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Fulton County Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis in her office on Jan. 4.
Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis in her office Jan. 4.Ben Gray / AP, file

Why Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor investigating Trump, loves RICO charges

In a news conference Monday, the Fulton County prosecutor explained why Georgia's RICO law is so useful.


Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been playing her cards close to the vest when it comes to her criminal probe into ex-President Donald Trump and his attempt to unlawfully overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. 

Aside from reports and the occasional court filing, we don’t hear much about the investigation from her or her office. But Willis may be starting to drop some hints about how a Trump prosecution might play out. You just need to know where to look. 

Willis may be starting to drop some hints about how a Trump prosecution might play out.

That’s part of the reason I’ve taken an interest in Willis’ repeated use of Georgia’s RICO law — which is reportedly being considered in the Trump probe — to prosecute gangs in Atlanta. Earlier this year, I wrote about how a potential RICO investigation into Trump could follow the same path as Willis’ RICO indictment of rapper Young Thug (real name Jeffrey Williams) and members of YSL, an alleged gang Willis and her office claim is responsible for more than a decade of violent crime. Williams, who's been portrayed as the head of the organization, denies all of the allegations against him.

Writing back in May, I was struck by how Willis used Young Thug's social media posts against him. This type of boasting is a classic part of the Trump brand. And we know he openly promoted election lies using his Twitter account (when he had a Twitter account).

But the similarities don't end there.

The YSL RICO case, for example, involves a whopping 28 co-defendants, some of whom Willis’ office claims are cooperating. We don’t know how many defendants (read: potential witnesses) would be listed in a potential Trump RICO case, but we know the list of people involved in his effort to steal the 2020 election is extensive and that it includes everyone from private citizens to public officials

Willis’ vow to use Georgia’s RICO law against gangs could well be a practice run of sorts for the “big fish” that is Trump. And I'm not the only with these suspicions. Experienced local crime reporters in Georgia, like George Chidi, who writes a blog called The Atlanta Objective, are making similar predictions.

In a conversation with VladTV (a dogged interviewer with very dubious motives), Chidi explained his belief that Willis is using the RICO law now as a “test” to see how effective it could be prosecuting Trump. 

“It’s not just for the street gangs that we’re talking about,” Chidi said. “The racketeering element, which is different — that’s how Donald Trump is going to be charged.”

He explained that prosecutors tend to use Georgia’s RICO law to introduce evidence of far-reaching conspiracies that might be inadmissible otherwise. Things like social media posts — or song lyrics — that, taken together, can indicate people committed crimes to benefit specific gangs or groups. 

You know, like the MAGA movement in the lead-up to Jan. 6.

And on Friday, at a news conference announcing a new slate of RICO charges against a different local organization, Fani Willis herself shared some further insights:

I’m a fan of RICO. I’ve told people that. And the reason that I am a fan of RICO is I think jurors are very, very intelligent. Some people don’t want to do jury service, but once they get there, we really find that they’re good citizens there, they’re very smart, they pay attention. They take these matters serious. But they want to know the whole story. They want to know what happened.

That point about getting the whole story is one to remember. In the YSL case, we’ve seen Willis’ office depict Young Thug as a menacing, homicidal mob boss. It clearly knows how to build a story about Atlanta gangs. I'm very interested to see what it might do with the MAGA movement.