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Ahead of possible charges against Trump, Ga. courthouse is on heightened alert


The Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta is circled by orange security barriers this week. And that's because any day now, a Georgia grand jury is expected to weigh criminal charges against former President Trump and his allies for attempting to overturn the 2020 election. Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat described to me how law enforcement is preparing.

PATRICK LABAT: We've created a force multiplier. We have gotten more boots on the ground. So we've learned from both New York and Miami, an opportunity for us to do better.

MARTÍNEZ: Any indictments in Georgia would come days after Trump pleaded not guilty in federal court in a similar probe. Following all this is WABE's Sam Gringlas. Sam, so what's happening at the courthouse this week?

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Well, normally, the main street outside Fulton County's courthouse is this busy thoroughfare bustling with government workers and just regular people arriving for their day in court. But starting this week, that road is closed to traffic. Many staff are working from home. And as all this security ramps up, we've also learned that some witnesses have been told to be on call starting this week to testify for the grand jury. And the district attorney's office says they are ready to go.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, Trump has already been indicted on federal charges for his efforts to try to overturn the election, and Georgia featured heavily in that indictment. How would a state case be different?

GRINGLAS: Georgia is mentioned 48 times in the federal indictment, which details Trump's efforts to cajole state officials into helping him. But while Trump is the lone defendant so far in that federal case, we know prosecutors in Georgia have sent target letters to people like lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Georgia's fraudulent electors. I was with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis just before Trump was arraigned last week, and here's what she said she would say to critics who think a Georgia indictment is duplicative.

FANI WILLIS: That I took a oath, and that the oath requires that I follow the law - that if someone broke the law in Fulton County, Ga., that I have a duty to prosecute. And that's exactly what I plan to do.

GRINGLAS: It's possible a state case could be a little more insulated from a hypothetical second term President Trump than the federal probe would be. Trump has called both of these investigations politically motivated witch hunts.

MARTÍNEZ: So what if more than one person is charged in Georgia? Would that happen all at once, all at the same time?

GRINGLAS: Yeah, and the reason is that DA Willis has an affinity for RICO - or racketeering cases. They require a group of people committing multiple specific crimes in the pursuit of a common goal. Georgia has its own RICO law, which is pretty broad. Emory law professor Morgan Cloud told me that RICO allows prosecutors to weave a clear narrative from a complicated web of people and activities.

MORGAN CLOUD: This particular Georgia case really fits beautifully with the entire structural concept of RICO.

GRINGLAS: But Cloud says RICO cases can also be challenging because there are just so many moving parts.

MARTÍNEZ: So those are legal considerations. Obviously, though, this is also a big political story. So what are you hearing from people in Georgia?

GRINGLAS: Well, the Republican state officials here who rebuffed Trump's efforts have mostly kept quiet. But the state GOP has already launched a website to defend some of the people who might show up in these indictments. Now, talk to Democratic voters, of course, it's a different story. Still, I've heard from several people who doubt anyone will actually be held accountable. But before all of that, Georgia and the country have to wait for word from 23 grand jurors in Fulton County.

MARTÍNEZ: That's WABE's Sam Gringlas. Sam, thanks.

GRINGLAS: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.