Recap: Donald Trump indicted on 2020 election fraud charges in Georgia

Charges include the use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, which penalizes activities of individuals engaging in organized crime.

A Georgia grand jury indicted 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump and several allies Monday on conspiracy charges of trying to steal Georgia's electoral votes from President Joe Biden after the 2020 election.

The indictment, bringing 41 charges against 19 defendants, accuses Trump and confederates of a coordinated plan to have state officials essentially spike Biden's victory and award the state to Trump. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launched her investigation of Trump in February 2021. The indictment had been expected since a special grand jury recommended unspecified charges in February 2023. 

Here is what we know about the Georgia case: 

  • Trump and the others named in the 98-page indictment have until noon on Friday, Aug. 25, to voluntarily surrender.
  • The legal case revolves mostly around the state's RICO statute, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which penalizes activities of individuals engaging in organized crime.
  • Others indicted included former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
  • Willis said she would seek a trial date "within the next six months," but scheduling is up to the appointed judge.
  • Much of the indictment focused on behind-the-scenes pressure campaign on state election workers and the overt harassment that resulted from Trump's naming of Ruby Freeman, a poll worker he falsely accused of fraud.

Willis said Trump had opportunities to legally challenge the election's results, but chose instead to pursue a criminal scheme that was counter to Georgia's process she called, "essential to the functioning of our Democracy."

The Trump campaign condemned the charges as politically motivated. "Call it election interference or election manipulation," said a campaign statement.

Besides the Georgia case, Trump faces New York charges of falsifying business records to make hush payments to women who claimed to have had sex with him before the 2016 election. And Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith charged him with conspiracy to obstruct justice and retaining classified documents after leaving the White House. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, center, speaks in the Fulton County Government Center during a news conference, Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Atlanta. Donald Trump and several allies have been indicted in Georgia over efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state.

Willis wants a Trump trial date 'within six months'

Willis told reporters she would like a trial date for the Trump case "within the next six months," emphasizing RICO defendants get prison – not probation.

"It is not a probated sentence," she said during a brief news conference in which she outlined the charges in the indictment

The Atlanta DA also said she would like to try all 19 defendants together.

Willis said Trump and the other defendants have until Friday, Aug. 25, to surrender or face arrest; she did not comment on the details of a Trump arraignment.

The indictment outlines a "criminal conspiracy" to overturn the results of the 2020 election, she. She read the names of the defendants, outlined the allegations, and said the defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

"We do want to move this case along, and so we will be asking for a proposed order that occurs a trial date within the next six months."

− David Jackson

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (at lecturn) speaks during a news conference at the Fulton County Government building on August 14, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. A grand jury today handed up an indictment naming former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies over an alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.

Harassment of election worker Ruby Freeman a focus in the indictment

The indictment alleges that Trump and his allies falsely accused Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman of committing election fraud and repeated these allegations to Georgia legislators and officials.

“In furtherance of this scheme, members of the enterprise traveled from out of state to harass Freeman, intimidate her, and solicit her to falsely confess to election crimes that she did not commit,” the indictment says. 

Freeman had previously testified before the U.S. House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack along with her daughter Shaye Moss that they both faced harassment after being falsely accused of election fraud.

They were cleared by Georgia authorities of wrongdoing earlier this year- Sudiksha Kochi

House GOP leadership: Fulton County DA ‘weaponizing their office’

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., posted on X following the unsealed indictment Monday pointing fingers at President Joe Biden writing that the current president has weaponized government against Trump to interfere in the 2024 election.

“Now a radical DA in Georgia is following Biden’s lead by attacking President Trump and using it to fundraise her political career,” he posted.

Among GOP leadership, Republican Conference Chair New York Rep. Elise Stefanik also took to X to defend Trump writing that he had “every legal right” to challenge the results of the election and that Willis displayed “political bias” toward Trump.

“This is another rogue Far Left radical District Attorney weaponizing their office to target Joe Biden’s top political opponent President Trump,” she wrote.

- Rachel Looker 

The indictment by the numbers: 98 pages, 41 charges, 19 defendants

It's a big document, with large bottom lines: 98 pages with at least 41 charges and 19 defendants, including attorneys and so-called "fake electors" as well as Trump himself.

The legal case revolves mostly around the state's RICO statute, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which penalizes activities of individuals engaging in organized crime. Trump himself faces 13 felony charges in this indictment, bringing to 91 the total charges against him across four separate indictments.

The Atlanta indictment accuses Trump and more than a dozen confederates of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to wipe out Biden's victory in Georgia and award the state to the then-president; the scheme allegedly involved improper pressure of state election officials and the use of so-called "fake electors."

