2020 elections

The Trump trials: A gathering storm?

Like a “weather disturbance” gathering strength as it moves across the Atlantic, the criminal charges surrounding Trump are gathering force and seem likely to end up in a full scale crisis. If you are a meteorologist, you must study that building weather disturbance that could become a hurricane. You must understand both what is the likely development of that particular disturbance as well as how hurricanes operate in general. As workers – no less as socialists – we must study this developing political storm for the same reasons. That is why we should be paying attention to the criminal trials against Trump.

Georgia RICO case
In Georgia, Fulton County DA Fanni Willis has brought RICO charges against Trump.For those who are unfamiliar with Rackateering Influenced and Corrupt Organization or RICO laws: These laws are based on the theory that if a group of people conspire to commit a crime, everybody is equally guilty for that conspiracy no matter what role any individual played and no matter if some members of the conspiracy communicated with or even knew each other.

In the Georgia case, Fani Willis is claiming that there was a far flung conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections. Since it’s a RICO case, that means that everybody involved is guilty no matter what their individual roles might be.

Since this is a state case rather than a federal one, the trial will be televised. On Wednesday (Sept. 6) the first hearing on the case was held. This was the hearing in which the judge, Scott McAfee, considered whether or not to sever the cases of two of the defendants. Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell had sought to have their cases severed (heard separately) not only from the rest of the defendants but also from each other.

The grounds for severance from the other 17 the defendants is fairly substantial. Georgia law mandates that if a defendant wants a “speedy trial” – a trial within a certain number of days of having been charged – they are entitled to it. Chesebro and Powell have exercised that right, but the rest of them want to delay their trials as long as possible. Fani Willis is happy to bring them to trial as quickly as possible, but what she also wanted to do was to bring all 19 of the defendants to trial quickly. In complying with the request for a speedy trial, a trial date of Oct. 23 has been set. Willis proposed that all 19 be set for that date, but the other defendants argue that this doesn’t give them enough time to prepare. 

So there were two issues in this hearing: One was whether the cases of Chesebro and Powell should be separated from the other seventeen. As expected, the judge ruled that that would happen in order to allow the other 17 to delay their trials.

The other was whether these two cases should be severed from each other, meaning whether they should be tried individually. The defendants’ lawyers argued that Chesebro and Powell didn’t know each other, never communicated with each other, and are accused of doing totally different acts. Their alleged crimes are totally different, they argued, and therefore they should be tried separately.

The reply of the prosecutor, Will Wooten, shows what a RICO charge is all about. He argued that it didn’t matter if their actions were separate. He explained: “It’s all part of the same RICO conspiracy…. as the enterprise operated in different states and in Fulton County… the conspiracy evolved. ‘One thing didn’t work so we move on to the next thing. That thing didn’t work so we move on to the next thing. That thing didn’t work so we move on to the next thing.’ And that was going on from the first overt [criminal] act to the last overt act for that same overarching RICO conspiracy.”

So, the outcomes of both severance attempts was pretty much of a slam dunk: Chesebro and Powell would have their trials held separately from the other 17, but not separately from each other.

Mark Meadows. He claimed helping overthrow an election was part of his job.

Mark Meadows
One detail that Judge McAfee raised, however, indicates the enormous complications in the road ahead. He pointed out that one defendant – former Trump Chief of staff Mark Meadows – is suing in federal court to have his case tried there rather than in state court. (At the time of this hearing, the federal judge had not yet ruled.) Meadows’ claim is that he was acting as a federal government official rather than on behalf of the Trump campaign. That would have sent the case to federal court and would have probably led to a demand that the charges be dropped altogether since he was simply carrying out his government duties. 

The federal judge who heard Meadows’s claim has just ruled against him. Among other things, he found that Meadows engaged in political activity, but under the Hatch Act such activity is illegal for a federal official, so it must have been done as part of Trump’s campaign. (News channels are probably celebrating because trials in Georgia state courts are televised whereas they are not in federal court. These state trials will probably draw a very large audience.)

Defendants seeking removal to federal court and those who may seek removal. It was considered that Meadows had the strongest case for this.

There are reports that Trump will file the same claim. If he does so, he would have to testify, and that would be quite a circus. Regardless, the ruling on Meadows’ claim is almost certain to be appealed and those appeals will take months if not a year or more to be decided. Meanwhile, what state judge McAfee pointed out was that if Meadows’s case is heard in October along with all the rest, then you could have a situation where Meadows goes to trial, potentially could be found guilty, and then the entire trial is thrown out because it is ultimately ruled that Meadows (and potentially others) would have to be tried in federal rather than state court.

While that particular snafu won’t happen, it just goes to show how enormously complex this entire situation is. Trump (plus a couple of others in the Florida classified documents case) will likely be involved in criminal trials while he is campaigning for office. More about this later.


Special grand jury recommendations on others involved. The jurors were nearly unanimously in favor of bringing charges against the bottom three. It may be that Willis decided not to because they may be cooperating with the prosecution.

