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Georgia’s prosecution of Trump is different from his other indictments

Donald Trump was indicted for the fourth time since March late Monday. While he faces a dizzying array of legal challenges, there are at least four reasons why this particular indictment is important as he seeks to become president again in the 2024 election.

A Republican president would not be able to pardon Trump for charges in Georgia, a battleground state

A woman is shown speaking at a podium.

Donald Trump was hit with his fourth indictment since March on Monday, but in many ways the Georgia investigation surrounding allegations of 2020 election interference has been the most exhaustive.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened the probe in February 2021, a few weeks after the infamous phone call in which Trump pressed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" him the number of votes needed to overcome Joe Biden's advantage in the state. Most of 2022 was consumed with a fact-finding grand jury, before this year's grand jury with the power to indict heard the outline of the prosecution's case.

How long has the Georgia investigation been going on? One of the witnesses who appeared before the fact-finding grand jury — former state House speaker David Ralston — died from an illness 10 months ago.

While confusion or possibly fatigue over Trump's widening legal exposure may be setting in, there are several reasons why this particular indictment is important as he seeks to become president again in the 2024 election.

Pardon hurdle

In the federal cases Trump faces involving the 2020 election and the unlawful retention of government documents, a Republican winner of the 2024 presidential election could move to pardon Trump, though they would have to assess the potential backlash and political cost of doing so in their calculus. The issue of a self-pardon, were Trump to win the 2024 election, has never been tested and could land in the Supreme Court.

But federal pardons cannot be applied to state charges faced in Georgia, nor in the New York case scheduled for trial involving allegations of falsified business records after the disbursement of hush money payments.

WATCH l Trump captured on recording pressuring top Georgia official (from 2021):

Trump asked Georgia’s secretary of state to ‘find’ more votes

3 years ago

Duration 2:02

U.S. President Donald Trump called on Georgia's secretary of state to 'find' more votes so he could win that state. The recording of the phone call emerges as the new Congress is sworn in, and with some Republican senators days away from mounting their own challenge to the election results.

Georgia, unlike New York, is also among the few states in which the governor does not have unilateral pardon power. Instead, state laws lay out a highly prescribed process in which an applicant must wait five years after serving their sentence, while having "lived a law-abiding life" in the interim.

"The state charges in Georgia could be very serious and could mean real prison for him, in a way that he could not stop in any way, even after becoming president," Duke University professor Mac McCorkle told CBC's The National.

One wild card: the Republican-led state legislature passed a bill in May that makes it easier to remove locally elected prosecutors for perceived soft-on-violent crime records. Democrats in Georgia have expressed concern it could be utilized as a pretext to prevent Willis from completing her work in this case.

Not just the Trump Show

In the special counsel prosecution concerning the 2020 election, there are six unnamed co-conspirators who could conceivably be charged themselves, but haven't yet. The documents case, also being overseen by the special counsel under the aegis of the Justice Department, has seen two little-known Trump employees indicted.

The Fulton County indictment is in the first in which several notable names and/or elected officials face legal accountability related to the last presidential election. (In Michigan earlier this month, a 2022 Republican state attorney general candidate was indicted for allegedly gaining access to voting machines).

Three men and a woman are shown in close up in an image that combines four separate photos.

That's because the efforts to prevent a Biden win in Georgia were multifaceted, according to the indictment — not just the infamous Trump phone call to Raffensperger, but allegations of harassing a state election worker, attempting to persuade state legislators to appoint entirely new electors favourable to Trump, and tampering with voting machines in a rural Georgia county.

Eighteen others face charges. In addition to a raft of Georgia state and local politicians, the list includes a number of lawyers either working on the Trump campaign or at the White House and Justice Department, including Kenneth Chesebro, Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell.

Mark Meadows could be the first White House chief of staff to serve prison time since H.R. Haldeman for his role in the Watergate scandal nearly 50 years ago. As well, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was indicted Monday, another hit to a reputation that was once sterling when he helped lead New York City as mayor in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Former high-ranking U.S. Justice Department official Michael Zeldin, speaking to CBC News Network, characterized the indictment as a "kitchen sink worth of activity," covering acts not just in Fulton County but also elsewhere in Georgia and in other states. The indictment relies heavily on state racketeering laws, which have previously been utilized in Georgia for organized crime figures and even teachers in a grade-inflation scheme.

"All of the people charged in the enterprise, all the co-conspirators, are jointly liable for the acts of everybody, so even if you didn't participate in one part of the conspiracy … you still are held responsible for the acts of the co-conspirators, and that's what makes these things so difficult to defeat," said Zeldin.

WATCH l Trump lashes out at Georgia prosecutors:

Trump vows to fight 4th indictment after charges laid in Georgia

6 hours ago

Duration 2:41

Donald Trump is lashing out at Fulton Country, Ga., district attorney Fani Willis after he was charged earlier this week with attempting to overturn the 2020 U.S. election. Among the counts is a racketeering charge usually used in mafia cases. If convicted Trump could face prison time.

Lawrence Douglas, professor of law at Amherst College in Massachusetts, told CBC News that racketeering laws are a powerful tool that allow prosecutors to form a more coherent narrative for jurors in a conspiracy case "that basically has certain higher-ups and, almost like an octopus, has these tentacles that reach out engaging in these various criminal activities."

The indictment involves not just 18 other defendants, but up to 30 as-yet unnamed co-conspirators. Douglas said the Georgia case offers more opportunities for people in the Trump orbit to turn against each other, or the former president himself, ahead of a trial.

The next election

Trump was previously indicted in D.C., Florida and New York. The District of Columbia for 60 years and New York for the last 40 years have been carried by Democratic presidential candidates. While Democrat Barack Obama carried the state twice, Florida voters have gone red lately, opting for Trump in the last two presidential elections and giving Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio easy wins in 2022 elections.

But Georgia, with 16 electoral votes, is one of just four states the nonpartisan elections monitor Cook Political Report deems to be in the toss-up category for the 2024 presidential election. (Cook defines other states as "lean," "likely," or "solid" for one of the two parties).

While voters are currently ranking the economy, gun control, immigration and abortion above Trump's legal problems as more important 2024 election issues across several polls, experts say a politically charged indictment could mobilize Georgia voters and lead to a heightened atmosphere with increased election spending in the state. Already, the Trump campaign has launched an attack ad directed at Willis, airing in Atlanta.

Lights, cameras?

Federal trials are not typically televised in the U.S. High-profile lawyer Neal Katyal, in a recent Washington Post opinion piece, argued for Congress or the Supreme Court's chief justice to intervene to make an exception for the Trump cases, saying otherwise the proceedings would be "vulnerable to the distortions and misrepresentations that will inevitably be part of the highly charged, politicized discussion flooding the country as the trial plays out."

It's not clear that will occur, but Georgia has allowed cameras in the courtrooms since the 1980s.

"Georgia courts traditionally have allowed the media and the public in so that everyone can scrutinize how our process actually works," an Atlanta-based attorney, Josh Schiffer, told that city's WANF-TV in a report published last week. "Unlike a lot of states with very strict rules, courts in Georgia are going to basically leave it up to the judges."

Read the full Fulton County indictment:

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