As Trump faces potential 4th indictment, what to know about Georgia election case

The Fulton County DA has signaled that charges in the probe could be coming.

August 14, 2023, 6:01 AM

Two and a half years after launching an investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has signaled that charges could be coming against former President Donald Trump and others.

Willis is likely to present her case to the grand jury this week so the panel can weigh potential charges, sources familiar with the matter have told ABC News.

If Trump is indicted in the probe, it would mark the fourth indictment of the former president, who already faces federal charges in the special counsel's Jan. 6 and classified documents probes, as well as the Manhattan district attorney's hush money case. Prior to Trump, no former or current president had ever been indicted.

Last month, Willis empaneled a grand jury that could ultimately decide whether to approve charges in the case. In January, a previous special grand jury seated by Willis to probe allegations of election misconduct issued its final report, which found "by a unanimous vote that no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election that could result in overturning that election."

That grand jury, which was only empowered to make recommendations concerning criminal prosecutions, sat for approximately eight months and heard testimony from around 75 witnesses. The publicly released portion of their report revealed no details about any recommendations, beyond recommending that prosecutors seek indictments against witnesses who they believed may have lied during their testimony.

Ambassador Norman Eisen (ret.), a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 2019 to 2020, previously told ABC News that "the mountain of evidence" that has been made public regarding the efforts to overturn the election in Georgia "points strongly toward a forecast that the report recommends Donald Trump and his conspirators for prosecution."

"Like the weather forecast or rain, there's no guarantee," Eisen said, "but when you look outside your window and the rain clouds are dark ... that's where we are with all of these facts."

Possible charges could include solicitations of election fraud, other forms of fraud, conspiracy, and possibly racketeering, Eisen said.

"The allegations are very serious. If indicted and convicted, people are facing prison sentences," Willis said of the investigation in an interview with The Washington Post last year.

'Find 11,780 votes'

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis officially launched the probe in February 2021, sparked in part by the now-infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump pleaded with Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes," the exact number Trump needed to win Georgia.

Trump has repeatedly defended his call to Raffensperger, calling it "perfect."

The special grand jury was seated in May 2022, after Willis wrote that the panel was needed because "a significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate with the investigation absent a subpoena requiring their testimony."

Since then, those who have been subpoenaed for testimony include some of Trump's closest allies and supporters, including attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who unsuccessfully fought his subpoena up to the United State Supreme Court.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs H.R. 3151, the Taxpayer First Act, during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 1, 2019.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Graham argued, among other things, that he was acting "within [his] official legislative responsibilities" as a senator and chairman of the Judiciary Committee when he allegedly made calls to Georgia officials following the 2020 election.

During calls to Raffensperger and others, Graham allegedly asked about "reexamining certain absentee ballots cast in Georgia in order to explore the possibility of a more favorable outcome for former President Donald Trump," the judge wrote in a filing in the case.

Willis also sought testimony from a number of Georgia's highest elected officials, including Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp and Rep. Jody Hice.

Targets of the probe

A number of individuals have also been informed that they are considered "targets" of the probe, including Giuliani. In the wake of the election, Giuliani appeared at a series of legislative hearings around the country -- including Georgia -- where he urged state legislators to reject the results of the election.

Responding to the notification of his status as a target of the probe, Giuliani said, "I appeared in Georgia as attorney for Donald J. Trump. So I'm going to be prosecuted for what I did as an attorney?"

Sixteen people identified as so-called "fake electors" in the state were also notified last summer that they were considered targets in the ongoing criminal investigation, prosecutors revealed in court documents.

The 16, who allegedly participated in a scheme to overturn the state's election results, received letters "alerting that person both that [their] testimony was required by the special purpose grand jury and that [they were a] target of the investigation" said the filing from prosecutors, who were investigating the "creation of a document that identified [them] as being among the 'duly elected and qualified Electors for president and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of Georgia,' and the submission of that document to the National Archives."

The House committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on U.S. Capitol described the "fake electors" plan, which appeared to have multiple iterations, as being set up by the Trump campaign in multiple swing states in which they sought to assemble "groups of individuals in key battleground states and got them to call themselves electors, created phony certificates associated with these fake electors and then transmitted these certificates to Washington, and to the Congress, to be counted during the joint session of Congress on January 6th," according to the filing.

This past May, eight of the so called "fake electors" accepted immunity in the probe, according to their lawyer.

"After reviewing the actual, written offers of immunity, each of those eight electors accepted their immunity offer," a filing by the attorney, Kimberly Debrow, said.

Setbacks for Willis

Willis suffered a setback last year when she unsuccessfully fought to have Pierson and her law partner disqualified from representing those 11, alleging that it was a "conflict of interest."

Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney largely denied the request, only removing one of the electors as Pierson's client, but keeping the rest.

Earlier, McBurney disqualified Willis from investigating one of the 16 alleged fake electors, Georgia state Sen. Burt Jones, after Willis held a fundraiser for Jones' political opponent in the race for lieutenant governor. The judge called it "harmful" to the investigation and said the "optics are horrid."

"An investigation of this significance, garnering the public attention it necessarily does and touching so many political nerves in our society, cannot be bordered by legitimate doubts about the District Attorney's motives," McBurney wrote.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in January 2023 and has been updated.