Eight so-called fake electors who in 2020 sought to cast Georgia’s electoral votes to former President Donald Trump instead of Joe Biden agreed to immunity deals with prosecutors investigating the scheme, according to a Friday court filing.
The Georgia investigation development comes as local prosecutors continue to pursue a wide-ranging inquiry involving the former president and his allies, election fraud and the electors’ roles in casting fake Trump ballots.
Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis said possible criminal indictments from the investigation could come between July 11 and Sept. 1; whether the grand jury will decide to indict is still unknown, but she asked for “heightened security and preparedness” during that period, regardless.
Here’s what experts say that means for the Georgia probe and Trump.
Alleged fake electors scheme What we know
What was the 2020 elector scheme?
After the 2020 presidential election, when it became clear Trump had lost the election and Joe Biden would become president, the now-ex-president and his allies allegedly devised a plan to use slates of alleged fake electors in battleground states to overturn the 2020 election.
The plan, based on a debunked legal theory, relied on key states to find Trump-supporting electors and on former Vice President Mike Pence to toss out the real electors. Pence penned a letter Jan. 6 on the debate over the objections, which said his “oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”
The failure to overturn the election was a motivator for pro-Trump rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
How does it relate to the Georgia probe?
On Dec. 14, 2020, alleged fake electors met in seven states — Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin — and signed documents falsely claiming they were the “duly elected” electors from their state, at the Trump campaign’s request, USA TODAY previously reported.
“The fake electors in Georgia were supposed to throw confusion into the Electoral College vote count on January 6 by suggesting there were two competing slates of electors, with the Trump slate purporting to represent the legitimate electors,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University.
Why did eight electors receive immunity?
Kay Levine, a law professor at Emory University in Georgia, told USA TODAY that without an official indictment — and without knowledge of specific alleged crimes — the role the electors who received immunity deals are playing in the Georgia investigation is speculative. But the basics of immunity deals can offer some answers.
“Without knowing the details, it suggests to me that there are eight people who the office at one point considered would be targets of this investigation and has decided that they would be more useful to this investigation as witnesses, rather than targets,” she said. “That’s the reason for an immunity deal.”
Looking at the broader context of the investigation, it’s possible that conspiracy charges related to election fraud could be on the table, both Kreis and Levine said.
Why have two electors not received immunity?
The Friday court filing revealed that two of the alleged fake electors have not received immunity deals. That could be because prosecutors believe those electors were more central to the organizing and planning of the elector scheme, Kreis said.
“So the DA wants to either prosecute them because of their role, or prospectuses are slowly working up the food chain and using additional information uncovered through immunity deals as leverage in future negotiations,” he said.
More: Eight alleged fake Trump electors in Georgia accept immunity deals in grand jury probe
What does that mean for Trump?
The disclosure that the eight so-called fake electors received immunity deals doesn’t shed any additional light on the specific charges Trump or his allies might face as a result of the Georgia probe, Levine said.
But the immunity deals may indicate that Willis’ probe could lead to charges for more central players in the 2020 electors scheme, like Trump, Rudy Giuliani or lawyer John Eastman, according to Kreis. Trump and his allies could face charges for fomenting a broad conspiracy to overturn the election or having engaged in a criminal racketeering scheme, though at this point, the extent to which the former president played a role in directing the scheme is unclear, he said.
“The fake electors scheme was central to that conspiracy to solicit election fraud, which is why their actions could put Trump in serious legal jeopardy,” Kreis said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GA probe: What 8 so-called fake electors’ immunity deals mean for Trump