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This is what’s at stake with the Georgia Trump indictment

Why Fani Willis' sprawling new indictment is about a lot more than just Donald Trump.

A former president of the United States has now been criminally indicted for a fourth time. Less than a decade ago, we would have assumed a sentence like that would be found only in a work of fiction. Never in the history of our country has a former president faced one, let alone four, criminal indictments. 

Former President Donald Trump now faces even more criminal charges related to his efforts to sabotage the 2020 election. This 97-page indictment centers on Trump’s alleged scheme to invalidate the outcome of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results. That is a fancy way of saying he, allegedly, tried to trash people’s votes for Biden and fabricate imaginary votes for himself. And he, allegedly, had a lot of help.

Never in the history of our country has a former president faced one, let alone four, criminal indictments.

Here is the first thing you need to know about the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia: Trump lost. Here is the second and last thing you need to know: Trump did everything he could, including, allegedly, engaging in criminal behavior to cheat that outcome.    

This is about more than just another criminal case against Trump. This is an indictment of the people who voted for Trump despite plenty of evidence that he was unfit for office; the people who tried to help him undermine our elections; and of the people who failed to realize how close we came to every guardrail breaking down. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis charged 18 other individuals alongside the president, using Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced Corruption Organizations (RICO) Act.

And why? Because we were on the precipice of a self-coup. Trump’s supporters pushed the literal guardrails at the Capitol and had them tumbling down on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump and his supporters tried to torch the metaphorical guardrails in our electoral system. They've been accused of trying to steal the election in Georgia and other states. And they almost succeeded. 

If our criminal justice system stands for anything, and if the rule of law is more than just an empty platitude, these charges had to be brought. The leader of this country has been accused of implementing a criminal pressure campaign to invalidate the election results, falsely claim victory so that he could illegally stay in power. The criminal justice system withers to stacks of meaningless words on reams of paper in dusty criminal law books if such actions are permitted.  

Now, Willis will bring a case carrying far more than any single criminal case ever could — or perhaps should. She is fighting for the vindication of democratic norms and values. And, it seems safe to say, she knows it.

How did Trump try to undermine the election results in Georgia in 2020? Let’s begin with what may be Exhibit A in a criminal trial. Trump had a phone call with Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021. This is six days before the certification of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, 2021. “I just want you to find 11,780 votes,” a desperate-sounding Trump told Raffensperger. That number of votes would, not coincidentally, have allowed Trump to overtake Biden’s vote count. Trump describes this potentially criminal call as “perfect.” 

This grand jury is not the first group of citizens to look into Trump’s allegedly criminal meddling in Georgia’s election results. Willis used a special purpose grand jury to gather early evidence in the case. That special purpose grand jury worked for half a year and interviewed 75 witnesses. A majority of the members believed that one or more of these witnesses committed perjury and recommended that the D.A. bring “appropriate indictments.” The foreperson of the special purpose grand jury told members of the media that the panel recommended indicting more than a dozen people.

What comes next? Trump, like anyone else facing an indictment, will be arraigned in a criminal courthouse in Fulton County, Georgia. If this sounds like déjà vu all over again, that is because we have already seen a different version of this movie. Trump also arraigned after he was indicted in New York, and then in Florida for mishandling classified documents, and then in Washington D.C. But this case could be the strongest against him. Willis has already indicated she wants to move quickly to pick a trial date. And she also said on Monday night that she doesn't believe this is an indictment where simple probation would apply. 

Trump has tried and tried to use the legal system to save himself from its consequences. So far, these efforts have been unsuccessful. In a last-ditch attempt in Georgia, Trump tried to quash the special grand jury’s report, which would have cut Willis’ investigation off at the pass. The Georgia Supreme Court, composed of nine members, eight of whom were appointed by Republican governors, unanimously rejected that request.

The next, and more important question, will be whether 12 citizens will unanimously reject his next defense. A lot hangs in the balance.