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Donald Trump and 18 others were charged with meddling in the 2020 presidential elections by prosecutors in Georgia, the fourth criminal case brought against the former US president in the space of five months.
Fani Willis, the Fulton county district attorney, on Monday obtained a sweeping 98-page indictment from a grand jury against Trump on criminal counts including violating Georgia’s racketeering laws and perpetuating multiple conspiracies.
Charges were also brought against 18 other defendants, including Rudy Giuliani, who was involved in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 vote, and John Eastman, a constitutional scholar who persuaded the former president of his theory that then-vice-president Mike Pence could refuse to certify Joe Biden’s win.
Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff in the final months of the administration; Jeffrey Clark, a former justice department official; and Jenna Ellis, a lawyer for the former president, were also named as defendants.
The former president and the other defendants “constituted a criminal organization” that “refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump”, prosecutors said in the indictment.
In a late-night press conference on Monday, Willis, a Democrat, denied the indictment was politically motivated. “We look at the facts, we look at the law and we bring charges,” she said.
Willis said her office would this week ask the judge to set a trial date within the next six months: “We do want to move this case along.” Defendants have the option to surrender voluntarily until August 25, she added. If convicted on the racketeering charges, the defendants would serve prison time, she said.
The indictment in state court follows a federal criminal case brought by the US Department of Justice that was also related to alleged interference in the 2020 election in multiple states.
The election-related charges are among several criminal cases Trump is fighting across the country while campaigning for another term as president.
In a statement on Monday night, Trump said: “Justice and the rule of law are officially dead in America. A left-wing prosecutor . . . has indicted me despite having committed no crime.
“This marks the fourth act of election Interference on behalf of the Democrats in an attempt to keep the White House under Crooked Joe’s control and jail his single greatest opponent of the 2024 election.”
Lawyers representing Eastman, Meadows, Ellis and Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Clark could not immediately be reached for comment.
The former president has also been criminally charged in federal court in connection to alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents. He has also been indicted by the Manhattan district attorney for allegedly arranging a scheme involving “hush money” payments to an adult film actress. Trump pleaded not guilty in all three of the earlier cases.
Georgia’s indictment has thrust Fulton county’s prosecutors into the national spotlight as they argue a case with outsized significance.
As the grand jury neared its final vote, local authorities tightened security around the courthouse, setting up barriers and closing roads.
In a bizarre twist on Monday morning, Reuters reported on a docket entry on the Fulton county court website, which appeared to show an indictment against Trump on several charges. But the entry was quickly removed, Reuters said, and the district attorney’s office said no indictment had been returned.
The office later warned of a “fictitious” document making the rounds. Trump’s lawyers seized on the incident, saying in a statement that it was “emblematic of the pervasive and glaring constitutional violations which have plagued this case from its very inception”.
Several prominent Republicans, including Vivek Ramaswamy, who is campaigning to be the party’s nominee, argued the incident proved Trump was being unfairly treated by prosecutors. “It’s downright pathetic that Fulton County publicly posted the indictment on its website even before the grand jury had finished convening,” Ramaswamy said.
Trump won the state of Georgia in 2016 but narrowly lost it to Joe Biden in 2020, setting off frantic efforts by the former president and his allies to avoid defeat. In one of the most prominent examples, Trump called secretary of state Brad Raffensperger asking him to “find 11,780 votes” that would allow him to win in the state. Raffensperger did not comply.
Trump left office in January 2021, days after a mob of his outraged supporters stormed the US Capitol. The former president has railed against what he claims was a rigged vote. Despite his mounting legal troubles, he is the clear frontrunner among those vying to be the Republican party’s nominee in the 2024 election.