The Impact of Trump’s Indictments

Published by

Pritika Patel


September 30, 2023

Inquiry-driven, this article reflects personal views, aiming to enrich problem-related discourse.

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On August 1st, former President Donald Trump was indicted on felony charges over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the build-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Trump has been charged with four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States "by using dishonesty, fraud and deceit to obstruct the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election"; conspiracy to impede the January 6th congressional proceeding; conspiracy against the right to vote and to have that vote counted; and obstruction of the certification of the electoral vote. The indictment covers the months-long misinformation campaign by Trump, during which prosecutors maintain he pushed fraud claims that he knew to be false and pressured other state and federal officials to intervene in election certification processes. It also lists six unnamed co-conspirators. They are given individual numbers and potentially identifying traits, but they are not identified by name in the court document. New sources have since attempted to predict the identities of these anonymous figures by cross-referencing details in the indictment to publicly available information. Predictions include Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Jeffrey Clark, and Kenneth Chesebro.

On August 14th, Trump was indicted in Georgia, along with 18 other allies, on state charges stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat. The indictment spans 41 counts and is nearly 100 pages, detailing dozens of acts by Trump or his allies to undo his defeat, including harassing election workers, attempting to persuade Georgia lawmakers to ignore the will of voters and appoint a new slate of electoral college electors favorable to Trump, and spreading false rumors on social media sites. On Jan. 2, 2021, Trump called Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and urged him to “find” 11,780 votes — the number needed to overcome Biden’s victory. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis alleged these acts to be a “wide-ranging criminal enterprise” in her charges. The counts cover 22 counts related to forgery or false documents and statements, eight counts related to soliciting or impersonating public officers, three counts related to influencing witnesses, three counts related to election fraud or defrauding the state, three counts related to computer tampering, one count related to racketeering and one count related to perjury. 

All 19 defendants —including a former senior Justice Department official, the former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party and lawyers who were part of the “elite strike force team” who amplified Mr. Trump’s claims — were also charged under the state’s racketeering statute, originally designed to dismantle organized crime groups. The state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO, allows prosecutors to package together disparate crimes if those crimes advance a single corrupt enterprise. Georgia's RICO statute is considered to be more expansive in scope than the federal law from which it is derived. In Georgia, prosecutors are able to point to a range of organized or related attempts to engage in predicate acts or predicate crimes, which include everything from violent crimes such as murder or arson, to false statements and obstruction of justice. If Trump is successfully charged under RICO, sentencing will be severe. 

This is the fourth time Trump has been indicted within the past six months. In March, a Manhattan grand jury indicted him for falsifying business documents concerning hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors allege Trump engaged in a "scheme" to boost his chances during the 2016 presidential election through a series of hush money payments made by others and repeated falsification of New York business records to cover up that alleged criminal conduct. Prosecutors also claim that Trump made payments to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to stop Daniels from going public about her relationship with Trump. In June, he faced federal charges when prosecutors unveiled an indictment against him over allegations that he mishandled confidential government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. As federal investigators closed in, the charging document stated, Trump enlisted aides to help hide the documents.

With the four indictments, Trump faces 91 criminal charges, 44 of them federal and 47 of them state. He also faces a $250 million fine and a ban on doing business in New York following a civil lawsuit filed by Attorney General Letitia James over allegations of misleading banks and tax authorities about the value of assets to gain loans and tax benefits. Trump has also become the first former United States president to face criminal charges. 

What Even Is An Indictment?

An indictment is a formal accusation, not a conviction, that a grand jury composed of residents chosen at random issue after deeming there is enough evidence to charge a person with a crime. Such panels, generally convened by judges at the request of prosecutors, meet for weeks and can hear evidence in various cases. The judge is not present during grand jury proceedings after the jurors are chosen, and jurors can ask the witnesses questions. Unlike a criminal trial, where a jury has to reach a unanimous verdict, a grand jury can issue an indictment with a simple majority.

The January 6th insurrection indictment was issued by a grand jury, headed by special counsel Jack Smith, in the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. This is the second indictment against Trump led by Smith, who also charged him for mishandling confidential documents in June. Smith was appointed last November by Attorney General Merrick Garland to take over the two Justice Department investigations involving Trump. The Georgia election interference indictment was issued by a grand jury, headed by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, in the Fulton County Superior Court of Georgia. A local prosecutor charging a former president with election interference is unprecedented in American history. 

What Happens Next? 

United States District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who chose to preside over the case, has stated a tentative trial date of August 28th for the January 6th insurrection indictment. Chutkan has previous experience overseeing cases related to the January 6th riots and corresponding with Trump’s legal team. In the Fall of 2021, she ruled that the House's January 6th select committee could access reams of Trump’s White House files — a ruling subsequently upheld by an appeals court and left undisturbed by the Supreme Court. That evidence — call logs, memos, internal strategy papers, and more from the desks of Trump’s most trusted advisers — became the backbone of the committee’s evidence and shaped much of the public’s understanding of his effort to seize a second term he didn’t win. Much of that evidence resurfaced in the indictment, referencing call logs and White House records that were familiar to Americans who tracked the January 6th committee proceedings. Potential penalties include a fine or up to 20 years in prison for obstructing an official proceeding and a fine or ten years for conspiracy against rights. The Mar-a-Lago case is scheduled for trial on May 20th, and the hush money case has a trial date set for March 25th. 

Overseeing the Georgia election interference case is Judge Scott McAfee, the newest Fulton County Superior Court judge, who was appointed this year by Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia. McAfee has formerly worked in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, led by Fani T. Willis at the time, the prosecutor overseeing the Trump case. Also unique to the Georgia case is the fact that the identities of the grand jury are publicly available. Often, grand jury proceedings are secret in most states and the federal system. However, in Georgia, state law requires indictments to list the grand jurors in the name of transparency, and defense lawyers in the state routinely check the backgrounds of grand jurors, searching for any grounds to challenge the indictment. It remains unclear whether Trump’s lawyers will act upon this information. 

There is also significant debate over where the trials for the indictments should be held. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or federal law dictates that federal criminal cases get priority over state cases, or that prosecutions proceed in the order in which indictments are issued. The solution typically is that the various prosecutors will negotiate and decide among themselves which case should proceed first. Often, the one that involves the most serious charges gets priority, although the availability of key witnesses or evidence could play a role. However, once a trial date has been set for a particular case, other cases will have to schedule around it. 

In the meantime, Trump has continued to be outspoken about the allegations. The former president has called the indictments "political persecutions" and pleaded not guilty to all counts. At a campaign stop in Windham, New Hampshire, on August 8th, he stated, “I will talk about it, I will, they’re not taking away my First Amendment rights,” regarding his federal indictments. On Truth Social, Trump posted that the "Fake Indictment" was evidence of "prosecutorial misconduct." His poll numbers have also increased since the charges were pressed. In March, several weeks before the first indictment, Trump had just 43% of the vote in Republican polling. A day after he was charged, his numbers jumped to 50%. 

Trump also continues to expand his 2024 presidential campaign despite the indictments. Even if convicted, there are no restrictions on his eligibility as a candidate. The only eligibility requirements the Constitution sets are that candidates must be at least 35 years old, be “natural born” citizens, and have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. There are no limitations based on character or criminal record. While some states prohibit felons from running for state and local office, these laws do not apply to federal offices.

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Pritika Patel

Policy Associate - YIP News

As a policy associate for the YIP News Team, Pritika is passionate about various social justice movements and hopes to make a difference through spreading awareness about current events and politics in a nonpartisan manner.

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