Fani Willis unleashes the Kraken: Trump and 18 others indicted on racketeering charges

Fulton County D.A. files sweeping indictment of Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, John Eastman and 15 others

Published August 14, 2023 11:23PM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump and a long list of alleged co-conspirators were indicted late on Monday night on felony racketeering charges by a grand jury in Atlanta over Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state.

In a 98-page document naming 19 different defendants (as well as roughly 30 unindicted co-conspirators, along with "others not named"), Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis outlined a large-scale alleged conspiracy to keep Trump in power through corrupt tactics following the 2020 presidential election. In addition to Trump, the indictment names well-known Trump confidants and advisers — including Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Mark Meadows, Jeffrey Clark, Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell — as well as several Georgia Republican officials allegedly involved in either the "fake elector" scheme or in breaching the voting systems in rural Coffee County. 

In a press conference that began at about 11:30 p.m., Willis said that Trump and the other defendants would be required to surrender in person for arraignment by Friday, Aug. 25, at 12 noon. 

Charging Trump under Georgia's racketeering statute allows prosecutors to tie together crimes committed by different people in pursuit of one common goal. The statute carries a prison term of five to 20 years.

"So it's a very, very serious crime and one of the things that it does is if you indict a lot of people under the RICO Act, that creates a huge incentive for people who are kind of lower the food chain to cooperate to avoid spending at least five years in prison," Georgia State law professor Clark Cunningham told Salon. 

If Trump is once again elected president next year, he could presumably use his powers to shut down the federal indictments against him. But he would have no power to do anything about the Georgia case, which is technically a county-level prosecution.

"If he were to win the presidency or if a Republican sympathetic to him were to win ... the president of the United States can't pardon or can't dismiss" these charges, Georgia State law professor Anthony Michael Kreis told Axios. "That puts it in a very different light from the federal cases."

The grand jury indictment is the culmination of a years-long probe by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. A special purpose grand jury started its investigation into the former president in May of 2022 and concluded its work in January. The jurors looked specifically into Trump and his allies' repeated efforts to persuade Georgia state officials to attempt to overturn the 2020 election. 

The most famous of those efforts was the infamous phone call that Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in early January of 2021, in which the former president asked him to reverse the election results. 

"All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have because we won the state," Trump said on the call to Raffensperger, who insisted that the Georgia count was accurate.

CNN has also reported that at least one additional call by Trump to a Georgia state official was part of the investigation.

We need your help to stay independent

According to The Guardian, Willis' investigation also included a phone call from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in which Graham asked Raffensperger if he had the power to throw out absentee ballots in the state. Willis also investigated Trump allies' efforts to remove BJ Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, after he rebuffed Trump's efforts to overturn the election. 

The investigation also targeted the so-called fake elector scheme and various texts and documents indicating that Trump's legal team was involved in a breach of voting systems in Coffee County, Georgia.

Ahead of the Georgia indictment, Trump was also accused of potential witness tampering after calling on former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan not to testify. Duncan reportedly spent more than an hour before the Fulton County grand jury earlier on Monday.

The special grand jury heard from 75 witnesses, including Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, Raffensperger, former Trump laywer Riudy Giuliani, Graham and Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Three portions of the special grand jury's report to the Fulton County district attorney were made public in February, including the introduction, conclusion and a section discussing witnesses who appeared in front of the grand jury that may have lied. The sections made it clear that the grand jury believed perjury charges were warranted for certain witnesses. 

The foreperson of the special grand jury in March told CNN that the panel was recommending multiple indictments for more than a dozen people. 

Trump, who launched his 2024 campaign for president late last year, has denied any criminal wrongdoing, and has accused Willis of being politically biased. He regularly promotes the false claim that he won the election in Georgia. 

Trump's lawyers filed a motion in Atlanta in late March to suppress the release of the grand jury's report, seeking to "preclude the use of any evidence derived" from the special grand jury's investigation. The motion also requests that the office of Willis be disqualified from the case.

Fulton County Superior Judge Robert McBurney last month rejected the motion, writing Trump that can't do anything to quash the probe since he has not been charged.

"[W]hile being the subject (or even target) of a highly publicized criminal investigation is likely an unwelcome and unpleasant experience, no court ever has held that that status alone provides a basis for the courts to interfere with or halt the investigation," McBurney wrote.

In a footnote, the judge noted the former president's effort to turn his legal woes "into golden political capital, making it seem more providential than problematic," à la "Rumpelstiltskin."

"While both sides have done enough talking, posting, tweeting ("X'ing"?), and press conferencing to have hit (and perhaps stretched) the bounds of Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct … neither movant has pointed to any averments from the District Attorney or her team of lawyers expressing belief that Trump … is guilty or has committed this or that offense," the judge wrote.

Local law enforcement ramped up security ahead of Trump's indictment. Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat vowed earlier this month that Trump would be treated like any other detainee if he is arrested.

"It doesn't matter your status. We have a mugshot ready for you," Labat told reporters, adding that unless "someone tells me differently, we are following our normal practices."

By Samaa Khullar

Samaa Khullar is a former news fellow at Salon with a background in Middle Eastern history and politics. She is a graduate of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism institute and is pursuing investigative reporting.

MORE FROM Samaa Khullar

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Atlanta Donald Trump Fani Willis Georgia Indictment Politics Racketeering