ATLANTA - Former President Donald Trump and 18 other people were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury on Monday, accused of scheming to illegally overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. It’s the fourth criminal case to be brought against the former president and the second to allege that he tried to subvert the results of the vote.
The 97-page, 41-count indictment names Donald Trump, Rudolph Giuliani, John Eastman, Mark Meadows, Kenneth Chesebro, Jeffrey Clark, Jenn Lynn Ellis, Ray Stallings Smith III, Robert Cheeley, Michael Roman, David Shafer, Shawn Micah Tresher Still, Stephen Cliffgard Lee, Harrison William Prescott Floyd, Trvian C. Kutti, Sidney Powell, Cathleen "Cathy" Latham, Scott Grahama Hall, and Misty Hampton (Emily Misty Hayes).
All face multiple counts, but share a single count among them: Violation of the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis says the 19 individuals were part of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State.
"Charging 19 individuals with violations of Georgia law arising from a criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in this state," Willis said during a press conference held just before midnight.
"Through participation in 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 Jan. 20, 2021," said WIllis.
Willis says the defendants took "various actions" in their attempt to overturn the results of the election.
"As you examine the indictment, you will see acts that are identified as ‘overt acts’ and those that are identified as ‘predicate acts," sometimes called ‘acts of racketeering activity,’ Willis said.
Willis explained that predicate acts may not be illegal on their own in Georgia, but under the RICO act, they were "in furtherance of the conspiracy" and "furtherance of the criminal enterprise."
"Georgia, like every state has laws that allow those who believe that results of an election are wrong, whether because of intentional wrong-doing or unintentional error, to challenge those results in our state court," Willis said. "The indictment alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in criminal racketeering enterprise."
Trump faces three counts of solicitation of violation of oath by public officer, four counts of false statement and writings, two counts of conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree, two counts of conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, a single count of conspiracy to commit filing false documents, and filing false documents, according to the indictment.
"I remind everyone here that an indictment is only a series of allegations based on a grand jury’s determination of probable cause to support the charges. It is now the duty of my office to prove these charges in the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt at trial," Willis said.
Willis is asking the defendants to surrender voluntarily by noon on Friday, Aug. 25
"Please remember everyone in this bill of indictment is presumed innocent until proven guilty," Willis said.
Willis added she plans to try all 19 defendants together.
A trial date will be set by a judge at a later date.
Trump campaign responds to indictments
The Trump campaign issued a statement shortly after 10 p.m. which questions the timing of the indictment.
"They could have brought this two and half years ago, yet they chose to do this for election interference reasons in the middle of President Trump's successful campaign," the statement reads in part.
Fulton County Clerk Ché Alexander signs the receipt of the indictments handed down by a grand jury in the Georgia election probe on Aug. 14, 2023 (FOX 5)
The campaign claims there has been a "legal double-standard" for Trump and that DA Willis is doing the bidding of President Joe Biden.
"Ripping a page from Crooked Joe Biden's playbook, Willis has strategically stalled her investigation to try and maximally interfere with the 2024 presidential race and damage the dominant Trump campaign," the statement reads in part.
Trump's statement went to say the Democrats are the "ones who created the corruption" and that by charging him, they are taking away his First Amendment Rights.
"Call it election interference or election manipulation-it is a dangerous effort by the ruling class to suppress the choice of the people. It is un-American and wrong," the statement reads.
Trump attorneys Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg additional issued this statement early Tuesday morning:
"The events that have unfolded today have been shocking and absurd, starting with the leak of a presumed and premature indictment before the witnesses had testified or the grand jurors had deliberated and ending with the District Attorney being unable to offer any explanation. In light of this major fumble, the Fulton County District Attorney's Office clearly decided to force through and rush this 98-page indictment. This one-sided grand jury presentation relied on witnesses who harbor their own personal and political interests- some of whom ran campaigns touting their efforts against the accused and/or profited from book deals and employment opportunities as a result. We look forward to a detailed review of this indictment which is undoubtedly just as flawed and unconstitutional as this entire process has been."
Sources indicate Trump is expected to plead not guilty.
The Georgia election probe
The charges come on the first day that Fani Willis presented her case against Trump and his allies - the next step of an investigation that's spanned two and a half years.
"It's a very complicated case," said Anthony Michael Kreis, a Georgia State University Assistant Professor of Law.
The grand jury heard from witnesses into the evening Monday in the election subversion investigation into Trump, a long day of testimony punctuated by the mysterious and brief appearance on a county website of a list of criminal charges against the former president that prosecutors later disavowed.
