(CNN) — A parade of Donald Trump’s co-defendants setting bond and surrendering at an Atlanta jail is beating a path of accountability that the ex-president and kingpin of the alleged election-meddling conspiracy will follow on one of the most jarring days in presidential history on Thursday.
But Trump’s fresh attacks on prosecutors and legal maneuvers by some of his ex-aides are underscoring their belief that the law can be defied and that there shouldn’t be consequences for subverting democracy – the same attitude that fueled Trump’s false claims of victory in 2020 and still drive his actions as he seeks a White House return. This is especially concerning given that Trump, despite deciding to skip Wednesday’s first primary debate, has a strong chance of becoming the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2024.
Once again – as with Trump’s consolidation of a huge chunk of the Republican primary vote through his claims that he’s a victim of a political witch hunt – his potential criminal liability may end up helping him politically. That’s because his scheduled arrest on Thursday will likely overshadow any of his rivals who makes a splash in the debate the night before.
And yet, the flurry of activity on Tuesday in Fulton County, Georgia, showed that more than two years after Trump’s effort to defy the will of voters, the wheels of justice are grinding forward and that consequences may be nearing.
News of bond agreements jockeyed for attention with the first of the former president’s 18 co-defendants turning themselves in for mugshots and fingerprints. Most of the 19 defendants have consented to release conditions, led by the ex-president’s $200,000 bond agreement reached Monday – the first such requirement in his stunning tally of four criminal indictments. Among those who reached bond deals Tuesday were Jenna Ellis, the lawyer who pushed Trump’s election lies but now says she’s been left high and dry by the ex-president with her huge legal costs.
Lawyer John Eastman, who devised a six-step plan for then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College, was among the first defendants to surrender at the jail. Eastman later defiantly claimed the country had crossed a “Rubicon” in the Georgia case and declared he still believed the election was stolen – despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Booking photos of Eastman and bail bondsman Scott Hall, who was the first to surrender, were released later Tuesday. Former Georgia GOP chair David Shafer and Cathy Latham, the former chair of the Coffee County Republican Party, surrendered overnight Wednesday, according to county inmate records.
Meanwhile, intrigue surrounding Mark Meadows deepened as the former White House chief of staff launched an unusual bid to stave off his pending arrest as he seeks to get his case sent to federal court, where he believes it will be dismissed.
And Rudy Giuliani, the hero of 9/11, is set to meet with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday to discuss a bond agreement, sources told CNN. He’s expected to travel to Georgia with former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik – an unindicted co-conspirator in the case – who has been working with the former mayor to help him find a Georgia lawyer, according to one of those sources. Giuliani, who’d been struggling to find legal representation as he grapples with his massive legal fees from his other escapades with Trump, is expected to have a lawyer with a Georgia license to represent him during the bond negotiations, a second source said.
But the dramatic events in Fulton County so far have simply been an overture for the theatrics expected to unfold at the jail on Thursday when Trump, who holds significant leads in GOP primary polls, says he will surrender under his fourth criminal indictment. He decided to skip the debate on Wednesday, but his expected trip to Georgia is a reminder that for all his dominance of his party’s White House race, he has lost full control over his schedule and fate because of his multiple legal entanglements.
The campaign and the courtroom’s competing demands on his time will only get more onerous next year, when primary contests begin and Trump is expected to be spending days and weeks attending his criminal trials. Besides the Fulton County case, he’s been indicted in two federal cases – one over efforts to steal the 2020 election and the other over his mishandling of classified documents – as well as in Manhattan in a case arising from a hush money payment to an adult film star in 2016.
In a reminder that this week’s surrender is hardly the only legal trouble Trump faces, federal prosecutors provided a clearer look at how they obtained information in a superseding indictment in the classified documents case Tuesday. In a court filing, special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutors shed light on their investigation into whether two Trump employees at Mar-a-Lago gave false testimony to a grand jury about alleged efforts to delete incriminating security footage. One of the workers, IT specialist Yuscil Taveras, who has not been charged, recently switched lawyers and changed his story about alleged efforts by Trump and other subordinates to delete security footage, the filing said.
The filing emphasized the deep legal vulnerability enveloping Trump. But even if the spectacle of a former president and current presidential candidate being indicted and arrested is becoming routine, it will never become normal. The fraught legal melodrama surrounding him is leading the country down an ever more perilous road ahead of next year’s election at a time of deep national political angst.
What the Fulton County theatrics say about the case
The events unfolding at the Fulton County jail this week are important because they shed light on the contours and complexity of the Georgia case. And while every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to pursue whatever means available within the law to make their case, Trump’s current and former associates still seem to be acting on anti-democratic impulses and contempt for accountability.
The accelerating developments at the jail and in the Fulton County courthouse are also providing a reality check not just about the consequences that may await those who allegedly helped Trump’s bid to stay in power, but also about the vast scale of the case, parts of which are being brought under complex racketeering laws often used against organized crime rings.
Most immediately, the stunning events in Atlanta are also overshadowing the Republican debate that will go ahead without Trump. The ex-president’s legal troubles have left most of his major, if distantly behind, rivals struggling to find a way to exploit his potential liabilities as a possible nominee while trying to avoid alienating his supporters and other Republicans who may be open to another candidate but are still sympathetic to Trump.
The ex-president confirmed on Monday night that he will show up to be booked in Atlanta on Thursday, meaning that any media buzz his rivals might enjoy from a strong debate will likely be short lived.
The curious case of Mark Meadows takes another turn
Another takeaway from a frenetic day of legal activity in Fulton County arose from two former Trump administration officials asking a federal court to block their pending arrests in Georgia.
Meadows, for example, wants a federal court to issue an order that would prevent the district attorney from seeking his arrest if he doesn’t surrender at the jail by Friday’s deadline. The former chief of staff’s gambit is an early taste of the huge volume of litigation that will erupt from a case involving 19 co-defendants, which many experts believe will defy the hopes of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to get it to court before next year’s election.
Meadows has petitioned for his case to be removed to a federal court because at the time of the alleged offenses he says he was fulfilling his duties as a federal official. The case will revolve around the question of whether the then-Oval Office gatekeeper’s actions were truly within the remit of a top government official – since states are constitutionally mandated to conduct elections and count the results without federal interference. Meadows was at Trump’s side at the climax of the ex-president’s attempts to reverse the result in 2020. He was, for instance, on the call when Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find” enough votes to change the outcome in the swing state. He also visited the site of a post-election audit in Cobb County, Georgia.
In response to the Meadows move, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office has issued subpoenas to two lawyers who listened in on the call to Raffensperger, requesting they appear at a federal hearing on Monday related to Meadows’ bid to transfer his case to the federal system. The Georgia grand jury indictment alleges that Meadows, along with Trump, unlawfully solicited the violation of oath by a public officer with the call. The call also was listed as an overt act in the racketeering conspiracy charge.
Former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark has also asked a federal judge to block him from being arrested by local authorities, arguing that his status as a federal officer when he engaged in the alleged conduct requires the dismissal of the charges against him.
One of the conditions of the ex-president’s bond was that he refrain from attacking witnesses in the case, including on social media. But that didn’t stop him taking aim at Willis on Monday evening – at a time of flaring tensions that has seen death threats sent to some of the sheriff’s office staff.
Trump speculated on his Truth Social network that Willis thought he might be a flight risk and that he could end up in a “gold-domed suite” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.