Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis discusses the indictments against former President Donald Trump and 18 others on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. (Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)
Former President Donald Trump and several members of his inner circle were indicted Monday in Fulton County’s sweeping investigation into 2020 election interference.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis held a press conference late Monday night to briefly discuss the grand jury’s felony conspiracy and racketeering charges being levied against the 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner and other allies that include his former chief-of-staff Mark Meadows, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and ex-Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer.
Nineteen people were indicted on 41 charges after the grand jury’s vote to hand up indictments and Fulton Judge Robert McBurney’s unsealing of the charges Monday evening.
“All elections in our nation are administered by the states, which are given the responsibility of ensuring a fair process and an accurate counting of the votes,” Willis said late Monday evening. “That includes elections for presidential electors, Congress state officials and local offices. The state’s role in this process is essential to the functioning of our democracy.”
“The indictment alleges that 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.
It is the fourth time the former president has been indicted this year, and it is the second indictment directly tied to Trump’s attempts to stay in power after losing his bid for reelection.
The defendants will have until noon on Friday, Aug. 25 to turn themselves in, Willis said.
Read the 98-page indictment here.
“I remind everyone here that an indictment is only a series of allegations based on a grand jury determination of probable cause to support the charges. It is now the duty of my office to prove these charges in the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt at trial,” Willis said.
Willis said she plans to push for a trial to be held within the next six months, but acknowledged that will be up to the judge.
Felony charges of false statements, forgery, racketeering and election fraud, solicitation of a government employee have also been filed against in the case that’s been more than a year in the making.
The sweeping probe centers on Trump and a number of his supporters who lodged unfounded claims that widespread election fraud cost him the 2020 election in Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes. In early 2022, Willis launched the investigation after a recording of a phone call where Trump asked Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes was released to the public.
Willis, an Atlanta Democrat, has been accused of political bias by Trump and his attorneys who argue she has held fundraisers for candidates of her party in the past.
And on Monday, Reuters reported that a document outlining charges against Trump appeared briefly on the Fulton County court’s website. A Fulton County courts spokesperson issued a statement Monday in response to a “fictitious document that has been circulated online and reported by various media outlets.”
Trump’s Georgia-based attorneys blasted the brief appearance of the document in a statement, calling it part of a pattern that has “plagued this case from its very inception.”
“This was not a simple administrative mistake,” Drew Findling and Jennifer Little said in a joint statement. “A proposed indictment should only be in the hands of the District Attorney’s Office, yet it somehow made its way to the clerk’s office and was assigned a case number and a judge before the grand jury even deliberated.”
Trump also took to his social media site, Truth Social, to bemoan the indictment, calling Willis a “rabid partisan” and accusing her of timing the indictment to “maximally interfere” in next year’s presidential race. Willis brushed off the criticism when asked about the president’s comments.
“I make decisions in this office based on the facts and the law. The law is completely nonpartisan,” Willis said.
The group of 16 fake electors who met at the Georgia Capitol in December 2020 includes current and former state and local GOP officials, ex-Coffee County GOP Chairwoman Cathy Latham, and newly elected state Sen. Shawn Still.
Giuliani pressed Georgia Republicans to set themselves up as alternate electors to counter state Democrat electors casting votes for Joe Biden after GOP election officials confirmed the current president as the winner of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. The plan at first was for the “fake electors” to serve as a placeholder should the former president prevail in court challenges to Georgia’s results. But when Trump’s court challenges were all either dismissed or withdrawn, the alternate electors still signed paperwork swearing they were legitimate delegates.
An eventful day
Even before the prospect of a Monday grand jury decision, a throng of national and local press had assembled outside the Fulton County courthouse Monday morning where they tried to catch the witnesses as they left to quiz them on the process.
The relative calm outside the courthouse was disrupted at one point Monday when opponents of a controversial public safety training center attempted to march through the area around the courthouse that has been closed off for the indictments. Among the group’s chants: “Donald Trump. Andre Dickens. I don’t know the f—— difference.”
But inside the courthouse the grand jury proceeding moved at a faster pace than expected, and by late Monday afternoon, an indictment seemed possible. At least two witnesses – former Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Atlanta journalist George Chidi – who were originally set to testify Tuesday were moved up to Monday.
Duncan, who did not seek reelection last year, brushed aside specific questions about his grand jury testimony Monday but he spoke generally about how he viewed his participation in the process. And politically, he described this moment in time as a potential “pivot point” for Republicans.
“I think it’s important to tell the truth,” Duncan told reporters afterwards. “And to respond to the constitutional duties of answering the questions of the grand jury. It’s important for us as a country to finally figure out exactly what happened, and let Americans decide. Instead of misinformation and tweets, let America decide what’s next for us.”
Other witnesses include state Sen. Jen Jordan and state Rep. Bee Nguyen, two Democrats who were part of the December 2020 legislative meetings where Rudy Giuliani pushed a false narrative in hopes of getting the General Assembly to intervene.
Nguyen confirmed in a statement Monday that she had testified before the grand jury.
“No individual is above the law, and I will continue to fully cooperate with any legal proceedings seeking the truth and protecting our democracy,” Nguyen said. “I believe that every individual who wrongfully and illegally tried to overturn our valid elections should be held accountable so that we can have, as John Adams said, ‘a government of laws, and not of men.’”
Chidi, who testified before the special purpose grand jury, said late Monday that he was dismissed without testifying Monday. He called it a victory for journalists.
The independent Atlanta reporter walked into the fake electors’ meeting at the state Capitol after noticing someone who would have likely served as a GOP elector had Trump won Georgia. He said he was intrigued when the person acted strangely toward him, so he started streaming on Facebook live and followed the man into the meeting room before quickly being ushered out.
When he asked what kind of meeting it was, a woman said they were having an “education” meeting, he said.
“Plainly, they were not having an education meeting. So, up until five minutes ago, the district attorney believed that that observation was relevant to these legal proceedings,” Chidi told a group of reporters who swarmed around him as he left the courthouse. “And perhaps it still is, but the jury may have enough information without me to make a decision.”
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