Is Donald Trump a Mob Boss? How Georgia is Using an Organized Crime Law to Prosecute Him

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #91 | By: Arvind Salem | August 30, 2023
Photo taken from: theweek.com

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President Trump has been indicted once again for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election: this time in Georgia, which means even if he becomes President he can’t pardon away the punishment.  The case  focuses on his role allegedly spearheading a criminal enterprise and includes 18 other defendants including Rudy Guliani, one of Trump’s lawyers during his effort to overturn the election, and Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff at the time of the election.

The indictment details a sprawling conspiracy to overturn the election and includes 41 counts: 22 counts related to forgery or false documents/statements, 8 counts are related to impersonating or soliciting public officials, 3 counts are related to influencing witnesses, 3 counts are related to election fraud/defrauding the state, 1 count is related to racketeering, and 1 count is related to perjury. These counts roughly map to five main areas of illegality: deliberately disseminating false statements about the election to manipulate Georgia’s legislature, efforts to intimidate state officials (including Trump’s infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pressuring him to “find more votes”), breach of voting data, abusing and harassing state election workers, and attempting to send alternate electors to Congress to give Georgia’s electoral votes to President Trump.

Policy Analysis

Since it is so early in the case, many of the legal arguments have not yet been explored. One point of contention is the prosecution’s use of charges under the state’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, which are generally reserved for mobs and other forms of organized crime. Using RICO allows the prosecution to use actions outside of Georgia to make their case. For example, the indictment cites a meeting Trump had with Michigan legislators where he made false statements of election fraud as one of the events in his conspiracy. They also allow the prosecution to charge a host of people under the same conspiracy. 

There are two main challenges related to Trump’s prosecution under this case.. First, the prosecution needs to prove that Trump acted with criminal intent, which means that they will have to prove that Trump was pushing these claims, even though he knew they weren’t true. This difficulty isn’t specific to this case: it also applies to the federal case against Trump for the same effort. The second difficulty is proving coordination. All of the defendants must have acted for a common goal for RICO to apply and they will likely argue that they were disparate actors each pursuing their individual objectives that just happened to align sometimes due to their similar political goals.

Another legal challenge associated with this case is Trump’s motion to move the trial to federal court. Courts have  developed defendant friendly rules that generally allow federal officials to have their case heard in federal court. If successful, this could delay the trial (which is nearly always a good thing for Trump because it allows him to focus on campaigning) and give Trump a more friendly jury pool. Currently the jury pool is made up exclusively of people from Atlanta, a very Democratic city with jurors who are likely to be against Trump politically, but if the trial is moved to federal court, the jury pool would also consist of people in the areas surrounding Atlanta, which would likely be slightly more pro-Trump than a jury drawn of people just in Atlanta.

A final complication occurs from the relative timings of this case and Jack Smith’s federal case against Trump. Jack Smith’s case will likely go to trial earlier because it is more focused, while the Georgia case includes many defendants and attempts to prove a web of criminal conspiracy. Since they cover many of the same actions and issues, Trump’s defense team will have to be especially mindful of their strategy to ensure that anything they do in the first case does not provide ammunition for the Georgia prosecution.

Engagement Resources

  • Winred
    Winred allows people to donate money to Republican candidates to support their campaign. Readers interested in supporting President Trump or other members of the Republican party may find that this is a useful way to convey their support and help the Republican cause. 
  • Brennan Center
    The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School is an organization that promotes reforms to the American democracy and argues against many practices today such as gerrymandering and mass incarceration. Readers who are concerned about the health of democracy in light of this indictment may wish to support the Brennan Center and help it advance its proposed reforms. 
  • Act for America
    Act for America is an organization that seeks to educate and mobilize Americans against foreign and domestic threats, and advocates for bills to achieve these aims. Those who feel that this indictment constitutes a breakdown of justice may wish to support this organization. 
  • ActBlue
    ActBlue allows people to donate to a host of Democratic organizations, candidates, and causes. Readers are likely to find organizations that are supporting the Trump indictment on this site and may wish to donate money to further that cause.
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