has emerged as one of a handful of politically competitive states that can determine the outcome of presidential elections.
Trump persists in falsely claiming he won the November 2020 election although dozens of court cases and state probes have found no evidence to support his claim.
NOT HURTING HIS CAMPAIGN
Strategists said that while the indictments could bolster Republican support for Trump, they may hurt him in the November 2024 general election, when he will have to win over more independent-minded voters.
In a July Reuters/Ipsos poll, 37% of independents said the criminal cases made them less likely to vote for him.
Willis’s investigation drew on testimony from Trump advisers including Giuliani, who urged state lawmakers in December 2020 not to certify the election, and Republican state officials like Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp, who refused to echo Trump’s false election claims.
While many Republican officials have echoed Trump’s false election claims, Kemp and Raffensperger have refused to do so.
Raffensperger has said there was no factual basis for Trump’s objections, while Kemp certified the election results despite pressure from within his party.
Trump has been mired in legal trouble since leaving office.
Apart from the criminal cases, a New York jury in May found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll and awarded her $5 million in a civil case. A second defamation lawsuit scheduled for January seeks $10 million in damages. Trump denies wrongdoing.
Trump is due to face trial in October in a civil case in New York that accuses him and his family business of fraud to obtain better terms from lenders and insurers.
Trump’s company was fined $1.6 million after being convicted of tax fraud in a New York court in December.