Will Georgia Go First?

[ Posted Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 – 15:52 UTC ]

It hasn't happened quite yet, but I predict there's about to be a geographic shift in the political media's attention. Their focus for the next few weeks might head south in a rather literal fashion, down the coast from New York City to Fulton County, Georgia. Which could wind up being a good thing, in the end.

I can make this prediction because I've been closely watching both grand juries which are reportedly poised to indict Donald Trump. There are also two big federal cases waiting in the wings as well, but the state-level investigations seem to be getting closer to an actual indictment than the federal ones (although the federal ones also seem to be entering their final phases, to be fair).

Of course, it was Trump himself who really whipped up the circuslike atmosphere now surrounding the New York prosecutor and grand jury, falsely claiming that he would be arrested Tuesday. That was two Tuesdays ago, and it hasn't happened yet. But it sure did focus the media's attention on the case. However, the Georgia case has also been moving forward -- it has just gotten less media attention and has had fewer leaks to the press.

Today's news from New York is that the grand jury isn't even going to be considering the Trump case when they meet for the remainder of this week, and then there is a scheduled multi-week break, so any possible indictment vote will have to wait until the end of next month. There is rampant speculation about what this all means, which I refuse to engage in. I have never served on a grand jury, been investigated by one, or run one as a district attorney, so my ignorance of their inner workings is complete. While experts opine about what the district attorney is doing, what strategy is in place or what we can expect next endlessly on television, the only people who really know what is going on are the citizens serving on the grand jury or working in the prosecutor's office. So speculation is kind of pointless -- whatever happens will happen no matter whether anyone's current guesses are correct or not. But it now seems it won't happen at all for almost a month.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, criminal grand juries are sworn in every two months. Which is a pretty short time period to present a complex case, when you think about it. The current grand jury was sworn in at the start of March, and will run through the end of April. So far, we don't even have confirmation that the district attorney is even presenting the case to them -- she could be waiting for the next one for some reason. But the assumption is that she is indeed in the process of presenting her case of election interference to them. If this is true, indictments might be forthcoming at any time, as they might be working with a deadline of the end of April. As you can see, this means they might suddenly leap to the start of the line. Fulton County might be the first jurisdiction to indict a former United States president.

Which would actually be a good thing. Personally, I've been kind of hoping for this outcome all along, for a number of reasons. The foremost of which is that the charges Trump might face in Georgia will be a lot more serious and a lot more germane to the politics of the moment than what's going on in New York. For starters, late-night comics won't have the titillation of being able to use the phrase "porn star" every night in their jokes. Paying off hush money to an adult film actress/director and then fudging the books to hide the payment isn't exactly Watergate, to state the obvious. What happened in Georgia, by comparison, was a direct attack on the American democratic system by a sitting president. Not only is that far more serious a crime, it is also a lot easier for the average person to understand. We all heard that phone call where Trump darkly urges the elections officials to "find" him another "11,780 votes" -- the exact number he would have needed to win the state. It isn't exactly rocket science, understanding why that was so wrong. Tampering with an election (or even attempting to) cannot be brushed off in the same manner as a payout of hush money to kill a story from going public (even right before an election). It is serious stuff, and people understand the difference.

There are two big questions about what might happen in Georgia: how many people will be indicted and how serious will the charges be? There are two elements to the story, the first being Trump and all his minions trying to strongarm the elections officials into falsifying the election results to show Trump won when he hadn't. The second is the assembly of a slate of "fake electors" who signed a document that fraudulently stated that they were in fact the state's official electors. Trump is obviously the central figure in the first of these. In the latter, the question basically seems to be whether only the people who concocted and organized the scheme should be charged, or whether every person who signed that document is equally culpable.

