Former president Donald Trump and 18 others were criminally charged in Georgia on Monday in connection with efforts to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 victory in the state, according to an indictment made public late Monday night.
Trump was charged with 13 counts, including violating the state's racketeering act, soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, conspiring to impersonate a public officer, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree and conspiring to file false documents.
Leaked phone call
The historic indictment, the latest to implicate the former president, follows a 21/2-year investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D). The probe was launched after audio leaked from a January 2021 phone call during which Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to question the validity of thousands of ballots, especially in the heavily Democratic Atlanta area, and said he wanted to "find" the votes to erase his 2020 loss in the state.
Willis's investigation quickly expanded to other alleged efforts by Trump or his supporters, including trying to thwart the electoral college process, harassing election workers, spreading false information about the voting process in Georgia and compromising election equipment in a rural county. Trump has long decried the Georgia investigation as a "political witch hunt," defending his calls to Raffensperger and others as "perfect."
"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," the indictment states.
41 charges against 19 defendants
A total of 41 charges are brought against 19 defendants in the 98-page indictment. Not all face the same counts, but all have been charged with violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Willis said she has given those charged until Aug. 25 to surrender.
Among those charged are Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who served as Trump's personal attorney after the election; Trump's former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; and several Trump advisers, including attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro, architects of a scheme to create slates of alternate Trump electors.
Also indicted were two Georgia-based lawyers advocating on Trump's behalf, Ray S. Smith II and Robert Cheeley; a senior campaign adviser, Mike Roman, who helped plan the elector meeting; and three prominent Georgia Republicans who served as electors: former GOP chairman David Shafer, former GOP finance chairman Shawn Still and Cathy Latham of Coffee County.
Several lesser-known players who participated in efforts to reverse Trump's defeat in Georgia were also indicted, including three people accused of harassing Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman. They are Stephen Cliffgard Lee, Harrison Floyd and Trevian Kutti. The latter is a former publicist for R. Kelly and associate of Kanye West.
A final group of individuals charged in the indictment allegedly participated in an effort to steal election equipment data in rural Coffee County, Ga. In addition to Latham, the former county GOP chair, they are former Coffee County elections supervisor Misty Hampton and Georgia businessman Scott Hall.
Trump was indicted in Washington this month in a separate Justice Department probe into his various attempts to keep his grip on power during the chaotic aftermath of his 2020 defeat. Some aspects of that four-count federal case, led by special counsel Jack Smith, overlap with Willis's sprawling probe, which accuses Trump and his associates of a broad criminal enterprise to reverse Biden's election victory in Georgia.
But the Fulton County indictment, issued by a grand jury and made public Monday night, is far more encompassing and detailed than Smith's ongoing federal investigation. Willis declined Monday night to say if she has had contact with Smith.
Prosecutors brought charges around five separate subject areas, including false statements by Trump allies, including Giuliani, to the Georgia legislature; the breach of voting data in Coffee County; calls Trump made to state officials, including Raffensperger, seeking to overturn Biden's victory; the harassment of election workers; and the creation of a slate of alternate electors to undermine the legitimate vote. Those charged in the case were implicated in certain parts of what prosecutors presented as a larger enterprise to undermine the election.
Willis had signaled for months that she planned to use Georgia's expansive anti-racketeering statutes, which allow prosecutors not only to charge in-state wrongdoing but to use activities in other states to prove criminal intent in Georgia. The statute is broader than federal law in terms of how prosecutors can define a criminal enterprise or conspiracy.
The indictment alleges that the enterprise "constituted a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities including, but not limited to, false statements and writings, impersonating a public officer, forgery, filing false documents, influencing witnesses, computer theft, computer trespass, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state [and] acts involving theft and perjury."
In January 2022, Willis requested that an unusual special-purpose grand jury be convened to continue the probe, citing the reluctance of witnesses who would not speak to prosecutors without a subpoena. The investigative body of 23 jurors and three alternates picked from a pool of residents from Atlanta and its suburbs was given full subpoena power for documents and the ability to call witnesses - though it could not issue indictments, only recommendations in the case.
Over roughly eight months, the panel heard from 75 witnesses - including key Trump advisers such as Giuliani, Meadows and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who waged a failed legal battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to block his subpoena before ultimately testifying.
The panel also heard from several key witnesses in the investigation, including Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who were on the other end of aggressive lobbying efforts by Trump and his associates to overturn Trump's loss in the state.
In January, the special grand jury concluded its work and issued a final report on its investigation, which was largely kept under seal by the judge who oversaw the panel.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney cited "due process" concerns for "potential future defendants" as Willis considered charges in the case. But in February, McBurney released a five-page excerpt of the report, including a section in which the panel concluded that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony and recommended that charges be filed.
The panel's forewoman later confirmed that the special grand jury had recommended multiple indictments, though she declined to say of whom.
Trump's attorneys later sought to disqualify Willis and her office from the case - citing Willis's public comments about the investigation - and quash the final report and any evidence gathered by the special-purpose grand jury. The motions were rejected by McBurney and the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled that Trump had no legal standing to stop an investigation before charges were filed.
In the spring, amid security concerns, Willis took the unusual step of telling law enforcement that she planned to announce her charging decision in August. Because the special grand jury could not issue indictments, prosecutors presented their case to a regular grand jury sworn in last month, which began hearing the case Monday.
Trump's attorneys are likely to immediately seek to have the case thrown out, reviving their complaints about Willis and the use of a special grand jury.
Trump has intensified his attacks on Willis and other prosecutors examining his activities, describing them as "vicious, horrible people" and "mentally sick." He has referred to Willis, who is Black, as the "racist DA from Atlanta." His 2024 campaign included her in a recent video attacking prosecutors investigating Trump. Willis has generally declined to respond directly to Trump's attacks, but in a rare exception, she said in an email last week sent to the entire district attorney's office that Trump's ad contained "derogatory and false information about me," and ordered her employees to ignore it.
"You may not comment in any way on the ad or any of the negativity that may be expressed against me, your colleagues, this office in coming days, weeks or months," Willis wrote in the email, obtained by The Washington Post. "We have no personal feelings against those we investigate or prosecute and we should not express any. This is business, it will never be personal."
Still, Willis has repeatedly raised concerns about security as her investigation has progressed, citing Trump's "alarming" rhetoric and the racist threats she and her staff have received. Willis is often accompanied by armed guards at public appearances, and security at her office and her residence was increased even more in recent days ahead of the expected charging announcement, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive security matters.