The fourth indictment of former President Donald Trump may be the most sweeping yet.
The sprawling, 98-page case unveiled Monday opens up fresh legal ground and exposes more than a dozen of Trump’s allies to new jeopardy.
But it also raises familiar legal issues of whether the First Amendment allows a politician to try to overturn an election. Already, Trump and his supporters are alleging the indictment is the product of a politicized, corrupt process to hobble him as he competes for the GOP nomination to face President Joe Biden next year.
Here are some takeaways from Monday’s indictment:
The big one
This may be the last of the Trump indictments, but it was the big one. The indictment lists 18 defendants in addition to Trump, all joined together by Georgia’s unusual anti-racketeering, or RICO, law.
Many of the defendants aren’t even based in Georgia. The better-known defendants include former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and attorney Sidney Powell, who appeared in numerous hearings and on television spreading false claims about unfounded incidents of purported election fraud. Giuliani and Powell were among the unnamed co-conspirators in the federal indictment against Trump for his push to overturn the election that was released earlier this month.
Others, however, had to date escaped mention in charging documents, like Trump’s then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was on the call during which Trump urged Georgia election officials to “find” him the votes he needed to be declared winner of the state.
Other defendants include Mike Roman, a Trump campaign official who the indictment alleges helped arrange slates of fake Trump electors whose votes Congress could count rather than those of the actual appointed ones for the winner of the election, President Joe Biden. Another person charged is Jenna Ellis, who has become a prominent conservative legal personality after working on the Trump campaign and helping spread Trump’s false allegations of widespread fraud.
The charges also fall upon several Georgia players, including Ray Smith and Robert Cheeley, lawyers working for Trump in Georgia, and David Shafer, then the state GOP chairman, for serving as a fake Trump elector along with fellow co-defendants Shawn Still, then the state GOP finance chairman, and Cathleen Alston Latham.
A wider approach
Critics may argue this is an overreach for a local prosecutor’s office. But the Georgia RICO statute gives Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office the ability to construct a wide-ranging narrative by citing and charging other players in the alleged wrongdoing, even those out of state.
Some legal analysts think that Jack Smith, the federal prosecutor who filed the earlier charges against Trump for trying to overturn the election, didn’t charge people identified as co-conspirators in his case, like Giuliani, because he is aiming for a trial as quickly – and with as much time as possible before the 2024 presidential election — as feasible.
Willis on Monday night said she hoped for a trial date in six months. But her office is taking a notably different, more sweeping approach from the more streamlined federal indictment. She vowed that she would seek to try all 19 defendants together.