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Why Georgia's Case Against Trump Could Be So Damaging

Former President Trump on Aug. 5 in Columbia, S.C. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

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TRUMP INDICTMENT WATCH - A legal tool normally reserved for the Mafia and organized crime could make former President Trump's next potential indictment his most damaging.

Why it matters: Georgia's expansive racketeering law — known as RICO — gives prosecutors a powerful tool to pursue charges in their investigation into Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

What's happening: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who has kept her plans quiet, says a charging decision could come by Sept. 1.

State of play: Willis will likely invoke RICO when she presents her case to the grand jury, legal experts say.

  • The law — inspired by federal statutes with the same name — allows prosecutors to string together crimes committed by different people toward one common goal.
  • The DA's investigation has spanned two years and has involved testimony from dozens of witnesses.

The big picture: If charges are brought, they'd represent the fourth indictment against the 2024 GOP frontrunner since April.

Zoom in: Experts point to several reasons why the potential Georgia charges could be more likely than the other cases to be damaging for Trump:

  1. The complexity of RICO cases makes it difficult for lawyers to implement a coherent trial strategy, explained Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University.
  • The stiff penalties associated with RICO charges are also a major incentive for co-defendants to seek deals in return for new evidence.
  • "The defendants who are left standing without plea deals and grants of immunity may especially feel squeezed as the process goes on," Kreis said.
  • Some Trump allies and supporters have already been informed by the DA's office that they are targets of the investigation, including Rudy Giuliani and the GOP electors who falsely "certified" Trump as Georgia's 2020 victor.
  1. Since Trump would face state charges in Georgia, the sitting president won't have the ability to pardon him, Kreis said.
  • In Georgia, the power to pardon is vested under the state constitution to a Board of Pardons and Paroles, which requires that a sentence be completed at least five years prior to applying for a pardon.
  • "If he were to win the presidency or if a Republican sympathetic to him were to win ... the president of the United States can't pardon or can't dismiss," Kreis said. "That puts it in a very different light from the federal cases."
  1. While the federal judiciary— and New York courts — are averse to televising criminal proceedings, Georgia courts are more transparent, Kreis notes.
  • Georgia may end up being the only case that is broadcast to the world, potentially giving the public a better chance to digest the evidence — which could be politically damning for Trump.

Between the lines: Willis is considered a RICO expert who successfully prosecuted a large criminal case over a test cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public School System in 2015.

 

(Sareen Habeshian is a breaking news reporter on the Newsdesk at AXIOS where this story was first published.)