Trump moves to quash most charges against him in Georgia
By Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim
Former President Donald Trump asked a judge earlier this week to throw out most of the 13 charges against him in the wide-ranging election interference indictment handed up by a grand jury last month in Georgia.
The one-page motion from Trump’s Georgia lawyer, Steven Sadow, refers to a more expansive motion also filed Monday by one of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in the Georgia case, lawyer Ray Smith III. That motion gives a detailed critique of the 98-page indictment, arguing that its “defects” are “voluminous,” and that it is legally unsound.
Among other things, Smith’s motion says that the charge of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO — which all 19 defendants face — seeks to “punish protected First Amendment activity” and fails to “sufficiently allege the existence” of a racketeering enterprise whose goal was to overturn Trump’s narrow 2020 election loss in the state.
The Smith filing argues that the racketeering conspiracy laid out by the prosecution was actually “comprised of millions of people throughout the country” who believed election fraud had taken place and were working toward the same goal as the defendants.
To illustrate the point, the motion stated that there were probably thousands of bank robbers in the United States, “but the mere fact that they all rob banks and have the same goal and many of the same methods of operation, does not mean that all American bank robbers constitute one RICO enterprise, despite the fact that they are people who commit the same crime, for the same reason.”
Smith’s legal team includes Donald F. Samuel, a veteran Atlanta defense lawyer.
The office of the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, who is leading the prosecution, declined to comment Monday evening before an official response to the motion in court. Sadow also declined to comment.
The filing was the latest legal volley in the case, which Trump sought to quash even before his indictment in mid-August. It came as little surprise to legal analysts watching the case, who had expected Trump’s lawyers to mount an aggressive defense long before the start of a trial.
The former president’s lawyers have already moved to sever his case from two co-defendants, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, who have demanded a speedy trial. Their joint trial is set to start Oct. 23.
Smith, a lawyer based in Atlanta who helped Trump’s team challenge his loss in Georgia after the election, faces a dozen charges in the case. He advanced false claims about the election at a legislative hearing, according to the indictment. And, prosecutors charge, he took part in the efforts to get fake Trump electors to cast votes and sign documents that falsely claimed that he had won the election. Smith has pleaded not guilty.
“He never advocated violence; he never cried ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” his lawyers argued in the motion. “If advocacy in court or the legislature is a crime — if it merits being branded a ‘racketeer’ — there are very few people who will have the courage to risk engaging in such advocacy. ”
Chris Timmons, a former prosecutor in the Atlanta area, said Monday that the motion was unlikely to succeed in court, describing the racketeering enterprise defined in the indictment as “pretty tightly drawn.” But he noted that defense lawyers sometimes filed motions directed more at the court of public opinion, with an eye toward influencing a potential jury pool.
Notably, the Smith motion does not excuse all the activity that took place.
“If, as the Fulton prosecutors claim, somebody threatened physical harm to an election worker, that might (or should) be prosecuted as a crime,” Smith’s lawyers write. “The same for stealing computers or information from a computer.”
Some defendants in the case were charged with conspiracy to commit computer theft in a breach of a rural Georgia county’s voting system, while others were accused of threatening a poll worker.
Trump may soon follow the lead of several other defendants and ask to have his case moved to federal court, where the jury pool would be somewhat more supportive of him. But on Friday, a U.S. District Court judge rejected such a request from Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, dimming the prospects that others would succeed with the strategy.