Last week, former President Donald Trump joked at a campaign event in Alabama that he only needed one more indictment to secure the GOP presidential nomination. After-hours on Monday evening, Trump got his wish when a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury indicted the disgraced ex-president, along with 18 others, on state Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges and a slew of conspiracy charges. They are being charged using the same legal tools used to take down mafia bosses and their henchmen, groups engaged in sprawling campaigns of illegality.
The charges are, yet again, jaw-dropping, detailing a web of conspiracies to undermine the rule of law and to subvert the electoral process in order to maintain a grip on power after the 2020 presidential election. In tandem with special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of Trump on conspiracy charges for his lies and spreading of misinformation, the Georgia charges detail a step-by-step plot essentially to use the legal and electoral system to implement a coup d’etat.
As detailed in the 98-page indictment, Trump, Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, a number of other attorneys and several state GOP operatives are being charged with efforts to solicit Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Vice President Mike Pence to commit illegal acts, including violating their public oaths of office. They are being charged for attempting to breach computers used in the election process, and with forgery and perjury for crimes relating to the fake electors plot. The RICO charge alone comes with a minimum mandatory sentence of five years; the other charges, combined, add scores more potential years to the time behind bars that the demagogic ex-president now faces. All told, the defendants — whom Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said would be tried together — each face more than 40 criminal counts.
Trump’s Alabama boast was, as we have come to expect of this most dishonest and fabulist of politicians, braggadocio to the nth degree. For while there may have been something of a short-term boost to Trump’s popularity among the GOP base in the wake of these indictments, the reality that Trump is now facing is far bleaker. After spending years breaking down democratic norms and busting apart the underpinnings of a shared political culture that make possible the peaceful transfer of power, Trump has now lost control of his own toxic narrative. For, no matter how much he attempts to minimize the seriousness of his situation, no matter how much he tries to spin it for political gain and for fundraising ends, the truth is that one grand jury after another has looked at the evidence presented against him and has concluded there is abundant reason to proceed to trial. The more Americans focus on the specifics of these charges, the less likely it is that Trump’s growing rap sheet will appeal in the long run to the moderate middle that still, despite the extremist impulses of the moment, determines the outcome of elections.
Trump’s legal team will do everything it can to push off his trials until after the November 2024 election; but while it may succeed in some of these delay tactics, it’s hard to see how Team Trump run a clean sweep in every criminal case that he is now facing. At least some of these judges will want to move the trials forward at a decent clip — and Willis has already made clear that she wants the trial to begin within the next six months. Jack Smith has also stated that he wants the federal trial regarding Trump’s involvement in January 6 held as soon as possible.
Thus, in all likelihood, Trump will spend much of 2024 bouncing from one courtroom to the next, and it’s entirely likely that, once these trials start, he will be forced to massively curtail his in-person primary season (and then, if he is the nominee, general election) campaigning in the face of judges ordering him to be present in court for his several trials; for, while there are some exceptional circumstances that allow a defendant to be absent from parts or his or her own trial, it’s not clear that all of the judges now presiding over Trump’s several trials will tolerate such absences simply for political expediency.
In the latest case, Willis’s team presented jurors with 10 potential indictments and, after hearing evidence from a range of witnesses, including former top Republican officials in Georgia such as the former lieutenant governor, the grand jury found probable cause to proceed to trial in every single case.
Before Monday’s indictments, Trump faced a total of over 600 years behind bars if convicted on all charges in the two federal cases that he is facing and the state case in New York. After Monday’s indictment, he is now facing scores more years in Georgia — on a serious array of state charges that, even if he is somehow elected president in 2024, he won’t be able to pressure his attorney general to make disappear.
So serious are these charges that it’s now abundantly clear that Trump is facing the very real possibility that he could spend the rest of his life first fighting the charges against him and then, if he is convicted, living out his old age behind bars.
In a statement after the indictments were publicly released, DA Willis said that the actions committed by Trump and his cohort amounted to a “criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Georgia and elsewhere, to accomplish the illegal goal of allowing Donald J. Trump to seize the presidential term of office beginning on January 20, 2021.”
The racketeering acts, the DA explained, were intended to further the criminal enterprise and to overturn the Georgia election result.
Willis managed to boil the stakes down to their essence. Trump’s efforts were never just about hardball politics. They represented, and still represent, the most concerted anti-democratic effort in modern U.S. history.
At long last, Trump is facing legal accountability for his actions. There are, to coin a phrase, an awful lot of chickens finally coming home to roost. Trump may scream and shout about biased prosecutors and crooked special counsels; he may accuse Willis, as he did yesterday, of being a “rabid partisan.” He may claim that all of these indictments, both federal and state, are instigated by the Biden administration. Yet, at the end of the day, Trump will have to face the judgment of ordinary Americans, in both the jury box and the voting booth.
Come August 25, the deadline for Trump to voluntarily surrender to face these latest charges, he will have been arraigned on more than 90 state and federal charges. That’s quite a résumé for the man who hopes to be elected president again in 2024.
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