WASHINGTON, Aug 15 (Reuters) – Donald Trump was hit with a new set of felony charges on Tuesday after a grand jury in Georgia used a law aimed at cracking down on organized crime gangs to indict the former U.S. president for attempting to , to reverse his 2020 election defeat.
The indictment, filed late Monday by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, accuses Trump, the front-runner in the race for the 2024 Republican nomination and 18 associates, of a scheme to overturn his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
A total of 19 defendants and 41 criminal offenses were listed in the extensive 98-page indictment. All defendants were charged with extortion, which targets members of organized crime groups and is punishable by a minimum sentence of five years in prison.
Among the defendants were Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, as well as lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and John Eastman.
“Instead of following Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering operation to overturn the results of Georgia’s presidential election,” Willis said at a news conference shortly before midnight.
Willis said Trump and the other defendants had until Friday, August 25 at 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT) to voluntarily surrender instead of being arrested. She said she intended to try all 19 defendants together within six months.
Court records show the case was assigned to Judge Scott McAfee, a former prosecutor who was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in February. He will run for election next year to keep his position.
Unlike the federal courts, where Trump is also awaiting trial, Georgia state courts allow television cameras, meaning the public could experience the unprecedented spectacle of watching the trial of a former president live on television during his Campaign for a return to the White House is in full swing.
Echoing his criticism of the many other investigations he is facing, Trump called the indictment a political “witch hunt” in a social media post and accused Willis, an elected Democrat, of trying to engineer his comeback as president sabotage.
He said he would release a report Monday on “fraud in the presidential election” that would exonerate him. “They never prosecuted those who rigged the election. They only persecuted those who fought to find the RIGGERS!” he said.
Since his defeat in 2020, Trump has repeatedly made false claims that the election was marred by widespread fraud. Those claims have been rejected by dozens of courts, government reviews and members of his own administration.
Giuliani, who gained national fame in the 1980s by using racketeering laws to take down New York gangsters, said prosecutors in the case were “the real criminals.”
Other defendants either maintained their innocence or did not respond to requests for comment.
The 13 felony charges against Trump matched those listed in a document briefly posted on the court’s website on Monday and reported by Reuters before it disappeared.
In a phone call on January 2, 2021, Trump urged Georgia’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to overturn his narrow defeat in the state. Raffensperger refused.
Four days later, Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to stop lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory.
The indictment paints a picture of a wide-ranging conspiracy that began before the Nov. 3, 2020 election and continued until September 2022, when it was said one of those involved lied to a grand jury.
It says those involved in the scheme falsely testified to lawmakers that voter fraud had occurred and urged state officials to change the results.
It says the defendants attempted to undermine the U.S. electoral process by submitting false voter rolls, i.e. H. People who make up the electoral college, which elects the president and vice president.
VIOLATION OF VOTING MACHINES, HARASSMENT OF VOTING MACHINES
It alleges that the defendants breached voting equipment, including personal voter information and images of ballots, in a rural Georgia county.
Prosecutors also said the defendants harassed a poll worker who became the focus of conspiracy theories.
The indictment spans state lines and says Giuliani, Meadows and others called officials in Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to pressure them to change the outcome in those states. It also covers the events of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The indictment mentions 30 other co-conspirators, but they are neither named nor charged.
Willis has used the racketeering law to crack down on drug trafficking networks and educators accused of rigging test results.
To be found guilty of racketeering, she doesn’t have to prove that Trump personally broke the law, only that he knowingly coordinated with others who did so. Trump is also accused of violating other laws, including conspiracy and making false statements.
Unlike many Republican officials, Raffensperger and Kemp refused to repeat Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud.
“The most fundamental principles of a strong democracy are accountability and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law,” Raffensperger said in a statement that did not mention Trump. “You either have it or you don’t.”
Kemp said the state’s election was secure and Trump’s supporters could not prove their claims of fraud.
THREE MORE CRIMINAL CASES
Outside Georgia, Trump pleaded not guilty to three other criminal cases. He could spend much of the next year in court even as he fights to retake the White House.
He faces a trial in New York state in March 2024 over a hush money payment to a porn star and a federal trial in Florida beginning in May over alleged mishandling of confidential federal documents.
A third indictment in federal court in Washington accuses him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat. US special prosecutor Jack Smith has requested a trial in January, but a date has not yet been set.
Willis’ proposed timeline would mean Trump would be on trial in Georgia by mid-February 2024.
He also faces civil trials in October and January for fraudulent business practices and defamation.
Georgia, once reliably Republican, has emerged as one of the few politically competitive states that can decide the outcome of presidential elections.
Trump’s lead in polls over his Republican rivals has increased since the first charges were announced in April. But strategists say his legal troubles could hurt him in the November 2024 general election, when he needs to win over more independent-minded voters.
In a July Reuters/Ipsos poll, 37% of independents said the criminal cases had made them less likely to vote for him.
Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Rami Ayyub, Jack Queen, Tim Ahmann, Andrew Goudsward, Kanishka Singh, Nilutpal Timsina, Rich McKay, Tom Hals and Susan Heavey; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Edited by Scott Malone, Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis
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