- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor who indicted former President Donald Trump this week, has called RICO cases storytelling tools.

Judging by the 98-page indictment, the Fulton County district attorney figures she has quite a story to tell about Mr. Trump. She says the former president is at the center of a criminal enterprise to upend the results of the 2020 election.

Ms. Willis’ chief tool is Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Although RICO is generally thought to be a way to unravel the mafia or take out street gangs, it has been used in Georgia against an assisted suicide operation and a group of Atlanta teachers who led a shocking standardized test cheating scandal.

Ms. Willis says the Trump team’s pressure on election officials, misleading claims in court about election irregularities and an attempt to replace Georgia’s Biden electors amount to a criminal enterprise deserving of RICO treatment.

“The indictment alleges that rather than abide by Georgia’s legal process for election challenges, the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result,” she said.

RICO cases are different from other conspiracy cases. Rather than connecting each defendant to specific violations, the focus is on overall criminal behavior.

SEE ALSO: Trump indictment targets tweets, calls; criminal fraud claims clash with First Amendment protections

That’s where the storytelling begins, said John B. Meixner Jr., an assistant law professor at the University of Georgia and former assistant U.S. attorney. He said RICO cases allow prosecutors to talk about events that might not be criminal but fill out the picture.

“One of the reasons she charged it is because it allows more evidence of the full extent of what happened going all the way back to the day of the election,” he told The Washington Times.

The risk, he said, is that a RICO case can be more complicated for a jury to grasp, and it can be protracted.

The indictment in Georgia contains 41 charges, though Mr. Trump personally faces just 13 of those.

In addition to the main RICO charge, Mr. Trump faces:

• Three counts of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer.

SEE ALSO: Trump plans to present Georgia election fraud findings in ‘major’ press conference

• Filing false documents.

• Two counts of false statements and writings.

• Conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer.

• Two counts of conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree.

• Two counts of conspiracy to commit false statements and writings.

• Conspiracy to commit filing false documents.

The forgery and impersonation charges stem from the attempt to have an alternate set of pro-Trump electors ready to replace the state’s duly chosen Biden electors. Ms. Willis says the alternate electors were guilty of attempting to impersonate the real electors and engaged in forgery by signing documents claiming to be electors.

Some of the false documents and false statements charges stem from Mr. Trump’s misleading claims about election irregularities in the weeks immediately after the election.

Ms. Willis also charged Mr. Trump with violations stemming from a September 2021 letter asking the secretary of state to “start the process of decertifying the election, or whatever the correct legal remedy is, and announce the true winner.”

Charged alongside Mr. Trump are 18 others, including legal advisers Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Some of the fake slate of electors assembled on behalf of Mr. Trump are also covered in the indictment, as are state-level political operatives who joined Mr. Trump’s post-election push to change the vote.

Mr. Meixner said prosecutors probably have immunity agreements or plea deals with others, including some of the replacement electors whom the Trump team recruited.

Mr. Trump called the charges a “sham” and said he has “committed no crime.”

Nationwide, Mr. Trump faces more than 90 charges in four courtrooms.

He faces 34 counts in an indictment by a Manhattan grand jury surrounding hush payments to a porn actress; a four-count indictment by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia over 2020 election claims; and 40 counts from a federal grand jury in Florida charging that the president hoarded classified documents.

President Nixon signed the national RICO Act in 1970. The law was used as a tool to take down major criminal enterprises. One of the first targets was the Hells Angels motorcycle club, which beat the rap on a hung jury in a case prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller.

Since then, use of the RICO Act has expanded to include lawsuits against pro-life demonstrators and against BP PLC after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, among other matters.

Georgia’s law, enacted in 1980, is more friendly to prosecutors because it does not require the criminal enterprise to be long-running.

Recent high-profile cases include charges against Atlanta-based rapper Young Thug and the Young Stoner Life collective, a record label that prosecutors say is actually a drug-dealing street gang. That case, also brought by Ms. Willis, is still proceeding.

She said Mr. Trump’s charges are in the 11th RICO case she has brought.

“The reason that I am a fan of RICO is I think jurors are very, very intelligent,” Ms. Willis said after bringing the Young Thug case. “They want to know what happened. They want to make an accurate decision about someone’s life. And so RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story.”

Mr. Meixner pointed out that Georgia is among the toughest states to earn a pardon. The power lies not with the governor but with a five-member board.

Trials in Georgia can be televised, and Mr. Meixner said this one will likely air.

Some charged under Georgia’s RICO law have emerged victorious.

Members of Final Exit, an assisted suicide group indicted for providing advice and being present at the death of a Georgia man who took his own life.

Final Exit defendants argued that Georgia’s assisted suicide law violated their First Amendment free speech rights, and the state’s top court agreed. Once that charge fell, the rest of them crumbled.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide