Former President Donald Trump now faces a fourth criminal indictment regarding his actions during his 2020 reelection campaign, after a Georgia grand jury indicted him and 18 of his allies for attempting to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election results. We speak to Michael Isikoff, a veteran investigative journalist who is writing a book on the Georgia investigation, about this “sprawling indictment,” which uses Georgia’s expansive RICO statute to lay out how Trump’s team pressured election officials, intimidated election workers, broke into election offices, lied to the Georgia Legislature and more.
AMY GOODMAN: For the fourth time in just over four months, a grand jury has indicted former President Donald Trump, as he continues to campaign as the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race. This is the second time he’s been charged with trying to interfere with the 2020 election in the last two weeks. This time, a Georgia grand jury indicted Trump, and 18 of his allies, stemming from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s investigation into their attempt to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. DA Willis announced the indictment Monday after 11:30 Eastern time at a press conference in Atlanta, about two hours after it was handed to the judge.
FANI WILLIS: Today, based on information developed by that investigation, a Fulton County grand jury returned a true bill of indictment, charging 19 individuals with violations of Georgia law arising from a criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in this state. The indictment includes 41 felony counts and is 97 pages long.
Please remember that everyone charged in this bill of indictment is presumed innocent. Specifically, the indictment brings felony charges against Donald John Trump, Rudolph William Louis Giuliani, John Charles Eastman, Mark Randall Meadows, John Chesebro, Jeffrey Clark. …
Every individual charged in the indictment is charged with one count of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act through participation in a criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Georgia, and elsewhere to accomplish the illegal goal of allowing Donald J. Trump to seize the presidential term of office beginning on January 20th, '21. Specifically, the participants, in association, took various actions in Georgia and elsewhere to block the counting of votes of the presidential electors who were certified as the winners of Georgia's 2020 general election.
AMY GOODMAN: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced that arrest warrants have been issued for Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants and gave them until August 25th to voluntarily surrender. She said she plans to try all of them together in proceedings she hopes to begin within the next sixth months.
Earlier Monday, a document listing criminal charges to be brought against Trump was briefly posted to the Fulton County Clerk’s Office website before the grand jury’s decision, and Trump used the apparent error to claim the system is rigged against him. As Trump struggles with legal fees, he urged supporters in a fundraising email to, quote, “never surrender.”
The special grand jury in this case heard testimony from 75 witnesses, along with other evidence. One of the most notorious moments in the pressure campaign Trump and his allies conducted on Georgia officials was a phone call in which Trump asked Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find the votes he needed to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So, look, all I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.
AMY GOODMAN: DA Willis opened her probe after this call. Part of the charges also stem from a breach of voting machines in Coffee County, about 200 miles from Atlanta. The indictment alleges the criminal enterprise operated in other states, including Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Mexico. Fani Willis has given Trump and his co-defendants until August 25th to turn themselves in.
For more, we’re joined by Michael Isikoff, veteran investigative journalist writing a book on the Georgia investigation. He was in Atlanta in the courtroom when the indictment was announced.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Michael. Can you first respond to what has taken place, as history was being made? Talk about the significance of these charges at the state level, something that President Trump, if he were to become president again, could not pardon himself for.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Right. I mean, it was quite a night. And this is a sprawling indictment, in many ways, much more comprehensive than the recent indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith. It tells the whole story of what took place during — after the 2020 election, and it really zeros in on multiple fronts: the fake elector meetings, the pressure on election officials such as Brad Raffensperger, the false testimony that Trump’s surrogates made to the Georgia Legislature.
But probably the part that I think will leap out most and perhaps hit the public in the strongest way is the intimidation of election workers — Ruby Freeman, the Fulton County election worker who was targeted by Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump himself, in that phone call to Brad Raffensperger, terrorized, forced to leave her home at the recommendation of the FBI. And the indictment lays out how Trump’s surrogates, like, went to her home in an effort to intimidate her and get her to confess, lest she be facing criminal charges herself. It’s a really powerful story, and it’s a personal story. And I think that in that way this indictment is going to connect to people, that goes beyond the other ones that have already been brought against Donald Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about this issue of conspiracy, of using RICO, which is more often than not used to go after the mob, and what you see in this 98-page indictment is Donald Trump’s direct involvement.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Absolutely. And, you know, look, the use of RICO is something that Fani Willis has used frequently as a prosecutor, as a deputy DA and as DA herself. It is an — Georgia’s version of RICO is actually more expansive than the federal RICO statute, which of course was passed back in 1970, the Nixon era, to go after the Mafia. It’s now frequently used in white-collar cases and other criminal cases.
