Yes, we’re all tired of Donald Trump—who has been indicted once again for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. But this one may actually bring him down. Don’t worry. We’ve kept this one short.
Researched by: Rachel John
First, the many indictments of Donald Trump
He has now been charged with criminal offences in four cases. He is now facing a total of 91 charges. The previous three are as follows:
Case #1: In April, the former US president pleaded not guilty to 34 separate felony charges—all of which are based on a 2016 payment to a porn star (explained in this Big Story). Trump funnelled hush money to Stormy Daniels—to save his presidential bid. He needed to stop her from selling her story of their sexual relationship to the tabloids.
Trump did so at the height of the 2020 presidential race—and then tried to cover it up by falsifying documents. The reason for the cover up: all electoral candidates have to declare their campaign-related expenses. Hence the New York state indictment claims: “The defendant, Donald J. Trump, falsified New York business records in order to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election.”
Potential sentence: A paltry four years.
Case #2: In June, Trump was charged with 37 counts of illegally retaining confidential military documents after he left office—and then scheming to conceal them (explained in this Big Story). The Justice Department later slapped on another three charges that claim Trump actively interfered in the investigation into his possession of the documents. This included ordering an employee at his Mar-a-Lago resort to delete camera footage. The case goes to trial in May, 2024.
Potential sentence: The 40 charges—taken together—carry a maximum sentence of 120 years. But these are unlikely to be imposed.
Case #3: In August, Trump was indicted on four counts for trying to overturn the election results—in the weeks leading up to the Capitol Hill riots in January, 2021:
The indictment argues Trump and a group of allies that the document refers to as his “co-conspirators” knew that their claims that the 2020 election was stolen were false, but that they spread them anyway — and even launched a “criminal scheme” to support them.
This included pressuring state politicians to throw out votes, tampering with the Electoral College, trying to use the Justice Department and his vice president Mike Pence to stay in power. Trump is also accused of inciting the Capitol Hill riots.
Potential sentence: The four charges—taken together—carry a maximum sentence of 55 years.
Say hello to Case #4
This is the most serious case against Donald Trump. Here’s what it’s about:
The background: As the election results trickled out on November 3, 2020, it became clear that Joe Biden’s victory hinged on narrow wins in swing states. The Trump team tried to flip the results in these states in order to overturn Trump’s defeat. The campaign continued long after Biden was declared the winner—right up till his inauguration in January. One of these states was the state of Georgia—where the margin of Biden’s victory was just 0.23%—and 11,779 votes. And it was entirely controlled by Republicans.
The phone call: On January 2, Trump called the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—who was in charge of the vote-counting exercise. He tried to bully Raffensperger into throwing out votes in Democratic counties—on false claims of voter fraud:
During the hour-long call, which Raffensperger’s team recorded and swiftly provided to the Washington Post, Trump repeatedly urged the secretary of state to change the outcome so he would win. “There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump said at one point. “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” he said at another. He even threatened that Raffensperger could be committing “a criminal offense” by purportedly not reporting ballot fraud, adding, “That’s a big risk to you.”
The Trump team had indulged in all sorts of skulduggery until then. But legal experts say this is the moment when Trump crossed the line into “outright criminal conduct.”
The charges: The 98-page indictment levels 13 charges against Trump—of which the most significant—oddly enough—is ‘racketeering’. He—along with 18 others—has been accused of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The law was introduced at both federal and state levels to target the mafia. It allows the state prosecution to weave together different crimes into a single case:
Previously, prosecutors had often struggled to prove which individual mobsters were personally responsible for specific criminal acts, with key figures often avoiding being directly tied to serious crimes like murder. But under [the RICO Act], even minor crimes like mail fraud committed as part of a “racketeering enterprise” could result in large prison sentences. The threat of such sentences could also now help convince mobsters to flip on higher-level figures.
More importantly this: Georgia’s version of the law is even broader—and was introduced to go after Black street gangs (oh, the irony!).
[T]he Georgia law didn’t require prosecutors to demonstrate an underlying criminal enterprise, only the commission of a range of illegal acts that furthered a single criminal goal… Volkan Topalli, a professor of criminology at Georgia State, told me that the state’s generous statute helps create a “whirlpool effect” in the prosecution of criminal conspiracies: “If you capture one person in the whirlpool, everyone else gets sucked in along with them.”
In this case, prosecutors allege that Trump’s campaign was the ‘criminal enterprise’—which cooked up the criminal ‘scheme’ to overturn Georgia’s election results. A variety of crimes—“conspiracy to defraud the state, false statements and writings, impersonating a public officer, forgery, computer theft and dozens of others” have been bundled into one charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.
FYI: Trump’s co-conspirators include his then lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows,
Point to note: Trump’s lawyers say that his attempts to bully state officials are protected by the right to free speech. And Trump has described his Raffensperger call as the “perfect conversation.”
Why Georgia is a big deal
For starters, unlike previous indictments—where Trump simply pled ‘not guilty’ in court—he may actually be fingerprinted and have to pose for a mug shot like any other arrestee. The local sheriff has already said: “Unless someone tells me differently, we are following our normal practices.”
The perils of federalism: Under the US Constitution, a state prosecutor has the authority to investigate a former president because states are treated as “sovereign entities” that can pass—and more importantly, enforce—their own laws. This means:
- Trump cannot pardon himself if he wins the presidential election next year.
- A friendly Justice Department cannot intervene in a state prosecution.
- Even Georgia’s Republican governor will have no authority to pardon Trump if a jury convicts him.
- Only the state parole board can grant him relief–but only after he serves five years.
Also this: Trump will be tried in a county where three out of four voters supported his opponent. So he is unlikely to get a sympathetic jury.
A televised trial? The Georgia trial is the only one among the four cases that is likely to be broadcast on TV—and may well put the OJ Simpson trial to shame. And it is unlikely to help.
The bottomline: Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination by a mile. Although prosecutors are pushing for a speedy trial, none of these cases are likely to produce an outcome in 15 months. If Trump wins the election—and eventually loses the Georgia case—he will have to serve a mandatory five years. There is no precedent for that kind of shitshow:
Being incarcerated in a Georgia prison would invariably impede a president’s ability to perform his official duties. “If that’s the argument, it’s irrefutable,” Cloud said. But even that defence may not be enough for the president to evade a prison sentence, if convicted. There simply is no case law or precedent to determine what would come next. “If Mr. Trump were to be elected president again,” Cloud added, “I don’t think anyone can predict how this ultimately would be resolved. It’s hard to imagine.”
FYI: He is closely tied to Biden in the latest poll.
The Washington Post has the clearest breakdown of the—while Associated Press has the key takeaways. New Yorker has more on how racketeering charges work in Georgia. Vox lays out the four cases and the stakes. Miami Herald (paywall) and TIME explain why Georgia carries the greatest risk. Politico reports on how these indictments will affect Trump’s campaign.