Keeping score of all the criminal charges against serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) is not easy because there are so many of them. As of now, he has been indicted in four different jurisdictions (Washington DC, Manhattan, Miami, and Atlanta) by three different prosecutors (Jack Smith, Alvin Bragg, and Fani Willis) for a total of 91 criminal counts. SSAT has managed to evade consequences for his actions for all his life, mainly by lying, not putting down anything is writing, using verbal commands to get other people to do his bidding, and then buying their silence or threatening them.
But it seems unlikely that SSAT can sweep the board and be acquitted on all the 91 charges and he faces the real threat of going to prison. His best bet is to try and win back the presidency. If he does so, he can use the presidential pardon process to try to pardon himself. Whether he can do so is an untested issue and will surely be challenged in the courts. But even if it is found that he can, that can only be done for the federal offenses that have been brought by Smith. What he is more likely to do if he becomes president is to order his attorney general to drop the federal cases and you can be sure that he will only appoint an AG who will agree in advance to do that. That and any self-pardon should be impeachable offenses but the unprincipled Republicans in congress will do no such thing.
When it comes to the state prosecutions, New York has a Democratic governor who is unlikely to pardon SSAT but the consensus is that the Manhattan indictments are the weakest of of them and he may be able to get off.
It is the Georgia indictments that are likely to be the most problematic. While the governor of Georgia Brian Kemp is a Republican, he did not support SSAT’s claims of the election being stolen and he repeated that yesterday. Even if SSAT and his supporters try to pressure Kemp to do so, his hands are tied by Georgia law that has taken the pardon power away from the governor.
Second, because this indictment does not involve federal crimes, Trump can’t try to evade the law with a self-pardon, either lodged in a drawer for safekeeping before he left office (a disturbing possibility that would presumably spark a major court fight) or issued if he is elected for another term (in that event he wouldn’t need a pardon—he could just shut down the DOJ probe). In Georgia, Trump can’t even rely on a Republican governor to wave a magic wand and issue a pardon. Georgia is one of only a handful of states that assigns the power to a special panel, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor but serve staggered, seven-year terms. Pardons are only available post-conviction and after a defendant has served five years of his sentence. [My italics-MS]
There is thus a very good chance that Trump will go to jail at some point. Even if he wins four more years in the White House, that will not stop this state criminal trial or the execution of a sentence, which, if he were re-elected to the presidency, he could presumably be forced to serve after his term ends.
The RICO charge that was brought in Georgia carries a minimum five-year prison sentence upon conviction.
The original federal RICO statute was designed to make mob bosses accountable for crimes they ordered someone else to do, by letting prosecutors brand the entire organization as an ongoing criminal enterprise. After the federal law was passed, 33 states followed suit with their own versions. Since then, the applications of Georgia’s RICO law have expanded beyond traditional organized criminal networks.
Building unorthodox Georgia RICO cases just happens to be Willis’ signature move. Before she was elected Fulton County’s top local prosecutor in early 2021, Willis was best known for leading a racketeering case against 12 public school teachers in Atlanta accused of falsifying their students’ scores on standardized tests to improve their schools’ standing. At the time, she argued that the teachers violated Georgia’s RICO law by using the school system, a “legitimate enterprise,” to engage in widespread cheating. Eleven educators were convicted.
So Georgia poses the biggest threat to SSAT. What should be alarming to him is that the district attorney Fani Willis has a reputation for thoroughness.
Willis has urged patience from the beginning of her investigation and is fond of saying she doesn’t try “skinny cases,” meaning she likes to have lots of evidence. And Rucker, her former colleague, said he’s not surprised the investigation has stretched on so long, saying the two of them worked every day for almost two years to prepare for the school cheating case.
While she’s likely to let her hand-picked group of prosecutors handle the trial, there’s no question she’s calling the shots, Rucker said. With a case of this magnitude, she would have required those on her team to gather and digest an enormous amount of information and would have grilled them to make sure there were no holes, he said.
“When she says stuff like, ‘We’re ready to go,’ that’s not being braggadocious,” Rucker said. “It’s her saying pretty much to anybody who’s interested, ‘Look, we’re ready.’”
SSAT will of course levy a barrage of insults against her, but she seems ready for it.
Trump stepped up his criticism of Willis in advance of the charges, calling the 52-year-old Black woman “a young woman, a young racist in Atlanta.”
Willis has long declined to comment on Trump’s insults. But with his campaign running a vicious attack ad last week, she emailed her staff to warn that it included “derogatory and false information” about her and instructed them not to react publicly.
“You may not comment in any way on the ad or any of the negativity that may be expressed against me, your colleagues, this office in coming days, weeks or months,” she wrote. “We have no personal feelings against those we investigate or prosecute and we should not express any. This is business, it will never be personal.”
Kim Wehle argues that the Georgia case is less abstract than some of the others, which may make it easier for jurors to wrap their minds around it.
The Georgia indictment, however, is different. It involves real people with respectable lives who suffered serious harm. In addition to the charges listed above, it includes Influencing Witnesses (as well as Criminal Attempt to Commit Influencing Witnesses). These charges relate to the heartbreaking story of two election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss. According to the indictment, Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani labeled Freeman “a professional vote scammer and known political operative” who “stuffed the ballot boxes.” She and her daughter were accused by Trump and his operatives with being “responsible for fraudulently awarding at least 18,000 ballots to” Biden. Another co-defendant, Trevian Kutti, Kanye West’s ex-publicist, allegedly traveled to Freeman’s home and attempted to pressure her into admitting baseless fraud claims or face arrest within 48 hours.
If SSAT is convicted of any charge before the election, that would harm his chances, however much he may put a brave face on it and claim that it will help him, which is what they say whatever happens. Given all the hurdles he faces, SSAT’s best strategy may be to delay things as much as possible.