Donald Trump’s lawyers make a living.
Lawyers for the former president have raced to put out one fire after another in recent months as they defended Trump from investigations into the leak of secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, his role in the storming of the Capitol during his final days in office. , and twin investigations into his business dealings in New York.
But the greatest legal danger for Trump could come from the silent operation of a grand jury in Georgia hear evidence of his unlawful attempts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election and prevent Joe Biden from taking office.
“This poses a greater legal threat to the president and some of his supporters than any other ongoing investigation right now,” said Ronald Carlson, a prominent Georgia litigation attorney and law school professor. from the University of Georgia.
“Some of the potential charges carry very serious penalties.”
Carlson said that while Trump is being prosecuted for removing classified White House documents, other officials who mishandled secret documents have only received misdemeanor convictions and probation, such as the former director of CIA David Petraeus.
He said New York’s investigations into allegations of financial fraud focused more on Trump’s businesses than the former president. It remains unclear what criminal charges, if any, may arise from the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol.
But Carlson said the strong evidence of Trump’s high-profile efforts to undo his narrow loss to Biden in Georgia by pressuring state officials to commit fraud puts the former president at the heart of an investigation into alleged crimes that carry harsher penalties than he might encounter in the other probes.
An analysis by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, concluded that Trump was at “substantial risk of possible state charges based on multiple crimes” after what he describe as his “sustained assault” on the Georgian electoral process.
Among other charges, prosecutors appear to be considering indictments under anti-conspiracy laws written to fight organized crime, which could result in lengthy prison sentences.
In Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis convened a “special grand jury” to spend up to a year focusing on Trump’s multi-faceted attempt to fix Georgia’s election result.
Willis appears to build a substantial body of testimony from some of Trump’s closest allies who witnessed the defeated president’s actions and, in some cases, intervened themselves, including his lawyer and adviser, Rudolph Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York. Two days before testifying last month, Giuliani was told he was also a target of the criminal investigation.
The grand jury is also seeking testimony from Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ardent Trump convert who contacted Georgia officials seeking to change the vote, and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
The lawyers said that since any accusations against Trump would further inflame America’s already raw politics, Willis will want to make sure she has a watertight case to avoid political prosecution charges. But it also means any decision to sue could come around the time the next presidential campaign kicks off, with Trump hinting he will run again.
The evidence presented to the grand jury is secret, but any case against Trump is likely to be built around a tape recording of his appeal to Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to ‘find’ enough of votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state. .
When Raffensperger denied the request, Trump made vague threats to charge him with a felony for failing to investigate allegations that Democrats rigged the vote.
“You know what they did and you don’t report it. You know, it’s a criminal offence. And you know, you can’t let that happen. It’s a big risk for you,” he told Raffensperger.
The then-president spoke with other top Republican Georgia officials, including Governor Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr, to urge them to challenge the state’s vote count. They too resisted the pressure.
Raffensperger and Carr have already testified before the grand jury. Kemp is resisting a subpoena.
Trump also tried to bring in federal Justice Department officials. His lawyers have filed a series of lawsuits making extraordinary allegations of foreign interference and other conspiracy theories. All were fired.
When all that failed, Giuliani and others pushed a false claim that the law allowed the Georgian legislature to replace its electoral college members with a slate that would vote for the defeated president. Lawmakers refused to play along, and the Trump campaign instead sent 16 “fake voters” using fake voter certificates — another failed attempt to void the election replicated in six other states Trump lost.
Willis told some of those involved in the fake voters plot that they were the targets of a criminal grand jury investigation, including Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer and a state senator. , Brandon Beach.
Carlson said the combination of Trump’s actions potentially constitutes a substantial body of evidence of wrongdoing.
“The purpose of this grand jury is the solicitation of voter fraud. Presumably most of the evidence they receive will relate to this. Then there will be misrepresentations to the state or other government agencies. The creation of a voters list, which took the position that Trump had won the election, will fall under this kind of umbrella. Then we’ll probably have the grand jury looking at the criminal conspiracy and the breach of the oath of office,” he said.
A combination of any or all of these charges could also pave the way for prosecution of Trump for a range of criminal acts under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico). Although Rico is more often associated with the prosecution of organized crime, Willis used it seven years ago to convict 11 Atlanta teachers of rigging their students’ test scores.
The district attorney brought in a Rico specialist for the Trump investigation.
The special grand jury can sit until next May, giving it plenty of time to gather evidence. But unlike regular grand juries, which only meet for two months and issue indictments, it can only submit a report recommending prosecution. Willis must then decide whether to follow that recommendation and appoint a regular grand jury to seek an indictment against Trump or anyone else.
Carlson predicted that if the special grand jury recommends prosecution, the district attorney will move forward.
“She is a very vigorous and daring lawyer. I believe it will follow,” he said.
The Brookings Institution said if Trump is charged with a crime, he is likely to claim he cannot be held criminally responsible for his actions as president. But he said the defense is likely to fail because immunity from liability only extends to actions taken by the president that were within his legitimate duties.