A prosecutor’s pledge to make imminent charging decisions for “multiple” people in a probe centered on Donald Trump’s actions in Georgia following the 2020 election has renewed interest in whether the former president could soon be facing charges.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) offered the revelation Tuesday as she argued that a special grand jury’s report that is expected to include charging recommendations should be kept from public view.
The remarks have energized critics of Trump who see the Fulton County case as among the best avenues for bringing charges against the former president.
“There are no certainties in the criminal law … but I would be absolutely stunned if Trump were not facing charges,” said Norm Eisen, a counsel for Democrats in Trump’s first impeachment trial who contributed to a Brookings Institution report modeling a prosecution memo for a potential Georgia case.
It's not clear that Willis will file charges. Prosecutors often decline to pursue criminal cases against defendants, and Trump is not one of the 17 people who have been informed that they are targets of the investigation.
Still, the insistence by Willis’s office that the report should remain sealed because it could hinder future prosecutions if made public left some tongues wagging.
“Decisions are imminent,” Willis said in the Tuesday hearing.
Trump’s actions in Georgia have been under a microscope, including his call asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” that might have allowed him to defeat Biden in the state. The resignation of a U.S. attorney who dismissed Trump’s claims about mishandled ballots and the Trump campaign’s organization of a group of fake electors to claim that Trump had won the state have also been under scrutiny.
“Based on the Trump tape alone, it's hard to understand how he would not get charged,” Eisen said, referring to the call with Raffensperger.
He also pointed to evidence collected by the House Jan. 6 committee demonstrating Trump’s involvement in the fake elector scheme.
“Trump was already in profound danger before [Willis] ever made that comment. It just acts as kind of an exclamation point.”
The known targets in Georgia include former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and 16 Republicans who held a meeting to carry out the fake elector plot by voting to certify the election for Trump. But that doesn’t mean all will be charged or that others couldn’t be included in a future indictment.
“It's really wide open at this point what plural defendants means,” said Gwen Keyes Fleming, a former Georgia district attorney who noted there is a “broad universe of people where there might be the potential for charges.”
“And again, the DA may, through her investigation with the special grand jury, have gotten evidence either in support of those crimes, in support of different crimes; she may have gotten mitigating evidence for some of those crimes,” said Keyes Fleming, who worked alongside Eisen on the Brookings prosecution memo.
Trump’s attorneys did not attend the hearing and noted before it began that Trump was never subpoenaed or asked to voluntarily appear before the grand jury.
“We can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump,” Trump attorneys Drew Findling, Marissa Golberg and Jennifer Little said in a joint statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The team did not respond to request for comment Wednesday.
Trump before the hearing began defended his actions while making more baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through fraud.
“With many people on the line on what was a PERFECT call protesting the Rigged Georgia Election, which I have a clear right to do, and in fact an obligation to do since I made the call as President, how come not one person said, while on the call, that I acted inappropriately, or made a statement of protest,” he wrote in one of three posts on the subject.
The Brookings report determined that Trump could face charges for violating a number of state laws, including solicitation to commit election fraud, intentional interference with performance of election duties and interference with primaries and elections.
The initial crop of target letters, however, suggests the fake elector scheme is a prime focus of the DA.
Some involved in the plot have said they were told the move was done in preparation to preserve Trump’s legal rights if any of his numerous court battles were successful, and Keyes Fleming said that not all in the group of 16 may face charges.
“Obviously the DA has a lot of discretion. And she will be evaluating the strength of her case against any defendant, including some who received target letters as part of the alleged fake electors scheme,” she said.
It’s also possible other Trump allies could face charges as a result of the probe.
Giuliani, former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Trump lawyer John Eastman, who crafted the memo encouraging former Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of Biden’s victory, all appeared before the grand jury.
“It depends on how broad the DA’s office might want to go as to whether they would be looking at Mark Meadows. There's also a question as to whether Senator Graham's behavior in November in terms of his outreach to the Georgia secretary of state might yield a separate set of charges,” Keyes Fleming said.
“There's still the question as to whether she would consider or pursue RICO charges. And that obviously could envelop a larger group of potential defendants.”
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act charges would mean federal charges for a wider swath of people and allow for broader proof and penalties.
Eisen sees a benefit, in that it “allows the Trump campaign to be charged as essentially an enterprise that turned into a delivery vehicle for an attempted coup.”
But it’s also a way to address behavior aimed at Georgia, even if the activity didn’t directly occur there. He pointed to the attempt of Justice Department lawyer Jeff Clark, who Trump mulled installing as attorney general, to launch a federal investigation of the state.
“It lets you more easily sweep in people like Jeff Clark who never set foot in Georgia but wrote that terrible draft letter the DOJ refused to approve,” Eisen said.
It’s unclear just how imminent any action may be. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who is overseeing the grand jury’s work, said he planned to consult with attorneys before issuing his order and pledged to not immediately release the report when he issues his decision.
Eisen said Willis’s comments that decisions are imminent would be an important warning to those who may still be mulling whether to cooperate with the probe as a way to avoid charges.
“You got to have people on the inside who are your tour guides, your sherpas. And I think some of those fake collectors are in that position. If there are other inside witnesses who are deciding whether to cooperate or fight, I think today probably nudges them in the direction of cooperation,” Eisen said.
“Because this case is coming, and it's coming fast.”