But it is — one thing that leapt out in Fani Willis’s brief press conference yesterday, last night, she was asked, “Could people convicted under this RICO statute get probation?” And she said, “No, they cannot.” The penalties for a RICO violation are five years to 20 years in a Georgia penitentiary. So, that is something that I think a lot of people are going to try to get their heads around, because —
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Michael, this is very —
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: — if there are convictions under this —
AMY GOODMAN: This is very significant. There are mandatory minimums here —
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — that so many have faced in the past. That means a judge has no discretion.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, I mean, look —
AMY GOODMAN: To go higher, yes, but they can’t not put them in jail.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: That’s what Fani Willis told the press last night. And, you know, that raises a whole host of questions when the lead defendant is Donald Trump.
Just a couple of other ironies to the use of RICO: Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. attorney, before he was New York City mayor, used RICO to go after the mob, and, you know, people will note he’s now being hoisted on his own petard. The law, a version of the law, that he pioneered in going after mobsters, is now being used against him.
Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff — when’s the last time a White House chief of staff was indicted? You’d have to go back to H.R. Haldeman during the Nixon era, right? So, you look at the range of defendants here — David Shafer, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party; Jeff Clark, the Justice Department lawyer who Donald Trump wanted to install as the acting attorney general to further his goal of staying president — it’s really breathtaking in a lot of ways.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Coffee County, about 200 miles from Atlanta, for a moment, because —
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: — you have Scott Hall, tied to the Coffee County election system breach, Misty Hampton, tied — who was the Coffee County election supervisor, also, of course, Sidney Powell, Trump campaign lawyer, all related to this story. And talk about the revelation that just came out around an actual breach of an electoral machine and why this is so significant in this case, Michael.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yes. In the indictment, Fani Willis calls what happened at Coffee County a case of computer theft. And this was an operation that actually took place after January 6th. And still determined to try to find some way, somehow, Trump’s team believed that if they could get access inside the election — to the software inside Dominion election machines, they could find the fraud that Sidney Powell had talked about: The Venezuelan socialists, Chinese communists were manipulating the vote somehow; if they could just get inside those Dominion machines. The problem is that that software and all the election data was protected. In fact, there were instructions to all election officials in Georgia: They may not release, publicly disclose this data. It was sensitive election technology, proprietary, could not be publicly released.
What they did is they found a few Trump-friendly officials at the local — official who, quote, “invited them in,” which they had no authority to do, and they spent a full day in Coffee County copying, imaging that data that they had no right to. As I said, computer theft, computer trespass, and it’s a key part of this indictment. And in the indictment, if you read it, they can link this up the chain, including to people like David Shafer, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, who was in touch with Scott Hall on the eve and during the day that they were breaking into this election office.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the fact that there are arrest warrants issued, as opposed to summons in other of the cases around President Trump, where they negotiate everything, you know, time of his surrender, everything. Arrest warrant, if he doesn’t show up by the 25th, he is thrown in jail, and the others are, too. What about the significance of this, also, you know, them saying in Georgia, “Yep, there’s going to be mugshots,” etc.?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, it’s going to be really fascinating to watch over the next two weeks for that August 25th date. Does everybody show up? If not, there will have to be efforts at extradition to return the defendants to Fulton County for criminal processing. I don’t know how this is going to play out. Donald Trump has shown up in the case of the federal indictments and in the case of the New York City indictment by Alvin Bragg. If this one — this one has got to stick in his craw, as it were, more than any of the others. He was obsessed with Georgia, and now to have to show up at the Fulton County Jail, where defendants are processed.
And also one other factor to watch here is negotiation of a bond, because under Georgia law, there is not a lot of — if a defendant is deemed to be at risk not just of flight, but of intimidating witnesses, they’re not eligible for a bond. So, we’ll see. We don’t know who the judge is going to be yet. But that judge is going to have a very interesting process to deal with Donald Trump. And what is the bond set at? Fani Willis has set out bonds in the past on RICO cases for hundreds of thousands of dollars. This one is a much bigger case in a lot of ways. So, I think there’s going to be quite a bit of back-and-forth about the bond that Donald Trump would have to post in order to secure his freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’re writing a book on this. What most surprised you last night at midnight? I think the news conference started at 11:37.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: What most surprised you? You’ve been digging into this for a while now.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Just the sweeping nature of the indictment, the way the indictment ties all these multiple players to a common conspiracy. And I’ve got to say, you played the clip at the start, the way Fani Willis chose her words, saying this was a conspiracy to allow Donald Trump to “seize” power, to “seize” the presidency — really interesting word, that gave a sense of how the prosecutors here are viewing what took place.
Now, look, he’s got — Donald Trump has some pretty powerful defense lawyers. They’re going to be attacking this. Drew Findling is his lead lawyer, the billion-dollar lawyer who’s made a name for himself representing rap stars. He’s a very experienced defense lawyer. You know, so we’ve got to hold back and watch and see how this plays out.
But as I said, in terms of the sweeping nature of this, it is really something we haven’t seen before in all our coverage of the 2020 election aftermath. And I think it’s going to get a lot more interesting.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Isikoff, veteran investigative journalist, writing a book on the Georgia investigation. When we come back, we will talk with the head of the Black Voters Matter Fund, and then to Ralph Nader. Stay with us.