5 Things that make the Fulton County Trump indictment different from the others

Of the four cases former President Donald Trump has been indicted in this year, this could be the only one to be televised and the most difficult to pardon if convicted

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5 Things that make the Fulton County Trump indictment different from the others
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a post-indictment news conference at the Fulton County Government building on August 14.

Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On Monday night, two and a half years after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced she would launch a criminal investigation into alleged interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results, a grand jury indicted former President Donald Trump and 18 allies on charges that include racketeering, conspiracy, and forgery. Once again, Georgia is at the center of the biggest story in American politics, and once the indictment was handed up around 9 p.m. Monday, national reporters quickly discovered what locals covering our elections have known for years—Fulton County is slow.

Fulton County has a long history of keeping us up late at night,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution politics reporter Greg Bluestein joked on (the platform formerly known as) Twitter while waiting to receive the indictment, which took about two hours to process, finally dropping just before 11 p.m.

But with the 96-page document now available for all to read, the internet and airwaves have been filled with analysis of what the allegations are, who has been indicted, and what comes next. This indictment is the fourth for former President Trump this year—in April, he was indicted in New York and charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to an alleged “hush money” payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. He pleaded not guilty. In June, he was indicted in a federal case brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith and charged with 37 felony counts related to mishandling classified documents, including allegedly storing classified documents at Mar-a-Lago; he pleaded not guilty. Earlier this month, Trump was indicted in another federal investigation lead by Smith into the January 6 insurrection and charged with 4 counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; he pleaded not guilty. In the Fulton case, he has been charged with 13 counts, including solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer for a phone call where Trump asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” additional votes in order to overturn the election. The Fulton case is earning a lot of attention not only for being the newest indictment against the former president, but also for a number of details that make it unique from the other cases.

1. It will (likely) be televised.
Unlike in the federal and New York cases, Georgia allows cameras in the courtroom, which means the general public will likely be able to see the full proceedings on live television, beginning with the arraignment. Cameras are allowed at a judge’s discretion however, so broadcasting isn’t guaranteed.

2. Georgia’s RICO laws are unique.
Trump and his allies have all been charged under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a.k.a RICO. While there is a federal RICO law, which was created initially to target the mafia, Georgia’s is much broader—as we reported earlier this year: A federal RICO case requires proof of both an enterprise and a pattern of crime through that enterprise. A Georgia case, however, could be made against an individual committing interrelated crimes—even without an enterprise. As the AJC notes, “It also allows a DA to introduce evidence that, without racketeering charges, would not stand on its own as individual crimes.” In the indictment, Trump and his allies, as well as 30 unindicted co-conspirators, are described as “a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities including, but not limited to, false statements and writings, impersonating a public officer, forgery, filing false documents, influencing witnesses, computer theft, computer trespass, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state, acts involving theft, and perjury.”

Prosecutors are also allowed to use crimes committed outside of Georgia to prove conspiracy, as seen in the Trump indictment, which includes allegations of related crimes “in other states, including, but not limited to, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and in the District of Columbia.” Willis is known for her RICO cases, even professing to be a “fan” of the law—it’s what she used when she was the lead prosecutor on the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal case, and it’s also being used in the upcoming case against rapper Young Thug, who has been accused of running his Young Slime Life music label as a street gang.

Georgia RICO convictions are a felony and have prison sentences of five to 20 years, a $25,000 fine or a fine three times greater than the amount earned from the crime (whichever is greater), or both prison time and a fine.

3. It’s much harder for Trump to get a pardon.
In Georgia, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles is responsible for issuing pardons, and that board doesn’t even begin looking at a pardon until at least five years after the convicted person has completed their sentence. Georgia’s governor cannot issue pardons, unlike many other states. Trump couldn’t pardon himself in this case either if he were elected president in 2024—presidents can only pardon federal crimes.

4. A sitting legislator has been indicted.
Among the 19 indicted is freshman State Senator Shawn Still. Still represents Georgia’s 48th District, which includes parts of northeast Fulton County, northeast Gwinnett County, and southeast Forsyth County. Still was indicted on seven counts—including forgery and impersonating a public officer—for allegedly being a part of a group of 16 “fake electors,” lead by the then head of the Georgia Republican Party David Shafer, who signed a certificate declaring themselves “duly elected and qualified Electors” and falsely stating that Trump had won the presidential election. Shafer was also indicted. Still could be suspended from the legislature while the case is pending—Governor Brian Kemp has two weeks to appoint a panel that includes Attorney General Chris Carr, a member of the state House, and a member of the state Senate, to review the case and determine if Still should be suspended.

The state’s current lieutenant governor, Burt Jones, was also in this group of “electors,” but the Fulton County DA’s Office was barred from investigating him; Jones successfully filed a conflict-of-interest complaint against Willis because she donated money to and publicly supported the campaign of Jones’s opponent in the 2022 election, Charlie Bailey.

5. The judge selected for the case is just 34 years old.
Judges are randomly selected, and the one assigned to this case, Scott McAfee, was appointed as a Fulton County Superior Court judge by Governor Kemp and sworn in just six months ago. He is a Kennesaw native, has an undergraduate degree in music and political science from Emory, and a law degree from the University of Georgia. He previously worked as a prosecutor in Fulton County, where he did work under Willis for awhile, then as an assistant U.S. attorney. Kemp appointed him to lead the state’s Office of Inspector General in 2021 before appointing him to the Fulton judge seat.

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