Aug 14 (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump was hit with a sweeping fourth set of criminal charges on Monday when a Georgia grand jury issued an indictment accusing him of efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
The charges, brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, add to the legal woes facing Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election.
The sprawling 98-page indictment listed 19 defendants and 41 criminal counts in all. All of the defendants were charged with racketeering, which is used to target members of organized crime groups and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Among the other defendants were Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, and lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman.
“Trump and the other defendants charged in this indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump,” the indictment said.
Lawyers for those named either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case stems from a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump urged Georgia’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to reverse his narrow loss in the state. Raffensperger declined to do so.
Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol four days later in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent lawmakers from certifying Biden’s victory.
The indictment cites a number of crimes that Trump or his associates allegedly committed, including falsely testifying to lawmakers that election fraud had occurred and urging state officials to violate their oaths of office by altering the election results.
Prosecutors also cited the breach of a voting system in a rural Georgia county and the harassment of an election worker who became the focus of conspiracy theories.
It also mentions an alleged scheme to subvert the U.S. electoral process by submitting false slates of electors, people who make up the Electoral College that elects the president and vice president.
The indictment reaches across state lines, saying that Trump advisers, including Giuliani and Meadows, advanced the conspiracy by calling officials in Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere seeking to change the outcome in those states.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and accuses Willis, an elected Democrat, of being politically motivated.
Trump has already pleaded not guilty in three criminal cases.
He faces a New York state trial beginning on March 25, 2024, involving a hush money payment to a porn star, and a Florida trial beginning on May 20 in a federal classified documents case. In both cases Trump pleaded not guilty.
A third indictment, in Washington federal court, accuses him of illegally seeking to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Trump denies wrongdoing in this case as well, and a trial date has yet to be set.
Georgia, once reliably Republican, has emerged as one of a handful of politically competitive states that can determine the outcome of presidential elections.
Trump persists in falsely claiming he won the November 2020 election although dozens of court cases and state probes have found no evidence to support his claim.
NOT HURTING HIS CAMPAIGN
Strategists said that while the indictments could bolster Republican support for Trump, they may hurt him in next year’s general election, when he will have to win over more independent-minded voters.
His lead over Republican presidential rivals has widened since the New York charges were filed in April, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
But in a July Reuters/Ipsos poll, 37% of independents said the criminal cases made them less likely to vote for him, compared to 8% who said they were more likely to do so.
Willis’s investigation drew on testimony from Trump advisers including Giuliani, who urged state lawmakers in December 2020 not to certify the election, and Republican state officials like Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp, who refused to echo Trump’s false election claims.
While many Republican officials have echoed Trump’s false election claims, Kemp and Raffensperger have refused to do so.
Raffensperger has said there was no factual basis for Trump’s objections, while Kemp certified the election results despite pressure from within his party.
Trump has been mired in legal trouble since leaving office.
Apart from the criminal cases, a New York jury in May found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll and awarded her $5 million in a civil case. A trial is scheduled for Jan. 15 on a second defamation lawsuit seeking $10 million in damages. Trump denies wrongdoing.
Trump is due to face trial in October in a civil case in New York that accuses him and his family business of fraud to obtain better terms from lenders and insurers.
Trump’s company was fined $1.6 million after being convicted of tax fraud in a New York court in December.
(This story has been refiled with corrected picture captions)
Additional reporting by Jack Queen, Tim Ahmann, Jacqueline Thomsen, Jack Queen; Writing by Andy Sullivan; editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller
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