Special grand jury report
Then, just today, a report from the Fulton County special grand jury was made public. What was most notable was that the Grand Jury had voted to recommend bringing charges against six others. Three of them are sitting US Senator Lindsay Graham (R, S. Carolina) and former Georgia senators Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue (who had been in office at the time of the election). Another three were Mike Flynn, Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn and pro-Trump attorney Cleta Mitchell. Of the former three, it turned out that about one third of the members of the grand jury had voted against charging them. So Willis probably decided that if she couldn’t get the overwhelming majority of a grand jury to vote for indictment, then her chances of getting a guilty verdict for them were pretty slim. However, of the last three, only one grand juror voted against indictment in each case. The fact that she hasn’t indicted those three has led to speculation that Willis has gotten some sort of cooperation agreement from the three of them. If so, what they have to say will be very interesting.

RICO laws dangerous
Before passing on to the next Trump case, we have to say something about these RICO laws and their extreme danger. In Georgia, for example, 61 protesters against the proposed “Cop City” have been indicted based on RICO. The project they are protesting against is a huge construction project to further militarize the Atlanta police and under RICO, if any of the protesters engaged in criminal activity, then all are supposedly guilty. That does not mean that we should oppose these RICO charges against Trump. All laws can and have been used for repression against workers. For example, laws against murder have been used to frame workers leaders, but we did not oppose bringing those charges against the murderer of George Floyd. It simply means that in the end we cannot rely on legalities or the legal process.

Judge Aileen Cannon & Florida secret documents case
Meanwhile the secret documents case in Florida has some interesting but largely unnoticed developments. As those who follow the news at all know, the judge in that case – Aileen Cannon – had made an outlandish pro-Trump ruling in a different aspect of that same issue months ago. It was so bad that it was reversed on short order by the state appeals court. Now, all sorts of legal maneuvering is taking place under Cannon, who is very young, indexperienced and apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer. An excellent source to follow her rulings is attorney Ben Meiselas of the establishment law firm of Geragos and Geragos. (That firm has represented such celebrities as Colin Kaepernick, Rinona Ryder and Chris Brown.) Meiselas does a youtube series called the MeidasTouch, and he’s been commenting on Cannon’s rulings. For example, he showed that an order of Cannon’s was evidently simply derived from what a former Trump lawyer had said on Fox “News” the prior evening! He has also shown how her rulings, while meant to help the defense, have had the exact opposite effect because of her simple incompetence. According to Meiselas, special prosecutor Jack Smith is maneuvering Cannon like a chess expert manipulates a novice, with Smith’s ultimate plan being to have Cannon removed from the case. If that happens, of course, it will mean just further exposure of the Trump appointed federal judges.

Trump intimidation tactics
Another aspect of all three of these cases is the fact that Trump cannot and will not keep his mouth shut. He won’t stop ranting and raving about them. This is a clear attempt to influence and intimidate any potential jurors as well as any witnesses. Cannon, of course, won’t say a word, but how about McAfee and, even more so, Tanya Chutkin, who is presiding over the Wasthington D.C. case? In any normal case, if a defendant tries such intimidation tactics their bail would be revoked and they would be put behind bars. That’s impossible for Trump, so how will McCaffee and Chutkin handle the cases as Trump goes further and further off the rails? 

Fourteenth Amendment 
Then there is the issue of whether Trump is even eligible to serve in office again. The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, passed right after the US Civil War, prohibits anybody who has in any way engaged in an insurrection from ever serving in office. According to conservative former judge Michael Luttig, that amendment applies to Trump due to his role on January 6. Several lawsuits have already been brought seeking to bar him from being on the ballot. According to one Constitutional scholar, Lawrence Tribe, those suits should succeed. It doesn’t take much vision to imagine the fury that tens of millions of Trump supporters will feel if such suits succeed. It also doesn’t take much to understand the determination that large sectors of the capitalist strategists have to keep Trump out.

President Trump (again)?
These are just the preliminaries. Imagine what could happen if Trump is actually elected president while these cases are pending. (Bookies in Las Vegas are giving odds that somewhat favor Biden but not by much.) The two federal cases (in Washington under Chutkin and in Florida under Cannon) would disappear overnight as a President Trump would dismiss the special prosecutor and/or pardon himself. But he couldn’t do that with the Georgia case. Imagine a sitting president having to actually defend himself in a criminal trial in court! Having trouble imagining that? So, probably, is almost everybody else. Maybe Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp would remove Willis using a new law that he signed into existence. At this point, he has come out decisively against using that law against Willis, but under a President Trump? Any way you cut it, this would be an absolute crisis. It would make January 6 seem like just the breeze before the storm.

Category 5 Storm coming?
To return to our original analogy: All the elements are in place for a category 5 hurricane developing far out at sea. We can’t know when or where it will make landfall, but when it does, all hell may break loose. Scott Grubman, attorney for Kenneth Chesebro said in the Sept. 5 Georgia hearing said that if Chesebro is part of a wider conspiracy, then there are “millions, literally millions” also guilty. He is right about that, and that shows the extreme significance of these cases. They are not just about a few individuals; they are also about the mass base of the Trump-controlled attempt to overthrow orderly elections.

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