− David Jackson

Rudy Giuliani, who pioneered the use of RICO, indicted on RICO charges

President Richard Nixon signed the federal RICO provisions into law in 1970, part of an effort to give authorities the power to go after the heads of Mafia families who managed to insulate themselves from prosecution.

Before he became a personal attorney to Trump and was caught up in the investigations swirling around the former president, it was Giuliani who put a national spotlight on RICO statutes. The former U.S. attorney wielded that law to prosecute the leaders of several mob families in New York in the late 1980s.

Last year, Giuliani's attorneys acknowledged that he was a target of the Georgia probe. According to the indictment, Giuliani repeatedly made false statements about the outcome of the election as he attempted to convince state lawmakers in several states to appoint electors who would support Trump.

Giuliani condemned the charges this week as “an affront” to democracy that harms the justice system.

A former federal prosecutor as well as mayor New York City, Giuliani said: “it’s just the next chapter in a book of lies with the purpose of framing President Donald Trump and anyone willing to take on the ruling regime.”

− John Fritze and David Jackson

What are fake electors?

Legal experts say the election fraud charges represent the most serious case against him because of allegations he tried to steal the election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power to President Joe Biden. 

Within days of election, Trump’s legal advisers ginned up the strategy that one of the architects called "somewhat dicey" in Georgia. The plan called for then-Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as Senate president, to reject Electoral College votes from states that supported Biden and to flip them to Trump when Congress tallied the votes Jan. 6, 2021. 

Electors met nationwide on Dec. 14, 2020, including Georgia's Republican alternates, who allegedly signed documents falsely claiming they were duly elected, according to the House committee that investigated the U.S. Capitol attack. 

Witnesses told investigators an organizer of the Georgia alternates had trouble setting up a new printer to create the certificates. Participants described the meetings as keeping Trump's legal options open in case he won his legal challenges. 

“It’s like when you have the Super Bowl, you print T-shirts, both teams as being the winner, and you keep the T-shirts for the ones that were the winner and you throw away the ones that weren’t,” Shawn Still, who was the party's finance chairman at the time who is now a state senator, told House investigators. “As far as we knew, this was an exercise in futility and that the only ballots that were counted were the ones for Biden.”

Chapman School of Law professor John Eastman testifies on Capitol Hill in 2017. Eastman was also a former lawyer for former President Donald Trump.

Why did Trump call Raffensperger? 

Trump tried to call Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger 18 times and finally reached him on Jan. 2, 2021. 

"All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said. 

Trump also insisted that “the ballots are corrupt” and someone was “shredding” them. He told Raffensperger “it is more illegal for you than it is for them because you know what they did and you’re not reporting it.” 

Raffensperger told House investigators he considered Trump's comment a threat. But he said officials found no widespread election fraud. He had recertified the results Dec. 7, 2020, and the state Supreme Court rejected one election challenge Dec. 12, although others loomed. 

"Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong,” Raffensperger said of a false allegation that unregistered voters cast ballots. 

− Bart Jansen

In this Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, then-President-elect Donald Trump, right, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pose for photographs as Giuliani arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J.

What are Trump's other cases?

Trump faces several civil and criminal cases as he campaigns for president in 2024: 

  • Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith notified Trump he’s a target in the investigation of election fraud in the 2020 election. Trump’s lawyers met with Smith’s team July 24 and an indictment could come any day. 
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James has a $250 million civil trial scheduled to start Oct. 2 against Trump’s namesake company on allegations of fraud for lying for a decade about the value of properties. 
  • E. Jean Carroll won a $5 million defamation case against Trump, which he is appealing. She has another trial scheduled to begin in New York on Jan. 15 – the day of Iowa Republican presidential caucuses. 
  • New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg has a criminal trial scheduled to start March 25 on 34 charges of falsifying business records to pay hush money before the 2016 election to a woman who claimed to have had sex with him. 
  • Smith has a federal trial tentatively scheduled to start May 20 in Florida on charges related to classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate a year and a half after leaving the White House. Trump faces 40 charges including conspiracy to obstruct justice, retaining national defense records and concealing the records from authorities. 

While the Atlanta grand jury handed down the indictments this week, 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton appeared on MSNBC, saying “I don't feel any satisfaction."

“I feel great, profound sadness that we have a former president who has been indicted for so many charges that went right to the heart of whether or not our democracy would survive.” Clinton, who lost the 2016 election toTrump, said.

“I don't know that anybody should be satisfied. This is a terrible moment for our country to have a former president accused of these terribly important crimes," she added.

− Bart Jansen and David Jackson

A President Trump probably couldn't do much about a Georgia prosecution

Even if Donald Trump is elected president again, there wouldn't be much he could do about a case against him in Georgia.

