The U.S. has come a long way. Any doubt about that was erased last Monday. On that day, a Southern black woman announced that she would hold a former president accountable for his actions. Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani T. Willis announced that a grand jury had indicted former President Donald J. Trump on 13 criminal counts. The Old South ain’t what it used to be.
Willis’s indictment is comprehensive. It has ensnared nineteen people including Trump and a number of his top aides and allies. All are charged with criminally conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. They are charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), an act specifically designed to pursue criminal enterprises.
Ironically, after Trump the number one co-conspirator may very well be Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former personal attorney and campaign lawyer. In another era, Giuliani, as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, used RICO to prosecute mobsters. Now the prosecutor is the mobster.
Willis’s investigation was initiated after she was apprised of a recording of Trump, post-election, telling Brad Raffensperger, Georgia secretary of state, that he wanted to “find” 12,000 votes. Willis’s jurisdiction includes the State Capitol building in Atlanta where Raffensperger works, so she felt obligated to investigate.
“When allegations come about—about anything that would hamper society’s ability to believe in fair elections, or if there is even conduct that rises to the level of suspicion, I don’t think that I have a choice,” said DA Willis.
Over the next two and a half years, Willis conducted a broad investigation that culminated in last week’s indictments. It was not without risks. The DA had her staff members outfitted with bulletproof vests.
The result is the definitive story of the Trumpian plot, the story of a desperate ex-president leading a criminal enterprise to hold onto power. This is the narrative for the history books.
One feature of this indictment that is of no small importance is that as a state, not federal, indictment, it does not allow room for the malefactors to be pardoned if a Republican should win election in 2024.
Like the other indictments, it demonstrates that the U.S. is still a society that abides by the rule of law, a pillar of democratic society. Even a president, or at least an ex-president, is held accountable to the laws of the land. Never has it been more important to make that point.
The United States has been fortunate in having the right people appear at the right time to hold the nation to it highest values. One thinks of the likes of Abraham Lincoln, the two Roosevelt’s, Teddy and FDR, and I would include Joe Biden.
And there are many figures lesser than the above but who nonetheless do work essential to the cause. Fani T. Willis is one of these. A lesser hero, perhaps, but a hero nonetheless.