Of the 91 criminal charges former President Donald Trump is facing, the most consequential is Count 1 of his fourth indictment, which was filed by Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis on August 14, 2023. It alleges Trump is the head of a vast criminal conspiracy in violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Congress passed the federal RICO Act in 1970 to prosecute Mafia bosses who had escaped indictment by avoiding direct involvement in the crimes their minions perpetrated. RICO allows prosecutors to establish the existence of a criminal organization by using predicate acts committed by some members of the conspiracy to rope in the rest as part of a “criminal enterprise” with a common goal.
Georgia’s RICO statute, while patterned after the federal statute, is more sweeping. The Georgia legislature enacted it in 1980 to “apply to an interrelated pattern of criminal activity” and commanded courts to “liberally construe” the law to protect Georgia’s citizens from harm. It enables the prosecutor to construct a narrative of massive and widespread racketeering in Georgia and beyond by Trump and his cohorts. If convicted, they will receive between five and 20 years in prison.
RICO Allows the Prosecutor to “Tell the Whole Story”
“RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story,” Willis said at a press conference last year. Willis’s “story is a much broader and more detailed arc of treachery and deceit” than federal Special Counsel Jack Smith was able to capture in his federal indictment of Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection, David Firestone wrote in The New York Times.
Smith charged Trump with conspiracies to defraud the United States, to obstruct an official proceeding, and against the right to vote. But he didn’t name other co-conspirators or present such a far-reaching factual and geographically broad case as Willis, who brought in dozens of co-conspirators to paint a comprehensive picture of an extensive criminal enterprise led by Trump.
In addition to the RICO count, the 98-page Georgia indictment charges 40 crimes against 19 defendants and cites 30 unindicted, unidentified co-conspirators. Some of Trump’s more notorious co-defendants include lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, Jeffrey Clark and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Trump is charged with 13 counts, including conspiracy, solicitation and making false statements, as well as the RICO violation.
Count 1 alleges that on and between November 4, 2020, and September 15, 2022, the defendants, “while associated with an enterprise, unlawfully conspired and endeavored to conduct and participate in, directly and indirectly, such enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.”
The RICO charge groups several defendants, occurrences and crimes together to document a pattern of criminality and buttresses the criminal enterprise with acts occurring outside of Fulton County. Although most of the offending conduct took place in Georgia, the enterprise extended to Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
Trump and/or his cronies are charged with committing 161 predicate acts (spanning 50 pages) to effectuate a sprawling conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in favor of the former president. To further their criminal enterprise, the defendants allegedly made false statements and writings; impersonated a public officer; filed false documents; influenced witnesses; and committed forgery, computer trespass, computer theft, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state, perjury and acts involving theft.
The charged acts include Trump falsely declaring victory on election night, making false statements about fraud, and pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to count only half the electoral votes from certain states and return the rest to state legislatures. Although attorney Eastman admitted that his bogus scheme violated the Electoral Count Act, he and Trump nevertheless prevailed upon Pence to reject votes from certain states or delay the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.
In addition, the defendants falsely claimed that large numbers of felons, underage people, dead people, unregistered and illegally registered people voted in the election, and they made false claims about election workers stealing votes.
Trump Charged for His “Perfect Phone Call”
The defendants allegedly solicited state legislatures, high-ranking state officials and Justice Department officials; falsified Electoral College documents; breached election equipment; and engaged in a cover-up of their illegal actions.
Trump and Chief of Staff Meadows are charged with unlawfully soliciting Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to violate his oath by finding enough votes to overturn the election results (in what Trump dubbed a “perfect phone call”). Trump called at least six state officials and pressured them to find and discard sufficient votes to offset his loss in Georgia.
Defendants harassed and intimidated Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, and falsely claimed that the mother and daughter, who are Black, were “quite obviously surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine” to be used to “infiltrate the crooked Dominion voting machines.” They asserted that Freeman was a professional vote scammer and known political operative who stuffed the ballot boxes and fraudulently awarded hundreds of ballots to Joe Biden.
In a court filing in Freeman and Moss’s federal defamation lawsuit against him, then-Trump attorney Giuliani admitted that he made false statements about them mishandling ballots.
Moreover, on January 6, Trump, Giuliani and Eastman urged people attending the rally at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., to march to the United States Capitol and solicit Pence to disrupt and delay the joint session of Congress.
Willis has marshaled a strong and complex case to prosecute Trump and his henchmen for his attempted coup d’etat. Her indictment is replete with the lies they told to accomplish their nefarious goal. “It’s about lying, conspiring to lie and attempting to coax, coerce and cajole others into lying,” David French wrote in The New York Times.
The Georgia indictment says the identities of the 30 unindicted co-conspirators are “known to the Grand Jury.” That probably means they are cooperating with the prosecutor to testify against some of the “big fish,” most likely Trump himself.
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