An Atlanta-area investigation of alleged election interference by former president Donald Trump and his allies has broadened to include activities in Washington, D.C., and several other states, according to two people with knowledge of the probe — a fresh sign that prosecutors may be building a sprawling case under Georgia’s racketeering laws.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis launched an investigation more than two years ago to examine efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his narrow 2020 defeat in Georgia. Along the way, she has signaled publicly that she may use Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, statute to allege that these efforts amounted to a far-reaching criminal scheme.
In recent days, Willis has sought information related to the Trump campaign hiring two firms to find voter fraud across the United States and then burying their findings when they did not find it, allegations that reach beyond Georgia’s borders, said the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the investigation. At least one of the firms has been subpoenaed by Fulton County investigators.
Willis’s investigation is separate from the one at the Department of Justice being led by special counsel Jack Smith, but the two probes have covered some of the same ground. Willis has said she plans to make a charging decision this summer, and she has indicated that such an announcement could come in early August. She has faced stiff criticism from Republicans for investigating the former president, and the ever-widening scope suggests just how ambitious her plans may be.
The state’s RICO statute is among the most expansive in the nation, allowing prosecutors to build racketeering cases around violations of both state and federal laws — and even activities in other states. If Willis does allege a multistate racketeering scheme with Trump at its center, the case could test the bounds of the controversial law and make history in the process. The statute calls for penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
“Georgia’s RICO statute is basically two specified criminal acts that have to be part of a pattern of behavior done with the same intent or to achieve a common result or that have distinguishing characteristics,” said John Malcolm, a former Atlanta-based federal prosecutor who is now a constitutional scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “That’s it. It’s very broad. That doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to charge a former president, but that also doesn’t mean she can’t do it or won’t do it.”
Among Willis’s latest areas of scrutiny is the Trump campaign’s expenditure of more than $1 million on two firms to study whether electoral fraud occurred in the 2020 election, the two individuals said. The Post first reported earlier this year that the work was carried out in the final weeks of 2020, and the campaign never released the findings because the firms, Simpatico Software Systems and Berkeley Research Group, disputed many of Trump’s theories and could not offer any proof that he was the rightful winner of the election.
In recent days, Willis’s office has asked both firms for information — not only about Georgia, but about other states as well. Trump contested the 2020 election result in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Ken Block, the CEO of Simpatico Software Systems, declined to comment on what he has turned over to investigators. A lawyer for the Berkeley Research Group also declined to comment. A spokesman for Willis declined to comment on the investigation. Lawyers for Trump also declined to comment.
It is unclear if Willis will seek indictments of people for alleged actions that occurred outside of Georgia, such as those who participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. RICO experts say it’s unlikely she will do so. But, these experts said, the law allows Willis to build a sweeping narrative of an alleged pattern of behavior to overturn the 2020 election, with Georgia as just one piece. Evidence and actions from outside the state, such as Trump’s statements from Washington that inspired some of the rioters and parallel efforts to overturn other states’ results, could be presented as additional evidence that helps establish that pattern.
“The Georgia statute is broadly written” to allow the inclusion of violations of federal law as well as some other states’ laws, said Morgan Cloud, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta and expert on the state’s RICO law. “For example, acts to obstruct justice committed in Arizona might be relevant if the goal of the enterprise, of the racketeering activity, was to overturn the 2020 presidential election nationally, as well as in Georgia.”
Cloud added that prosecutors in Georgia must prove only that two racketeering crimes occurred under the state RICO statute, but other facts could be used to explain the breadth of an alleged scheme.
Willis’s investigation has already come under scrutiny as a test of the application of state criminal laws to actions that revolved around a federal election — and that in many instances resembled constitutionally protected speech. The probe has prompted a debate, even among those who believe Trump’s efforts were improper, as to whether prosecutors will be able to prove that Georgia crimes were committed.
Her potentially sweeping application of Georgia’s RICO statute could amplify those questions.