Georgia judge drops some charges — but experts say it could be a bad sign for Trump

The judge's ruling is "somewhat of an indication” he won't disqualify Fani Willis, Norm Eisen says

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 13, 2024 12:34PM (EDT)

Judge Scott McAfee presides over a hearing for Harrison Floyd at the Fulton County Courthouse, November 3, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Christian Monterrosa-Pool/Getty Images)
Judge Scott McAfee presides over a hearing for Harrison Floyd at the Fulton County Courthouse, November 3, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Christian Monterrosa-Pool/Getty Images)

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s Georgia election subversion case on Wednesday dismissed six counts in the indictment, including three against the former president, but said prosecutors can seek to bring the charges again.

Judge Scott McAfee wrote in an order that he is dismissing six counts charging Trump and several co-defendants with soliciting public officials to break the law because they “contain all the essential elements of the crimes" but "fail to allege sufficient detail regarding the nature of their commission."

"They do not give the Defendants enough information to prepare their defenses intelligently, as the Defendants could have violated the Constitutions and thus the statute in dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct ways,” McAfee wrote.

The ruling affects three of the 13 felony counts Trump faces but not the central charge of a racketeering conspiracy intended to overturn the 2020 election. The other dropped charges applied to former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Jan. 6 architect John Eastman and two Trump campaign lawyers.

Georgia State University Law Prof. Anthony Michael Kreis told The New York Times that the ruling does not weaken the racketeering charge that remains central to the case and that prosecutors could reintroduce versions of the dismissed charges to a grand jury with more specifics.

“I think it is a minor hiccup for the DA and less so signs of a fatal flaw,” Kreis told The Guardian. “It was never particularly clear what constitutional theory undergirded the oath of office charges. I suspect the DA’s office will button up their theory and go back to the grand jury.”

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Still, if prosecutors seek a superseding indictment “it will make it difficult to try the case before the election,” warned Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.

“This does not disable the case, but it adds yet another set back for the prosecution as it awaits the disqualification decision,” he tweeted.

The ruling came as McAfee is expected to rule on a motion from several defense lawyers in the case seeking to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis over an alleged improper relationship with a special prosecutor she picked to lead the case.

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CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen suggested that McAfee’s ruling on Wednesday is “somewhat of an indication” that the judge won’t disqualify Willis.

“If he were gonna disqualify Willis, he likely would not have bothered to wrap up this very detailed order, since he’s busy and disqualification will effectively freeze the case for a while,” Eisen wrote on X/Twitter, noting that McAfee is also giving “something to Trump” which “allows him to balance things a bit if he rules for Willis on DQ.”

“But that is only a mild indication, not a strong one. He could be thinking something different. That being said, it tends to reinforce my strong view of the applicable law and the evidence that disqualification does not apply,” Eisen added, noting it is “not a strong indicator but a possible hint.”

“I think Norm may be right here,” Kreis tweeted in response to Eisen’s theory.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Fani Willis Politics Scott Mcafee