The former White House chief of staff. A retired teacher. A onetime publicist for a famous rapper. And a slew of lawyers, local officials and political allies.
Prosecutors in Fulton County, Ga., allege each acted to further a single goal: keeping former President Trump, who had lost the 2020 presidential election, in power.
“Defendant Donald John Trump lost the United States presidential election held on November 3, 2020,” prosecutors wrote in their first statement in the indictment. “One of the states he lost was Georgia. Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump.”
Trump is listed first in the 19-defendant indictment. His name appears in both the 13 charges he faces and several other charges he does not.
Despite the multitude of participants in the conspiracy alleged by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D), the indictment makes clear that there’s only one main character: Trump.
“Everybody in this alleged conspiracy is working for him, to generate a benefit for him,” said Kay Levine, a law professor at Emory University. “He’s at the center of everything.”
Some 161 acts were committed over the span of two years — from the day after Election Day 2020 to September 2022 — in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy, some by individual defendants and others by groups of the accused, prosecutors say.
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At the indictment’s core are efforts to organize a group of 16 Georgians to serve as so-called alternate electors and say Trump had won the state — and the false statements Trump and his associates made along the way. The fake electors scheme spanned across multiple battleground states, though only the efforts in Georgia are included in the indictment.
The indictment also weaves together several local efforts to ensure Trump kept the White House, detailing lawyers’ work to persuade state lawmakers of false election fraud claims and allies’ attempts to pressure an election worker. Prosecutors also tie an election equipment breach in Coffee County, Ga., to the broader alleged plot.
Plus, Trump himself is accused of pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find 11,780 votes” for him, and later, suggesting he start “decertifying the Election, or whatever the correct legal remedy is, and announce the true winner.”
“I think Willis demonstrated that Donald Trump initially planned to allege election fraud well before any votes were counted and, along with his co-conspirators, systematically moved on from one scheme to another whenever a plan to overthrow the election failed,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University.
Fulton County prosecutors opted to charge all the defendants with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The federal RICO Act was created in 1970 to combat organized crime, but Georgia’s version of the law is broader, allowing it to be aimed at any “enterprise.”
“(RICO) is tailor-made for these sort of sweeping, allegedly criminal conspiracies,” said Caren Myers Morrison, a law professor at Georgia State University and a former federal prosecutor.
The law was designed to allow prosecutors to charge “all members of a criminal organization, including the kingpin at the top who does not get his hands dirty,” according to Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and current law professor at the University of Michigan.
“For decades, Trump has acted like a mob boss,” McQuade said. “Now he is being charged like one.”
Willis said Monday night that the charge alleges the defendants participated in a “criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Ga., and elsewhere, to accomplish the illegal goal” of keeping Trump in office.
RICO charges allow prosecutors to paint a “much larger and more interesting story,” connecting individuals who may not even know the other exists but were working toward a common goal, said Jeffrey Cohen, an associate professor at Boston College Law School and a former federal prosecutor.
But indicting smaller fish alongside the big ones could prevent more minor alleged conspirators from being useful government collaborators — leaving them less likely to cooperate for prosecutors to persuade.
“Certainly, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on some of the more minor characters to cooperate,” Cohen said. “At the same time, those minor characters don’t often have a lot to say about the entire enterprise.
“They can’t tie the whole story together because they’re just little pieces of a much larger puzzle,” he said.
Still, the indictment presents evidence that Trump made a habit of “injecting himself into every into each facet of this conspiracy,” Levine said, making it easier for prosecutors to argue that he was in on the plan.
“That kind of sloppiness — the failure to keep the central figure insulated — does make it easier for the central figure to be not just indicted, but shown to be guilty of the conspiracy itself,” she said.
The expansive indictment ultimately shows Trump will be treated like any other criminal defendant throughout the Georgia case, no matter his status, Morrison said.
“Putting [Trump] with everybody else — it’s also a signal in a way that ‘I’m treating you like any other defendant; you’re part of this group,’” she said. “’These were the people that you had enlisted to help you, and so you’re being tried with them.’”