Georgia judge drops six charges in Trump election interference case

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Rome, Georgia, on March 9, 2024 [Mike Stewart/The Associated Press]

The ruling means Trump will face fewer charges, but he is still accused of attempting to overturn 2020 election results.

A Georgia judge has dismissed some of the charges against former United States President Donald Trump and his allies, as they face criminal prosecution over alleged election interference in the southeastern state.

Six of the 41 counts in the Georgia indictment will be thrown out, according to a nine-page court filing released on Wednesday.

That includes three counts against Trump, although he still faces 10 other counts.

The six dismissed counts all focus on whether Trump and his co-defendants solicited elected officials to violate their oaths of office in their alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential race.

That vote saw Democrat Joe Biden emerge victorious over Trump, the incumbent, with wins in battleground states like Georgia proving pivotal.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, however, noted that the six counts in question, at present, did not offer enough information to move forward with.

“As written, 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 defences intelligently, as the Defendants could have violated the Constitutions and thus the statute in dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct ways.”

McAfee’s ruling, however, left intact the most serious charge in the case, racketeering. It also left open the possibility that prosecutors could seek a new, more detailed indictment on the six rejected counts.

Alleged pressure campaigns under scrutiny

Two of the charges that were thrown out related to an hour-long phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in early January 2021.

That phone call, which was leaked to the media in the days after it occurred, appeared to show Trump pressuring Raffensperger to tweak the Georgia election results in his favour. Biden had won the state by a narrow margin: 11,779 votes.

“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump told Raffensperger in a recording of their call.

At the time, Trump was seeking to advance his false claim that the presidential election had been marred by widespread voter fraud. He has insisted in the years since that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him, as part of a conspiracy.

Biden’s victory in Georgia allowed him to claim all 16 of the state’s Electoral College votes, which ultimately decide who is elected president.

The six counts identified in Wednesday’s ruling also concerned actions taken by key Trump allies, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, lawyer Ray Smith III and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

They too previously faced charges that they had pressured members of Georgia’s legislature, as well as Raffensperger, to “unlawfully appoint presidential electors” or “unlawfully influence the certified election returns”.

As a result of Wednesday’s decision, Meadows now faces only a single count in the Georgia case: racketeering.

A case centred on racketeering

The Georgia case is just one of four criminal indictments that Trump faces as he seeks re-election in November.

The state’s case largely revolves around charges brought under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO.

Originally created to prosecute organised crime, RICO allows authorities to bundle an array of charges together, in order to root out a criminal “enterprise”. Prosecutors must show a “pattern of racketeering activity”, done in pursuit of a shared goal.

Charges made under the RICO act carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.

Trump originally had 18 co-defendants in the case, including Giuliani, Smith and Meadows. Some, however, have since taken plea deals in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors. Georgia bondsman Scott Hall was the first to accept a deal, followed by lawyers Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis.

The prosecution, however, has faced hurdles in recent weeks, as the Trump legal team has sought to disqualify Fulton County Prosecutor Fani Willis.

In January, the defence filed a motion seeking to remove Willis from the case, on the grounds that she committed misconduct by dating the special counsel in the case, Nathan Wade. McAfee is set to rule on the motion in the coming weeks.

If Willis were to be disqualified based on the relationship, it would almost certainly delay the Georgia trial. Prosecutors had requested an August 5 start date, three months before the general election in November.

An impending election

The legal drama is unfolding against the backdrop of a heated presidential race. On Tuesday, Trump earned enough Republican delegates in the primary process to effectively clinch the party’s nomination.

That puts him on track to once again face off against Biden, who likewise is set to be his party’s nominee.

However, it remains unclear what effect the four criminal cases will have on the race. Beyond the Georgia indictment, Trump faces a criminal case in Manhattan related to hush-money payments he made during the 2016 race.

The other two criminal indictments are on the federal level. One relates to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and his actions during the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The other concerns his handling of classified documents after leaving office.

The Manhattan case is the first scheduled for trial. It is expected to start on March 25.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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