Donald Trump and 18 of his associates were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury Monday evening on charges related to alleged efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. It was the former president’s fourth indictment in less than five months, and experts say it could be the most consequential for Black voters.
Concluding more than two years of speculation and anticipation, the grand jury recommended 41 charges against Trump and his co-defendants. The charges against Trump include racketeering, solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer, conspiracy to commit forgery, and conspiracy to commit false statements and writings.
Racketeering convictions in Georgia can result in a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years. The latest Trump indictment takes on added significance because he wouldn’t be able to pardon himself if he becomes president again in 2024 since it would be a state — not a federal — conviction.
Trump’s co-defendants include his former attorney Rudy Giuliani, his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and former Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer. All three men were hit with racketeering charges.
Other co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit election fraud and perjury, among other crimes.
However, political observers say, Trump’s greatest offense in Georgia may be trying to undermine the electoral will of Black voters, who overwhelmingly cast ballots against him in November 2020.
Black people make up one-third of Georgia’s population, and they turned out at historically high rates to support Joe Biden by a nearly 9-1 margin during the last presidential election cycle. Trump only secured about 11% of votes cast by Black folks in the state.
Former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Trump attempted to disenfranchise Black Georgians by allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.
Many have died, Howard noted, to ensure Black Americans have the right to vote.
“What Donald Trump has said to us is, ‘It doesn’t matter what sacrifices you made, I want to remove that right from you,’” Howard told Capital B Atlanta. “That should not happen in a democratic society.”
Protecting voting rights has been a growing concern for civil rights advocates in recent years as Republican secretaries of state removed hundreds of thousands of people from the state’s voter rolls in conjunction with Georgia’s voter list maintenance policy. Republican legislators also have passed a law allowing citizens to file unlimited challenges against registered Georgia voters.
Georgia NAACP President Gerald Griggs said the crimes Trump is accused of should be concerning to voters throughout the state, especially those who are Black.
“If the allegations are true, Mr. Trump tried to disenfranchise millions of Georgia voters, and predominantly, the elections in Georgia over the last 15 years have been decided, particularly, by Black people,” Griggs said. “It’s important for people to consider the power of their vote and the need for the rule of law to protect that vote.”
How did we get here?
An official recount by the Georgia secretary of state’s office determined Biden defeated Trump by a slim margin of 11,779 votes in November 2020, a result Trump has been working to undo ever since.
In a Jan. 2, 2021, audio recording, Trump is heard trying to persuade Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to help Trump “find” the number of votes he needed to declare himself the winner of Georgia’s 16 electoral college votes.
Fulton County Superior Court judges gave Willis the greenlight to convene a special grand jury nearly a year later in January 2022. Jurors chosen the following May spent about seven months listening to sworn testimony from 75 witnesses, including Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp, Shafer and Giuliani.
Shafer and former state Sen. Burt Jones — now the state’s lieutenant governor — are two of the 16 “fake electors” who signed a certificate that falsely declared Trump the winner of Georgia’s Electoral College votes in December 2020, in a failed attempt to convince then-Vice President Mike Pence to certify Trump the winner of the election.
In December, the special grand jury concluded that “no widespread fraud took place” during Georgia’s 2020 election and recommended Willis “seek appropriate indictments for such crimes where the evidence is compelling.” The body’s members also suggested “perjury may have been committed” by some of the witnesses who testified before them.
In July, a Georgia judge seated two grand juries to consider charges against Trump and his allies. Recent requests by Trump’s legal team to squash Willis’ grand jury investigation were dismissed by the Georgia Supreme Court and a Fulton County Superior Court judge.
How has Trump’s team targeted Black Georgians?
During his January call with Georgia officials, Trump also falsely accused Fulton County poll worker Ruby Freeman, a Black woman, of committing election fraud, calling her a “professional vote scammer,” a “hustler” and a “known political operative” who “stuffed the ballot boxes.”