It would be a state case and the federal government has no authority over state prosecutions. That is also the situation with the hush money case out of New York.

The two other cases against the former president are federal: one involving classified information and the other an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. If elected, Trump could theoretically pardon himself, or otherwise make those cases go away.

− David Jackson

Indictments follow chaotic day

The indictments came at the end of a chaotic day at the Fulton County courthouse.

Reuters reported Monday that a court document listed charges against him appeared briefly on the court’s website before disappearing. But the Fulton County District Attorney’s office said no indictment had yet been returned.

Witnesses such as former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan were seen entering and exiting the courthouse, despite the custom of keeping grand jury deliberations secret.

Reporters waited anxiously in the courtroom until the indictments were handed to the judge in early evening.

− Bart Jansen

Trump can still run in 2024 despite his previous charges

Though Trump has been indicted in other federal and state investigations, he can still run for president in the 2024 election.

Barbara McQuade, a criminal law expert at the University of Michigan, previously told USA TODAY that even if Trump were charged, convicted and sentenced to prison, he would still be able to run for president.

The three exclusive requirements to run for president are to be a natural-born citizen, to be at least 35 years old and to have been a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years, according to the U.S. Constitution.

Trump told reporters in March that he “won’t even think about leaving” the 2024 race, despite his legal troubles.− Sudiksha Kochi

Pro-Trump Republicans attack local prosecutors; other GOP members put blame on Trump 

As the political world waited for the unsealing of Atlanta indictments, Republicans paired off into two groups. Trump allies said they would attack the prosecution, while others said the party should consider another standard-bearer.

"Are we going to let county prosecutors start prosecuting the President of the United States?" said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Fox News. "The former President of the United States. To my Democratic friends, be careful what you wish for."

Others said the issue is Trump himself.

Rep. Mike Lawler, a Republican congressman from New York state who faces a tough re-election battle, told CNN that "I think Donald Trump's conduct post-election was wrong ... I want the party to move in a different direction."

Lawler also said that, if Trump is convicted, "he should not be running for public office."

− David Jackson

Trump campaign blasts Georgia prosecutor as ‘rabid partisan’

Trump’s presidential campaign issued a statement Monday evening blasting Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis as a “rabid partisan” and accusing her of interfering with the 2024 presidential campaign.

The campaign predicted Willis’ investigation would fail along with the charges filed against Trump by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, federal charges filed by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith and a civil lawsuit against his company by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“These activities by Democrat leaders constitute a grave threat to American democracy and are direct attempts to deprive the American people of their rightful choice to cast their vote for President,” the statement said. “It is un-American and wrong.”

– Bart Jansen

Donald Trump Jr. protests the still-sealed indictment

Donald Trump's allies aren't waiting for indictments to be unsealed. They're already on the attack.

“Prosecutorial misconduct like this is what a RIGGED SYSTEM looks like,” said Donald Trump, Jr., on the social media website X, formerly known as Twitter.

In the angry missive re-posted by a number of supporters, the younger Trump added: “How is the AG of Georgia not stepping in to stop this travesty of justice, after the Fulton County DA violated my father's Constitutional Rights and tainted the Grand Jury? Going full Banana Republic!!!”

− David Jackson

What is an indictment? 

An indictment is a formal document that contains allegations that someone committed a crime. It includes the charges laid out against a person and is filed before a case can move forward in court, David Weinstein, a former federal and state prosecutor, previously told USA TODAY. 

Weinstein said that an indictment means a grand jury decided that there’s “more likely than not” enough evidence – based on testimony – to move forward with charging a person. At least twelve jurors must be in agreement that a defendant allegedly committed a crime to issue an indictment. 

After a person is indicted, they must go to trial where a jury will reach an unanimous decision on whether to pursue conviction. 

− USA TODAY staff

Republican witness in Georgia: Party needs to 'pivot' from Trump

One of last grand jury witnesses, former Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, did not provide reporters a legal analysis of the case after his testimony, but did offer political reaction: His party needs to turn away from Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump was the worst candidate ever in the history of the party, even worse than Herschel Walker, and now we’re going to have to pivot from there," Duncan told reporters after his testimony and before the indictment was announced; Walker is the Republican candidate who lost last year's Senate race in Georgia.

Duncan added: "We want to win an election in 2024, it’s going to have to be somebody other than Donald Trump if we do it. As long as we make this about the three-ring circus called Donald Trump, we’re going to lose every time. And you don’t have to go any further than Georgia to see that play out.”

Other Republicans said Duncan is kidding himself, and that Trump owns a big part of the GOP that will simply rally around him, just as they did after the first three indicted cases.

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