Key Witnesses Questioned in Criminal Investigation of Trump; Probe Focuses on Calls From Trump and From Senator Lindsey Graham
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The Criminal Investigation Of Donald Trump
WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 6, 2021) - The criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump's efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to change the state's vote count in the last presidential election is moving forward, reports public interest law professor John Banzhaf, whose formal legal complaint triggered the current probe.
Interestingly, the probe also now includes a cajoling phone call from U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham who likewise could face an indictment by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Willis, described as a feisty Democratic prosecutor in a heavily Democratic county, has empaneled at least two grand juries to help determine if any criminal laws - including Georgia's especially far reaching racketeering statute - were violated.
In addition to demanding incriminating documents from Raffensperger's files, investigators have also interviewed at least four officials at the secretary of state’s office.
Investigators have questioned communications director Ari Schaffer, chief operating officer Gabriel Sterling, and Sam Teasley, the external affairs director who oversees the agency’s outreach programs.
The probing questions focused not only on Trump's January 2 phone call, but also on a separate telephone call from Graham.
The former call - which involved Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Cleta Mitchell, a leading conservative, as well as Deputy Secretary of States Jordan Fuchs and attorney Ryan Germany, was recorded, and formed the basis for Professor Banzhaf's criminal complaint.
Trump Pressured Raffensperger
The transcript shows Trump pressuring Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” which didn’t exist, in order to erase Joe Biden’s lead and change the election outcome.
In the latter separate phone call from Graham, Raffensperger said that the senator asked him to exercise his power to toss out many ballots for candidate Joe Biden.
Willis' decision to investigate whether the former president might be guilty of a criminal racketeering conspiracy came as a surprise to many, but not to those familiar with her litigation record.
Indeed, she recently hired one of the country's leading experts on state racketeering cases to help conduct the investigation; a further signal that the DA in hoping to bring a RICO case against him, says Banzhaf.
Although Willis is already very familiar with Georgia's far reaching RICO statute as a result of winning an unusual RICO case against some teachers who had cheated, she has nevertheless engaged the lawyer who literally wrote the book on state RICO prosecutions - “RICO State by State: A Guide to Litigation Under the State Racketeering Statutes” - to help her carry out a wide ranging investigation which she had earlier said would include possible racketeering activity.
Prof. Banzhaf, who is familiar with the federal RICO statute since he produced the memo which led to the federal government's successful RICO prosecution against the major tobacco companies, points out that the Georgia RICO statute is even more powerful and far reaching than the federal one.
The Definition Of Racketeering
Among other things, it defines racketeering more broadly than the federal law does, takes less to prove a pattern of racketeering activity, and does not always require the existence of an enterprise - especially an illegal or criminal enterprise - to constitute racketeering. For example, the "enterprise" she successfully used in her RICO teacher-cheating case was a school.
Also, notes Banzhaf, although RICO requires at least two independent illegal racketeering activities - "predicate acts" - to prove a pattern of corruption by Trump and his alleged co-conspirators, making false statements such as Trump and some of his allies are alleged to have made would satisfy Georgia's RICO law.
Racketeering, which is a felony in Georgia, can carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison, a hefty fine, and disgorgements of ill-gotten gains. Most felons in Georgia convicted of racketeering offenses do serve time in prison, Banzhaf notes.
This RICO probe is one of the most serious legal threat Trump faces now that he no longer enjoys any protection as president, notes Banzhaf. It is a very far ranging statute which permits wide disclosure and has a very heavy penalty.
It is also in the hands of a prosecutor who is a Democrat in a heavily Democratic county. Therefore, most members of a grand jury, and members of any criminal trial juries in this county, are likely to be very unfriendly to Trump, especially now that he has lost a lot of his clout, and his ability to reach out easily on social media to most of his followers, Banzhaf suggests.