Afterward, Freeman and her daughter, fellow county poll worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, were targeted online by Trump supporters who believed the former president’s lies.
Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, recently admitted making “false” statements against Freeman and Moss. The two women filed a defamation suit against him in December 2021.
The suit accuses Giuliani of dishonestly claiming that Moss and her mother illegally fed thousands of fraudulent ballots — pulled from “suitcases full of ballots” — into Fulton County voting machines inside State Farm Arena in Atlanta during the election.
Giuliani previously cited mischaracterized surveillance footage as false evidence of the women’s made-up crimes. State investigators later determined the ballots in question were legitimately counted.
In June 2022, Moss told members of Congress that people who believed Trump and Giuliani’s election lies made “hateful” statements targeting her and her mother online. Moss also said election deniers once showed up at the home of her grandmother, where they tried to push their way in to make a “citizen’s arrest” and search for evidence of election fraud.
Moss and her mom quit their poll worker jobs and went into hiding as a result of the harassment they received. At one point, Moss said she stopped going to the grocery store out of fear.
“A lot of threats wishing death upon me, telling me I’ll be in jail with my mother and saying things like, ‘Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920,’” Moss said during the hearing.
It’s no coincidence that the poll workers falsely accused of election fraud are Black, said Kareem Crayton, senior director for voting rights and representation at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and public policy institute.
“The allegation carries with it, I think, an undertone of a lack of legitimacy that harkens back to a time where I think none of us want to go back,” he said. “The ballot box and the polling place are not considered places that people other than white people … get a chance to engage.”
Willis and members of her staff reportedly have also been targets of racist harassment as a result of her investigation into Trump’s alleged misdeeds, according to the AJC.
How will the indictment affect our courts?
Fulton County’s judicial system has been digging its way out of a major backlog of cases since reopening most of its courts following the COVID-19 shutdowns. The bureaucratic log jam, however, may soon go from bad to worse.
State Rep. Tanya Miller, a Democrat representing Atlanta, said local residents should be prepared for more traffic in the courts and in surrounding downtown Atlanta streets, as the Trump case puts added strain on Fulton County courthouse resources, including law enforcement.
“We already have a lot of folks in custody whose cases have been sitting for a while,” said Miller, who previously worked with Willis in the DA’s office before becoming a criminal defense attorney and Georgia lawmaker. “[The Trump case] could exacerbate the strain on our jails because it might slow down even more how our system is able to work.”
Miller also expects pro-Trump protesters to pose additional security concerns downtown, where orange barricades were recently set up outside the Fulton County courthouse. Staffers there have been told to work from home during the month of August.
“You have to think about those Trump supporters who might descend upon our county and try to do things to wreak havoc on this prosecution and on this community,” Miller said.
Fulton County has seen its fair share of high-profile court cases in recent years, including the ongoing trial of rapper Young Thug. But Howard — who ran the DA’s office in 2015 when Willis, his former subordinate and eventual successor, convinced a jury to convict 11 educators involved in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal — expects the media circus surrounding the Trump case to be unprecedented.
“Who knows what to expect?” Howard said. “Nothing has ever happened like this before.”
How will this affect the 2024 election?
It’s unclear whether Trump’s latest criminal case will dampen his support among GOP primary voters. The former president has maintained an enormous polling lead over his Republican rivals following two previous indictments.
But the media spotlight on the Fulton County case will probably energize Black voters in Georgia who may not be as excited to vote for Biden in the next presidential election, said Adrienne Jones, a political science professor at Morehouse College.
The number of Black registered voters in Georgia has grown since 2016. The loyal Democratic voting bloc has overwhelmingly voted against Trump and candidates he’s endorsed in every election cycle since that time. That includes Georgia football legend-turned failed U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, in addition to U.S. Sens. David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler.
Jones said Trump “keeps people aware that they do need to participate [in the voting process] even if they are skeptical about the value of their vote.”
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