Judge Kills Multiple Charges Against Trump in Election Fraud Case

Alyssa Pointer
Alyssa Pointer

The Georgia judge overseeing Donald Trump’s election interference case has made the remarkable decision to drop criminal charges, including one related to the former president’s infamous phone call pressuring the state’s top elections official to “find 11,780 votes” that didn’t exist to flip the results.

The call was considered by many to be the starkest evidence of Trump’s alleged unconstitutional ploy to stay in power in 2020.

The sudden court ruling significantly pares down the criminal indictment against Trump, MAGA lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, election lawyer John Eastman, and two others. All together, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee quashed six charges against Trump and his co-defendants—including three that involve the former president directly—while noting that “this does not mean the entire indictment is dismissed.”

McAfee concluded that one of the underlying crimes alleged by District Attorney Fani Willis essentially wasn’t detailed enough—namely, that Trump and Meadows “solicited” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to violate his oath of office.

Last year’s indictment charged them with pressuring Raffensperger to break his oath by “importuning him to unlawfully influence the certified election returns” and “unlawfully decertify the election.” But the judge on Wednesday took a closer look at the state secretary’s constitutional duties and determined that the oath was too broad and vague for the DA to assert he was being commissioned to take part in an actual crime.

“A naked charge of solicitation cannot survive unless accompanied by additional elements establishing the solicited felony,” McAfee wrote. “The lack of detail concerning an essential legal element is, in the undersigned’s opinion, fatal.”

Yes, Trump made the call caught on tape. And yes, Trump wanted Raffensperger to “find” votes that didn’t exist. But the judge had trouble concluding that Raffensperger would violate his oath by doing Trump’s bidding.

The decision reverses the narrative surrounding this aspect of the case, particularly as Trump has repeatedly referred to this as a “perfect call” and defended his intimidation tactics—despite Raffensperger’s own account that he found the call to be offensive and morally wrong.

As of late Wednesday morning, Trump had yet to comment on the news on his Truth Social media network. “The Court made the correct legal decision to grant the special demurrers and quash important counts of the indictment brought by DA Fani Willis,” attorney Steve Sadow, who is representing Trump in Georgia, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “The entire prosecution of President Trump is political, constitutes election interference, and should be dismissed.”

Using similar reasoning on Wednesday, the judge also struck down several criminal charges tied to the overall Trump team effort to pressure Georgia legislators in the chaotic weeks after the 2020 election to appoint an alternate slate of fake presidential electors who were meant to hijack the final congressional certification of votes.

The judge left a door open—albeit a narrow one. The DA has six months to essentially start back at square one by submitting their case for the dropped charges to another grand jury. That would require prosecutors to redo a lot of the work they’ve already done if they insist on hitting Trump and his cohorts with these criminal charges.

The dismissal comes as McAfee weighs a key decision: whether Willis should be disqualified from prosecuting the racketeering case. The nine-page ruling is not directly related to the defense motion to oust Willis from the case and throw out the indictment.

“These six counts contain all the essential elements of the crimes but fail to allege sufficient detail regarding the nature of their commission,” McAfee wrote. “They do not give the Defendants enough information to prepare their defenses intelligently, as the Defendants could have violated the Constitution and thus the statute in dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct ways.”

Former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the dropped charges don’t necessarily weaken the state’s case because the main racketeering charges remain. Most of the charges that were dropped, he added, are encompassed in the racketeering charge at the center of the case.

“I think that the defense was hoping to throw out other charges, as well as the RICO charge, and that’s the real charge here,” Morgan said. “The prosecution still has a case, and it is still moving forward. This does not kill the indictment at all.”

In January, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Mike Roman argued that Willis misused her office when she had a secret affair with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor she hired for the election probe in November 2021. During a contentious hearing earlier this month, Wade and Willis confirmed they had a romantic entanglement from early 2022 to last summer.

Both have denied any wrongdoing or misconduct, but defense lawyers claim their conduct hindered a fair trial and made the DA’s office a “global laughing stock.”

The dismissal is a hit on what’s considered the strongest case against the former president. Willis’ investigation began in 2021, shortly after The Washington Post revealed Trump called the state’s top election official and tried to pressure him to “find 11,780 votes” to overturn his surprise loss in the state during the 2020 election. In August 2021, Trump and 18 others were hit with a 41-count indictment.

Wednesday’s decision knocks down the often-cited 91 felonies Trump faces in separate criminal cases across the Eastern Seaboard down to 88 criminal charges. Trump is currently fighting off decades in prison as he battles four criminal indictments in Florida, Georgia, New York, and Washington, D.C. But the case in Atlanta has been seen by many legal scholars as the most robust, for two reasons: There’s extensive available evidence of his election interference efforts, and it’s a state case whose eventual verdict couldn’t be erased with a presidential pardon that Trump is expected to reward himself if he wins the 2024 election.

Judge McAfee’s decision also threatens to further prolong a criminal case that has already been mired in delays.

Although Willis in 2021 indicated that the investigation was fully underway, she chose to take a more cautious route when targeting the former president: empaneling a “special purpose grand jury” to make indictment recommendations to the DA’s office, an extra step before prosecutors would present a case to an actual grand jury that could indict people. The panel met from May until December 2022 and ultimately recommended indictments.

Willis’ decision to employ racketeering charges against 19 people meant that she has embarked on a massive voyage akin to prosecuting a historic mob takedown. Normally that kind of case would take a year or more to develop. But several co-defendants have slowed the process down even further, with top Trump associates begging for emergency stays to avoid arrest and Meadows even trying to wrest the case out of state jurisdiction by diverting it to federal court. The maneuvers have largely failed, but they delayed the case nonetheless.

At a global women’s summit last year, Willis herself indicated that she expects this historic trial to stretch on through the winter of 2024 and even into the spring of 2025.

And that was even before the defendants launched their personal attack against Willis in January over her romantic relationship with her underling, forcing the entire case into a months-long detour. McAfee is expected to make his decision in that matter later this week.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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