For the first time in American history, a past president has been indicted on felony charges – with charges coming in two states and in the federal courts.
On Aug.14, a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, indicted former president Donald Trump and his co-defendants with 41 state charges, cementing Trump’s fourth indictment so far this year. The grand jury, made up of Georgia citizens, found enough evidence of likely wrongdoing to authorize charges that Trump tried to cheat voters in Georgia by working to change the 2020 presidential election results. According to the grand jury, he and his co-defendants joined a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election result, leading to Georgia indicting him under its RICO laws, which are used to combat organized crime.
These laws mean that Trump and his co-defendants are going to be jointly liable for each other’s actions as long as they’re in the same criminal enterprise, making for a difficult case.
Earlier in the summer, Trump’s third indictment came at the federal level from Special Counsel Jack Smith. This indictment states that Trump used the chaos from the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the United States capitol building to try to delay President Joe Biden inauguration. Trump’s administration has pleaded not guilty to all four counts.
The second indictment saw Trump issued 37 felony charges first by a federal grand jury in Miami in June of 2023 with an additional three felony charges in July of 2023 by the Special Counsel.
The first indictment came in March of 2023, when the Manhattan district attorney indicted Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.
But even facing a daunting total of 91 felony charges, Trump’s popularity amongst his base has only increased. “His popularity has gone up with Republicans who plan to vote in the primary elections in March, so his indictments haven’t been a terrible negative to his political base,” said Government teacher Daniel Fouts. But even with popularity among his base spiking, the view from moderates has a high potential to sway them the other way, both from Trump and the Republican party as a whole. “Judging by how popular Trump was in the 2020 and 2016 presidential election, it could influence people’s opinion on the Republican party and potentially, impact future elections,” Roemer said.
Currently, former Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro have pleaded guilty in Georgia, which in turn allows them to face mostly misdemeanor charges which won’t have them face jail time. With a guilty plea, though, these attorneys will be cooperating with prosecutors to convict Trump. Along with these attorneys, key evidence against him in his fourth indictment is his January 2021 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where Trump asked him to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.” Raffensperger, worried about what Trump might ask him to do, recorded the phone call as well as retaining other pieces of evidence.
As Trump battles his indictments, the possible impact that these charges will have can be seen through the lens of history. “The biggest consequence will be Trump’s legacy as President, look at Nixon, his Watergate scandal tarnished his entire presidency,” Roemer said.
Unlike Nixon however, Trump has been indicted for his actions. But even with an indictment, a step above what had ruined Nixon’s political career, Trump still remains wildly popular amongst his political base as events like this and the January 6 insurrection serve to polarize the American public. “This leads to more political division and deepened division within our political spectrum; we’re not going to see many people be in the center,” Roemer said.
As of now, Trump is facing 91 total felonies across his 4 indictments. “We’ve never had a major presidential nominee who has been under indictment and is under threat of serving prison time,” Fouts said.