For Trump and Allies, a Waiting Game as Georgia Indictment Decisions Loom

Two indictments of Donald J. Trump are already in the books, but the outcome of a Georgia investigation into the former president and a number of his allies promise to be strikingly different.

While the cases filed by the Manhattan district attorney and the Department of Justice have focused mostly on Mr. Trump himself, a long-running investigation into election interference by prosecutors in Atlanta has cast a far broader net, with nearly 20 people already warned that they could face charges.

Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., is leading the investigation and has indicated she will seek charges by mid-August. A special grand jury that heard evidence for roughly seven months recommended more than a dozen people for indictments, and its forewoman strongly hinted in an interview in February that Mr. Trump was among them.

Since special grand juries are advisory only, Ms. Willis, a Democrat, will make her case next month to a regular grand jury that can hand up indictments, a process that typically takes a day or two.

The Trump aides and allies whose conduct has been closely scrutinized in the inquiry include Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer; Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff; John Eastman, a legal architect of Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in power; and Jeffrey Clark, a former high-ranking official at the Department of Justice who sought to intervene in Georgia after the 2020 election.

There were more legal volleys in the investigation on Friday. The Trump team filed an amended petition seeking to have Ms. Willis disqualified and the work of the special grand jury thrown out. Ural Glanville, the chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court, issued an order recusing all of the judges in Fulton County from deciding the question and referred it to another court.

Earlier this week, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected a similar request by Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

Fani Willis, center, the Fulton County district attorney, speaking in court at the Fulton County Courthouse this month.Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

The Georgia investigation, which started in February 2021, has examined whether the former president and his allies illegally interfered in the 2020 presidential election in the state, where Mr. Trump lost narrowly to President Biden. Among other things, prosecutors have examined the recruitment of a slate of alternate presidential electors, even after Georgia’s results were recertified by the state’s Republican leadership.

They have also reviewed phone calls Mr. Trump made to pressure state officials after the election, including one in which he told Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, that he needed to “find” 11,780 votes — one more than Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s margin of victory in the state.

Because of the logistics involved in bringing such a high-profile case, Ms. Willis has telegraphed a timeline for any charges she may bring. In May, she took the unusual step of telling most of her staff to work remotely during the first three weeks of August, and she asked judges in a downtown Atlanta courthouse not to schedule trials for part of that time. In a letter sent to 21 county officials, she thanked them “for your consideration and assistance in keeping the Fulton County Judicial Complex safe during this time.”

Even the former president’s lawyers are treating an indictment in Georgia as a foregone conclusion, saying in a legal filing on Friday that“the District Attorney has indicated publicly that she is seeking a bill of indictment from a regular grand jury which was empaneled last week.”

Similar federal charges could also be coming. This week, Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating Mr. Trump’s attempts to reverse his defeat, informed the former president that he could soon face indictment. But while Mr. Trump could theoretically derail a federal case or pardon himself if he was re-elected president, Georgia law makes pardons an option only five years after the completion of a sentence. Getting a sentence commuted would require the approval of a state panel.

Racketeering charges were raised as an option from the early days of the Georgia case. In an interview with The New York Times more than two years ago, when the investigation was just beginning, Ms. Willis discussed the possibility of using such charges, with which she has long experience.

Whenever people “hear the word ‘racketeering,’ they think of ‘The Godfather,’” she said, before explaining that charges under Georgia’s version of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act could apply in any number of realms where corrupt enterprises are operating.

“If you have various overt acts for an illegal purpose,” she said at the time, “I think you can — you may — get there.”

A number of prominent Trump advisers may face considerable legal exposure in the case, based on a review of court records and interviews with dozens of lawyers connected to the investigation. Chief among them is Mr. Giuliani, who has already been told he is a target who could face prosecution in Georgia.

John Eastman, left, a legal architect of Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in power, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, have both been scrutinized in the inquiry.Credit…Jim Bourg/Reuters

In the weeks after the 2020 election, Mr. Giuliani peddled false conspiracy theories in hearings before state lawmakers about secret suitcases of Democratic ballots and corrupted voting machines. He told members of the State House of Representatives, “You cannot possibly certify Georgia in good faith.”

Mr. Meadows was ordered to testify before the special grand jury last year after losing a legal battle in South Carolina. In December 2020, he made a surprise visit to Cobb County, Ga., to try to view an election audit that was in progress there. He also talked to Frances Watson, the chief investigator for Mr. Raffensperger, a day before Mr. Trump called Ms. Watson and talked about “dropped ballots” and the need for a “signature check” in a rambling conversation.

And in court filings, prosecutors have said that Mr. Meadows set up and participated in Mr. Trump’s call to Mr. Raffensperger.

The conduct of a number of lawyers who advised Mr. Trump in the aftermath of the election has also come under close scrutiny in Georgia, including Mr. Eastman, Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis.

In addition, Ms. Willis and her staff took considerable interest in the conduct of Mr. Clark, though the Justice Department blocked their efforts to have him testify. After the 2020 election, Mr. Clark tried to circumvent the Justice Department’s leadership and made false claims in a draft letter to Georgia lawmakers about the department’s findings regarding the election results. In the letter, he also urged the legislature to take steps to aid Mr. Trump in his efforts to stay in power.

More senior Justice Department officials ultimately blocked him from sending the letter; Mr. Clark also failed in his efforts to replace the acting U.S. attorney general in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have assailed the Georgia case in their efforts to derail it ahead of any indictments. “It is one thing to indict a ham sandwich,” some of his lawyers said in a recent court filing. “To indict the mustard-stained napkin that it once sat on is quite another.”

Mr. Giuliani, entering the courthouse in Atlanta nearly a year ago, said that “we will not talk about this until it’s over.” His lawyers have said that he did nothing improper in Georgia. Mr. Eastman defended his conduct in an interview late last year with The Times and said he was simply a lawyer offering advice and acting in good faith.

George Terwilliger, a lawyer for Mr. Meadows, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. He recently said that Mr. Meadows “has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so.”

Mr. Clark has also defended his conduct, and said earlier this year that he had been “canceled as a result of the 2020 election, The New York Times, etc., and the Jan. 6th Committee.”

Norman Eisen, special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first Trump impeachment, said the Trump team’s attempts to scuttle the case ahead of any indictments would not succeed. “It’s a complete sideshow,” he said. “None of the relief is going to be granted.”

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