© Reuters. The first page of a 98-page grand jury indictment listing 19 defendants and 41 criminal counts, including felony charges of racketeering against former U.S. President Donald Trump, is seen after being released by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willi
By Andy Sullivan, Jacqueline Thomsen and Joseph Ax
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Donald Trump faced a new raft of felony charges on Tuesday after a Georgia grand jury used a law developed to take down organized crime gangs to charge the former U.S. president with trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
The charges, brought late on Monday by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, charge Trump, the front-runner in the race for the 2024 Republican nomination and 18 associates for a scheme intended to reverse his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
The sprawling 98-page indictment listed 19 defendants and 41 criminal counts in all. All the defendants were charged with racketeering, which is used to target members of organized crime groups and carries a minimum penalty of 5 years in prison.
Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, and lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and John Eastman were among those charged.
“Rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result,” Willis said at a press conference just before midnight.
Trump and the other defendants have until noon EDT (1600 GMT) on Friday, Aug. 25, to surrender voluntarily, rather than face arrest, Willis said. She said she intends to try all 19 defendants together within six months.
Court records show the case has been assigned to Judge Scott McAfee, a former prosecutor appointed in February by Republican Governor Brian Kemp. He will seek election next year to retain his position.
Unlike the federal courts where Trump is also awaiting trial, Georgia state courts allow television cameras, meaning the public could have the unprecedented spectacle of watching a former president’s trial on live TV as his campaign for a return to the White House goes into high gear.
Echoing his criticism of the many other investigations he faces, Trump called the indictment a political “witch hunt” in a social media post and accused Willis, an elected Democrat, of trying to sabotage his presidential comeback bid.
He said he would release a report on Monday on “Presidential Election Fraud” that would exonerate him. “They never went after those that Rigged the Election. They only went after those that fought to find the RIGGERS!” he said.
Since his defeat in 2020, Trump has repeatedly made false claims that the election was marred by widespread fraud. Those claims have been rejected by dozens of courts, state reviews and members of his own administration.
Giuliani, who rose to national prominence by using racketeering laws to take down New York mobsters in the 1980s, said prosecutors in this case were “the real criminals.”
Other defendants either proclaimed their innocence or did not respond to requests for comment.
The 13 felony charges against Trump matched those listed on a document that was briefly posted on the court website earlier on Monday and reported by Reuters before it disappeared.
In a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call, Trump urged Georgia’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to reverse his narrow loss in the state. Raffensperger declined.
Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol four days later in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory.
The indictment paints a picture of a broad conspiracy that started before the Nov. 3, 2020, election and lasted through September 2022, when it says one of those involved lied to a grand jury.
It says those involved in the scheme falsely testified to lawmakers that election fraud had occurred and urged state officials to alter the results.
It says the defendants tried to subvert the U.S. electoral process by submitting false slates of electors, people who make up the Electoral College that elects the president and vice president.
BREACHING VOTING MACHINES, HARASSING ELECTION WORKERS
It alleges that defendants breached voting equipment in a rural Georgia county, including personal voter information and images of ballots.
Prosecutors also said the defendants harassed an election worker who became the focus of conspiracy theories.
The indictment reaches across state lines, saying that Giuliani, Meadows and others called officials in Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to urge them to change the outcome in those states. It also encompasses the events of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.
The indictment mentions 30 other co-conspirators, though they were not named or charged.
Willis has used the racketeering law to go after drug-dealing networks and educators accused of manipulating test scores.
She will not have to prove that Trump personally broke the law in order to be found guilty of racketeering, only that he knowingly coordinated with others who did. Trump is also charged with breaking other laws, including conspiracy and making false statements.
Unlike many Republican officials, Raffensperger and Kemp have refused to echo Trump’s baseless fraud claims.
“The most basic principles of a strong democracy are accountability and respect for the Constitution and rule of law,” Raffensperger said in a statement that did not mention Trump. “You either have it or you don’t.”
Kemp said the state’s elections have been secure and Trump’s supporters have failed to prove their fraud claims.
THREE OTHER CRIMINAL CASES
Outside of Georgia, Trump has pleaded not guilty in three other criminal cases. He could spend much of next year in court, even as he campaigns to retake the White House.
He faces a New York state trial in March 2024 involving a hush money payment to a porn star, and a federal trial beginning in May in Florida for allegedly mishandling federal classified documents.
A third indictment, in Washington federal court, accuses him of illegally seeking to overturn his 2020 election defeat. U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith has requested a January trial, but a date has yet to be set.
Willis’ proposed timeline would mean Trump would face trial in Georgia by mid-February 2024.
He also faces civil trials in October and January for fraudulent business practices and defamation.
Georgia, once reliably Republican, has emerged as one of a handful of politically competitive states that can determine the outcome of presidential elections.
Trump’s lead in polls over his Republican rivals has widened since the first charges were announced in April. But strategists say his legal woes may hurt him in the November 2024 general election, when he will have to win over more independent-minded voters.
In a July Reuters/Ipsos poll, 37% of independents said the criminal cases made them less likely to vote for him.