Republican presidential nominee, former President Donald Trump, speaks with reporters at Des Moines International Airport after attending the Iowa State Fair Saturday, August 12, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Georgia’s sweeping charges against Donald Trump and his allies are best viewed as lying. It is about lying, conspiring to lie, and trying to persuade, coerce, and persuade others to lie.
While Michigan’s Attorney General has just filed a case narrowly focused on the alleged bogus voters in their state (Trump is not the accused in this case), and Special Counsel Jack Smith has filed an indictment narrowly focused on Trump’s efforts Seeking to overturn the 2020 election, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has indicted the entire conspiracy from start to finish, targeting every person under its jurisdiction for every crime committed in their jurisdiction.
In other words, this charge is ambitious. But it also answers two related questions: Why bring another trial against Trump in another jurisdiction? Will he not face a federal trial in Washington, DC for the same offenses detailed in the Georgia indictment?
The answers lie in the differences between state and federal law. In many ways, Georgian law is broader and more targeted than the federal laws at issue in Smith’s case against Trump. The range is clear from the charge of extortion. As Norm Eisen and Amy Lee Copeland wrote in The New York Times, Georgia’s Crime Control Act allows prosecutors to charge a variety of false testimony, among other offenses, as part of a general criminal offense. In other words, rather than treating each criminal lie as a separate crime in its own right, these lies can also be lumped together into a larger whole: an alleged racketeering operation aimed at altering the results of the Georgia presidential election.
Yet it is the focus of Georgia’s law that is truly dangerous for Trump. At the heart of the case are the 22 counts, which focus on false testimony, false documents, and forgery, with particular emphasis on a key statute: Georgia Code Section 16-10-20, which prohibits making false statements and writings about matters “related to the Jurisdiction of…” falls within state or political subdivisions.” The statute is a state analog of a federal statute, 18 USC Section 1001, which also prohibits false disclosures to federal officials about matters within their jurisdiction, but Georgia statute is even broader.
Simply put, while in Georgia you may be able to lie to the public — or even lie to officials on matters outside of their remit — if you lie to state officials about important or meaningful facts in matters they directly oversee, you must become a law enforcement officer take risk. That is exactly what Trump and his allies in the indictment have done time and time again throughout the campaign.
The most striking example is provided in Act 113 of the indictment, which alleges that Trump made a series of false statements to Georgian Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger and his deputies in Trump’s infamous January 2, 2021 phone call. Most legal commentators, myself included, focused on that call because it contained a not-so-veiled threat against Raffensperger and his attorney. In recorded comments, Trump told them they were at “great risk” of criminal prosecution for claiming they were aware of voter fraud and were taking no action to stop it.
Willis, on the other hand, doesn’t focus on the threats, but on the lies. And when you read the list of Trump’s alleged lies, they are absolutely unbelievable. His claims are not only wrong; They’re transparent and blazingly stupid. This was not a sophisticated attempt to overturn the election. It was a shotgun blast of blatant untruths.
This is where the legal nuances get quite interesting. While Willis still has to prove intent — the law prohibits “knowingly and intentionally” falsifying material facts — challenging the evidence is simpler than in Smith’s federal case against Trump. To comply with federal law, Smith’s indictments must link any Trump lie to a larger criminal plot. In contrast, Willis only needs to prove that Trump willfully lied to a government official about important facts on a matter within that official’s purview. This is a much simpler case.
Yes, it is true that the individual allegations of lying are also linked to much larger allegations of a criminal conspiracy and a blackmail company. But if I’m a prosecutor, I can build on this single, simple foundation: Trump lied, and those lies—in and of themselves—broke Georgia criminal law. Once you’ve proved this simple case, you’ve laid the groundwork for the larger racketeering allegations that add to Trump’s legal vulnerability. Adding to Trump’s danger is that presidents do not have the power to pardon state sentences, and even the governor of Georgia does not have direct authority to pardon Trump for his crimes.
If Trump’s remarks on Truth Social are any indication, he might well defend the case by arguing that the Georgia election was indeed stolen. He could again claim that the wild claims he had made to Raffensperger were true. This is a dangerous game. The claims are so easily and demonstrably false that it would probably be better to argue that Trump merely questioned Raffensperger about the allegations and did not state them as fact.
But if Trump continues to state his false claims as fact, then Willis has an ideal opportunity to argue that Trump lied then and is lying now, that he insults jury intelligence just as he insulted the nation’s intelligence when he place made its claims in the first case.
But noting that the core of the Georgia case is simpler than the federal case doesn’t necessarily mean it will be any easier to try. Willis chose to bring claims against 19 defendants and she said she intended to try them together. While this decision makes sense if you want to prove the existence of a sprawling ransomware enterprise, it also presents a tremendous logistical and legal challenge. Additionally, Trump will likely seek to take the case to federal court, where he would have to prove his actions Part of his official duties as president, a daunting task considering he interacted with Georgian officials in his capacity as a candidate. If successful, however, the available jury pool would expand to more Trump-friendly areas outside of Fulton County.
These challenges, especially when combined with Trump’s upcoming criminal trials in Washington DC, Manhattan and Florida, make it difficult to see how Willis can bring this case to court within the six months she has cited as her preference.
For eight long years, Americans watched Donald Trump lie. These lies were not morally justifiable, but some could also be legally prosecutable. The truth may have been lost in Trump’s campaign and presidency. But the law lives on, and the law states that, as part of his official duties, Trump must not lie to any Georgia officials. If Willis can prove that he and his allies did just that, she will prevail in the most comprehensive and consequential trial in modern American political history.