Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks in the Fulton County Government Center during a news conference, Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Atlanta. Donald Trump and several allies have been indicted in Georgia over efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury verdict is a stunning document in its scope, and Jennifer Taub, professor at Western New England School of Law and Washington Monthly contributing writer, is someone I always want to call when there’s a new Donald Trump development. An expert on white-collar financial crimes, she knows the famed RICO statute and chronicled Trump’s legal woes for this magazine. I asked her about the strength of the indictment and where there might be holes in phone and email exchanges. We also discussed the emotional catharsis of seeing the legal case against Donald Trump and his allies laid out in detail. Our conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. 

MC: You’ve got a lot of experience with RICO statutes. What does this look like to you? 

JT: Well, just to clarify, I was never a prosecutor. But the bottom line is that I found this indictment exceedingly clear, well-organized, and bold. At points, it brought tears to my eyes because it provided us, for the first time in an official document, an impeccable timeline of what went down beginning with November 3, 2020, and surprisingly, all the way through the fall of 2022.  

What brought tears to my eyes is the way—and in a clear, no-nonsense way—D.A. Willis vindicated and defended people like Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, [Wandrea] “Shaye” Moss, which belonged here. We are all victims of this RICO enterprise. This Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization enterprise was centered in the White House and covered territory far beyond—from the White House to Fulton County to elsewhere in Georgia to Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. But it touched all of us because instead of having an election decided, and then we have Electoral College certified in December, and we’re ready to start new. We never had that. There was no peaceful transition. We can see how much the big lie is making us all victims.  

MC: You said the Fulton County grand jury indictment was “bold.” Unlike Jack Smith’s January 6 indictment, does it risk being audacious?  

JT: Merrick Garland got [Special Counsel] Jack Smith on the case late. A bolder indictment is what happens when you have more time. That’s number one. Number two, you know, [Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis] is in a different boat. [Smith] is racing against the clock. If Trump wins or another Republican wins the whole federal process could just be dismissed. She doesn’t have that in Georgia.  

The other thing is, you know, she is a Badass Barbie of prosecutors, you know, she is Barbie. And he’s just…Jack.  

I tend to be more minimalistic. I tend to be a Jack Smith kind of person in life. When I write my books and do stuff, I’m like, “Less is more. It’s better to be restrained,” And what I like about her indictment is that it’s impeccably manicured, it’s precise. And it’s complete. It’s also baroque. And that’s a choice. You know, some people want the mid-century modern.  

MC: [Laughter]

JT: I’m not really a mid-century modern kind of person. And I’m not a baroque. I tend to be more art nouveau in terms of my legal style, but I appreciate this because it’s like a tapestry, right? If you look closely, all the details are there. This is not like a Chuck Close painting where you’re standing far away. And you’re like, wow, I see the face, and you get close, and you’re like, “What the heck is that?” You look at this, and she’s got this stuff nailed down. And God bless her. 

MC: I’ve seen criminal defense lawyers huffing that RICO was never meant to be applied this way. 

JT: Defense attorneys can say that, but at the federal level, we have criminal RICO, and we have civil RICO. And nothing in the statute uses the words “organized crime” or limits this. RICO is used in all kinds of circumstances, whether we’re talking about the Georgia or federal ones. They criminalize what’s considered a pattern of racketeering activity. And to be racketeering activity, there have to be predicate offenses. And at the federal level, the predicate offenses are some state crimes and a whole list of federal crimes. So, in Georgia, it’s similar. You have things that can be predicate offenses. You know, defense lawyers do what they need to do to defend their clients. And yes, it was originally aimed at the mafia, but it’s been used against street gangs, corrupt police departments, and even politicians.  

MC: Even teachers and educators with the cheating scandal Willis prosecuted 

JT: She used that case to punish and bring down a group of teachers involved in a cheating scandal. I hate public corruption as much as I hate private corruption. Someone who knows how to use this tool, I think it’s fantastic. 

MC: Was there anything in the indictment that you thought a defense lawyer could work with at an appellate level, or will they just have to wait to see how the trial goes? 

JT: It’s too soon to tell. I would want to see what the jury instructions look like and the evidence. I have not read any cases in Georgia at all. Defense lawyers are always making a motion for acquittal.  

They will try to move this case—remove it is the word—into federal court. That’s going to be the first thing.  

MC: If you’re Smith, do you resist that?  

JT: Well, that’s not really up to him. They will try to claim that Trump acted within his presidential powers throughout all of this. Now, there are several problems with that. He’s tried that stuff before. Well, he successfully got the E. Jean Carroll [original defamation] case moved from state to federal court, but the Justice Department was initially on his side on some procedural matters. That won’t happen here. And don’t think that this case will be able to be successfully removed. When he went to [former Attorney General] Bill Barr and said, I think there was fraud in the election that’s acting like a president. It was, you could say, part of his duties. However, it’s not acting like a president to organize fake electors and make threatening phone calls to Georgia to find 11,700 plus votes.  

MC: When we spoke last time, you said it was a sad day for the legal profession that so many unindicted co-conspirators in the Smith indictment were attorneys. Now, many of the same people are indicted. 

JT: I think I’ve gotten over my sadness.  

MC: Ha! Why? Just another day in Trump world? 

JT: This indictment is comprehensive. It’s bold, and it’s take-no-prisoners. I’m also happy to see [Trump attorney] Jenna Ellis. I don’t like to see women being left aside when they participate. It’s not just [Trump attorney] Sidney Powell.  

MC: Some female Georgia politicians, too. 

JT: Yes. 

MC: Some names are missing. I mean, there’s no [U.S. Senator] Lindsey Graham here. But [former White House Chief of Staff] Mark Meadows is being indicted, and he went unmentioned in the Smith indictment. 

JT: It’s interesting. Assume for a moment that Meadows helped Smith. Maybe Willis said, “I don’t need anybody’s help.” Right. She’s saying, “I got you. And maybe we’ll talk about deals later.” That’s part of what made this an overwhelming show of force.  

MC: Shock and awe? 

JT: Yes, and another part of that is that bail could be denied for some defendants. Before this indictment came down, and even after it came down, Trump was making threats, attacking the process and specific people by name. His lawyers are going to have a lot of fun trying to figure out and make the argument that he deserves bail under Georgia law. And also, let me add the third part of shock and awe. She is not waiving the fingerprinting; She’s not waiving the mugshots. So, we’re going to get nice  

we’re going to get 19 mugshots.  

The other thing is we’re going to have a trial. And again, where I began and will end is I want to see Ruby Freeman and Shaye be able to be there as part of this because of how he ruined their lives. He has ruined people’s lives. Because of this, he has divided families and torn apart this nation with the big lie and the little lies. I want that for our country.  

MC: Real tangible victims being heard? 

JT: Yes. And they represent all of us. 

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Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattizcoop. Matthew Cooper is Executive Editor Digital at the Washington Monthly. He is also a contributing editor of the magazine and a veteran reporter who has covered politics and the White House for Time, The New Republic, Washingtonian, National Journal and many other publications.