Charges against Trump in Georgia over 2020 election could lead to bigger federal case

Chris Strohm, Zoe Tillman and Billy House, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — The first major criminal charges that Donald Trump could face for interfering in the 2020 election might come from Atlanta — and what happens in Georgia isn’t expected to stay in Georgia.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her decision is “imminent” on whether to indict the former president, which would make him the first U.S. president charged with a crime. That decision will have a ripple effect on the Justice Department’s special counsel probe and other investigations circling Trump.

If Willis goes first, that case would road test possible testimony, helping to determine what evidence holds up in court and providing a blueprint for prosecutions involving other battleground states where Trump and his supporters tried to undermine President Joe Biden’s win.

Legal experts say nothing stops a U.S. special counsel overseeing the federal Trump probe from pursuing similar charges at the federal level, regardless of what Willis ultimately does.

“There’s no double-jeopardy problem here,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “For better or worse, the Supreme Court just reiterated the so-called ‘separate sovereigns’ doctrine, which leaves states and the federal government free to prosecute the same unlawful conduct, and free to decide how to do so as well.”

The Justice Department is watching Willis’ next move to better understand how her prosecution affects their case, according to current and former department officials. Her case is likely to present evidence and testimony that poses risks and rewards, depending on whether it holds up under court scrutiny, the officials said.


If Trump allies also are indicted, it raises the potential for them to flip and cooperate with investigators, they said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel in November to take over the existing federal probes into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election after Trump declared he was running for the GOP nomination again in 2024 — setting up a possible rematch with Biden. Special counsel Jack Smith has continued to explore pressure on local election officials and efforts to create fake slates of electors in battleground states, among other actions, parallel to Willis’s case.

Although federal and state law enforcement officials can team up, Willis isn’t required to consult with the feds before making a move.

“Fulton County is not subordinate,” said Randy Chartash, a former federal prosecutor in Atlanta.


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