The grand jury does not determine guilt.
"It's a very low burden, which is why, oftentimes, we joke in the legal community about grand juries indicting ham sandwiches because everything favors the prosecution," Kreis said.
Kreis has followed this case closely. He says while there are some similarities between other cases this is only about Georgia.
"Here in Fulton County, the interests are slightly different," he said. "There are overlapping themes and narratives in evidence, but the interest in Fani Willis is to really vindicate the rights of Georgians."
Depending on the outcome of the grand jury, Kreis says there will likely be allegations that this is politically motivated, but he says people need to focus on the evidence.
"The thing about election law crimes is that they are very often going to involve political actors or political parties or political organizations or all sorts of, you know, partisan entities," he said.
Former Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, who had been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, said as she left the Fulton County courthouse late Monday morning that she had been questioned for about 40 minutes. Former Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen and Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the secretary of state’s office, were seen arriving at the courthouse earlier Monday.
Nguyen and Jordan both attended legislative hearings in December 2020 during which former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others made false claims of widespread election fraud in Georgia. Trump lawyer John Eastman also appeared during at least one of those hearings and said the election had not been held in compliance with Georgia law and that lawmakers should appoint a new slate of electors.
Sterling and his boss, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — both Republicans — forcefully pushed back against allegations of widespread problems with Georgia’s election.
Trump famously called Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, and suggested the state’s top elections official could help "find" the votes Trump needed to beat Biden. It was the release of a recording of that phone call that prompted Willis to open her investigation about a month later.
"All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump is heard saying on a recording of the call, which was leaked to news outlets. "Because we won the state."
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong and has repeatedly said the call was "perfect."
In anticipation of the charges, the Fulton County Sheriff's Office erected barriers around the beginning of August along the block in front of the main courthouse. The street was closed starting last week, and parking is prohibited on nearby streets. Those measures are to remain in place through the end of the week, Labat’s office said.
In December, a special grand jury found sufficient evidence to recommend indictments against Trump and others earlier this year. However, only a regular grand jury has the power to indict in Georgia.
Trump has begun stepping up his criticism of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who has spent two years leading the election probe into Trump and his allies. Speaking to supporters in New Hampshire on Aug. 8, the Republican former president launched highly personal attacks on Willis and called the 52-year-old Democratic prosecutor, who is Black, "a young woman, a young racist in Atlanta."
"She’s got a lot of problems. But she wants to indict me to try to run for some other office," Trump said.
Trump also weighted in on the possibility of taking a plea deal in the Georgia case.
"We don't take plea deals. We did nothing wrong. We don't ever take a plea deal," Trump said. "It's called election inference. You know that is? These indictments are brought out by Biden who can't even put two sentences together."
Experts say it could take more than a year to sort out a potential trial.
This indictment adds to a growing list of legal troubles as he campaigns for president. Trump is set to go to trial in New York in March to face state charges related to hush-money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign. And he has another trial scheduled for May on federal charges related to his handling of classified documents. He has pleaded not guilty in those cases.
What is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act?
Willis' use of the RICO charges in cases like Trump's has thrust the common, but complex charge back into the public spotlight.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, was developed to fight organized crime. It was enacted in 1970 after being signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
Federally, RICO was originally was intended to be used to combat the Mafia. It draws from a list of 27 federal crimes and eight state crimes committed repeated over the course of a 10-year period. Those crimes can include fraud, theft, computer crimes, embezzlement, credit scams, investment schemes, human trafficking, illegal gambling, bribery, kidnapping, murder, money laundering, counterfeiting, and various drug charges.
The Justice Department has used RICO to dismantle multiple crime families including the Gambinos and also has helped to weed out corruption in several city police departments including those in Key West and Los Angeles. Prosecutors have also used RICO to try to dismantle several street gangs and helped in prosecuting businesses that break federal law.
Georgia’s RICO statutes are similar to the federal version but are much broader in that the criminal "enterprise" does not have to be around as long. Georgia is one of only 33 states that has its own RICO statutes. However, in both state and federal laws, a pattern of criminal enterprise has to be established.
The Fulton County District Attorney's Office hired a RICO expert in its election investigation.
Violating RICO carries a maximum of 20 years and a fine that is "greater of $25,000 or three times the amount of pecuniary gain."
Under RICO, victims impacted can seek civil recourse without the defendant being able to hide behind bankruptcy to skirt judgment or restitution.
FOX News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.