Georgia D.A. Fani Willis expands the criminal case against Trump, and there’s no escaping the white-hot light of accountability

OPINION: Willis’ state-level charges outline a clear criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the Georgia election that can’t simply be pardoned by Trump or the governor of Georgia. And unlike the other cases against the former president, we'll likely get to watch it live on TV.

Georgia indictment, Fani Willis,
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference at the Fulton County Government building on August 14, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. A grand jury handed up an indictment naming former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies over an alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in the state. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Mark your calendars for Aug. 25 because Donald Trump and his 18 co-conspirators must surrender to the Fulton County authorities by noon that day, and we will get to see it all on live television — one of the many distinctions that shows how Georgia and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis move differently from federal prosecutors. 

D.A. Willis capped off her two-and-a-half-year investigation with a lightning round grand jury and a 98-page indictment that charged 19 individuals with 41 felony counts, including charges related to racketeering, soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, conspiring to impersonate a public officer, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree, conspiring to file false documents and more. Donald Trump specifically is facing 13 criminal counts, and these charges go beyond the more narrow criminal charges filed by special counsel Jack Smith and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. And while the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office doesn’t have the resources of the federal government, D.A. Willis’ state-level charges outline a clear criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the Georgia election, essentially an attempted coup, that can’t simply be pardoned by Trump or the governor of Georgia, based on the current state law. 

In effect, Fani Willis’ indictment against Trump is the most comprehensive, the most in-depth and the most likely to yield accountability that can’t be brushed aside and dismissed with executive power. And it brings particular delight knowing that a Black woman did that. 

After the indictment was issued, D.A. Willis began a press conference by reading the full government names of each of the co-defendants, including the infamous Rudy Giuliani and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, all of whom she intends to try together. She also announced that her office has issued arrest warrants for everyone charged, not a simple summons like what was issued in Trump’s previous three indictments. As Willis closed her binder at the podium, she told the press, “I make decisions in this office based on the facts and the law. The law is completely non-partisan. That’s how decisions are made in every case. To date, this office has indicted, since I’ve been sitting as district attorney, over 12,000 cases. This is the 11th RICO indictment. We followed the same process. We look at the facts, we look at the law, and we bring charges.” 

Willis’ matter-of-fact tone and direct delivery reiterate the fact that this is not a game, as much as Trump attempts to diminish the gravity of this situation with his posts online at all hours of the night. In response, Trump posted that he will be holding a press conference next Monday, and he claimed that he will be exonerated. Naturally, he is rejecting reality, and his erratic behavior and all caps are merely evidence of how shaken he is by his newest indictment. And we should expect Trump’s behavior to continue to escalate as cameras will be following his every move in Georgia where cameras are allowed to broadcast the entire process. 

We watched as the indictment was presented by the court clerk. We watched as Judge Robert McBurney signed the indictment on the bench. And we will watch as Trump surrenders for arrest, as well as when this case makes it to trial. Every moment in the courtroom, every facial expression Trump makes and every confession from witnesses and the unnamed co-conspirators who flipped on Trump will be broadcast, once a judge grants formal permission. That permission is more of a formality because, under Georgia law, cameras are allowed during judicial proceedings with a judge’s approval, unless there is a compelling argument against it. And considering that Trump isn’t a minor, it seems all but a certainty. The live coverage of this case will impact how the public processes and responds to the reality that Trump is facing criminal charges. This is all a departure from the procedures and limited visibility of the federal indictments and the Manhattan indictment where we’ve only seen court sketches and reports from news outlets. 

Considering the public’s appetite for visuals and drama, a televised trial with increased access in Fulton County will reach audiences who have likely glossed over the other three indictments. Plain and simple, the public loves drama, and this historic episode featuring the former president in a courtroom, where he can’t shout lies and interrupt prosecutors or the judge repeatedly, will leave a mark. A mark that will also hopefully clear up some of the murkiness communicated by voters in focus groups who can’t keep all of the details about the different indictments straight. With cameras rolling, there is no place for Trump and MAGA Republicans to hide, and that will have an impact on rational, logical voters. 

Meanwhile, Republicans are hell-bent on dismissing this indictment and standing by Trump. It’s worse than the meme from “The Steve Wilkos Show” when a woman declares, “That’s mine … and I’m going to stick by him.” According to reports, Senator Ted Cruz repeatedly stated on Fox that he is “pissed,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called D.A. Willis “radical,” and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) called the latest indictment “​​blatant election interference.” Within the crowded GOP primary field, only two candidates released statements that made any sense. Asa Hutchinson reiterated in a statement that Trump is disqualified from serving as president, and Will Hurd stated that this fourth indictment is “another example of how the former president’s baggage will hand Joe Biden reelection if Trump is the Republican nominee.” Sadly, I don’t expect many other Republicans to wake up from their collective fever dream as polling from Ipsos shows that 35% of GOP voters will stick with Trump even if he is convicted of a crime, and 20% of GOP voters are unsure. 

Nonetheless, we are four for four in this hot indictment summer, and prosecutors are going to continue to seek appropriate accountability for Trump, no matter what Republicans accept as reality. And D.A. Willis’ indictment provides a path forward that will haunt Republicans with every court date and every minute of television coverage.

Juanita Tolliver

Juanita Tolliver is the host of Crooked Media’s “What A Day” Podcast and an MSNBC political analyst.

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