The charges against Trump might either be legally simple or much more sweeping. He could be charged with attempting to interfere in the election, which is fairly cut and dried. Really all a district attorney would have to do is play that tape to the jury -- and there are reportedly two other tapes that the public hasn't even heard yet as well. But Trump could also be charged using the state's version of the anti-racketeering RICO law, which has traditionally been used to go after organized crime figures -- but also has been used in far different situations (it was used against the teachers and school administrators in the cheating scandal in Georgia, for instance -- by the same prosecutor who is now in charge of the Trump investigation). It would be karmically fitting to use the RICO law to go after Trump, since for all the world he sounds like nothing more than a mob boss ordering crimes be committed on that phone call. But no matter how sweeping the charges, this case seems a lot more open-and-shut than the New York case.

Because there have been no leaks to speak of in Georgia, we have no idea about what is happening or may be about to happen in any of it. The special grand jury (which was not able to actually indict, but which lasted much longer and investigated Trump and the election for seven months) leaked after it finished and issued its report, but it only leaked so much. We learned that they recommended indicting multiple people, perhaps on the order of a dozen. We learned that there will indeed be some big and recognizable names on that list. But that's about it, really -- we still have no idea of the specifics of what was in their final report (which is under seal, for the moment).

My guess, at this point, is that we won't get any advance warning about a Georgia indictment unless it comes directly from Trump himself. He could predict his own imminent arrest in the same way he did in New York. But then again the Georgia prosecutor might not give Trump or his lawyers any hint of what is about to happen, since she obviously saw what happened after Trump's (false) prediction in New York. She may want to avoid this and instead may hold her cards very close to the vest.

Historically, it would be far more fitting for the election interference charges to be the first to appear. Of the four active investigations we know about (Stormy Daniels in New York, the Georgia election charges, the classified papers Trump refused to return, and any charges stemming from the January 6th insurrection attempt), only two are directly germane to the protection of American democracy. And of the two, the Georgia case seems like the simplest one to make to the public at this point in time. Any federal charges over January 6th are going to be complex and require in-depth legal explanation. The Georgia situation is a lot more obvious -- again, just listen to that phone call.

I don't have any degree of certainty in making the prediction that Georgia will go first, I should end with. I have no idea if the prosecutor is even presenting the case to the current grand jury -- she could be waiting until the next one is seated in May. But she did state that charging decisions were "imminent," two months ago. But looking at the big picture through a historical lens, it would be far more appropriate if the Georgia grand jury indicts Trump for the very serious and fundamental crime of attempting to "rig" an election after the fact. Such an indictment would have much wider political repercussions than the New York case and might directly affect the Republican presidential campaign already underway. So while I cannot confidently predict that Georgia will go first with an indictment for a former president, to me it is patently obvious that they should go first.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Will Georgia Go First?”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I concur with you Chris and I applaud you for not adding to the terabytes of useless speculation. We won’t know anything for certain until each investigation yields an actual legal event one way or the other. Be patient my Fellow Travelers.

    I’d like to think that the J6 investigation will of necessity come last because of the far greater number of moving parts and the possibility of indictments of sitting Congresscritters. You know, the bunch that asked for pardons.

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Well now. The answer is “no, the Manhattan Grand Jury voted to indict Trump. Only afterwards did they go off on vacation.”

    The indictment is sealed until arraignment, per the WSJ.

    Hoping for some Thursday evening content, Mr. Weigant.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:


    Paying off hush money to an adult film actress/director and then fudging the books to hide the payment isn't exactly Watergate, to state the obvious.

    You're making me repeat myself... again.

    Pay attention this time:

    [2] Kick wrote :


    Will Donald Trump weasel his way out of conviction by an endless barrage of "Witch-hunt!" cries?

    Did Trump Organization companies weasel their way out of conviction by an endless barrage of cries of "witch hunt" and "politically motivated" emanating from that same Orange Blowhole?

    Nope! Guilty on all 17 counts of criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records.

    Alvin Bragg has already criminally prosecuted Trump's companies and convicted on every single count of the seventeen he charged... so why does everyone keep assuming Bragg has very little on Trump? I would wager it's a whole lot more. We study history for a reason... recent history too. :)

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