Sprinkled throughout the sweeping Georgia indictment covering every aspect of former President Trump’s effort to overturn the state’s 2020 election are references to one woman: poll worker Ruby Freeman.
The Fulton County election staffer was helping count ballots in the state when she was singled out by Trump and his then-attorney Rudy Giuliani and accused of mishandling ballots, sparking a wave of threats against Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss.
Freeman’s name appears some 40 times in the indictment, a detail Gwen Keyes Fleming, a former district attorney (DA) in Georgia, said reflects that there are “actual identifiable victims that the DA’s office is sworn to protect,” in addition to the voters in the state whose will Trump sought to deny.
“This indictment is an attempt to also recognize the alleged individual victimization of a poll worker who was simply trying to be of service to her county,” Keyes Fleming said.
Freeman spoke to investigators from the House committee reviewing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, recounting how she and her daughter, another former election worker, faced a harassment campaign following the accusations.
“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” Freeman asked in her deposition, which aired during one of the committee’s public hearings. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one.”
Giuliani, a defendant in the case and Trump’s longtime ally, claimed to have video evidence showing the mother-daughter pair scanning ballots hidden in suitcases under tables at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, according to a report by Georgia’s State Election Board.
The alleged USB drive he accused them of passing between each other “as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine” was in fact just a ginger mint.
Trump would go on to call Freeman a “professional vote scammer.”
Caren Myers Morrison, a law professor at Georgia State University and former federal prosecutor, said the indictment takes seriously the harassment of election workers.
“You can see there that [DA Fani Willis] is protecting the people of Fulton County, you know — this is one of her constituents,” she said.
The comments from Trump and Giuliani ignited a wave of threats against the women and spurred the involvement of Trump allies who the indictment says were “purporting to offer her help” in an effort to influence her statements about what happened at the arena.
In December 2020, Illinois pastor Stephen Lee traveled to Freeman’s home and spoke with her neighbor, intending to mislead Freeman and “inﬂuence her testimony in an ofﬁcial proceeding,” prosecutors allege in the indictment.
They say Lee enlisted Black Voices for Trump leader Harrison Floyd to help persuade Freeman, who feared talking to Lee “because he was a white man.” Both Freeman and Moss are Black.
A month later, Floyd recruited Trevian Kutti — a former publicist for rapper and Trump ally Ye, previously known as Kanye West — to join their efforts, according to the indictment. Kutti met with Freeman at the behest of an unidentified “high-profile individual” and urged Freeman to confess to Trump’s election fraud claims or go to jail within 48 hours, Reuters reported.
Eric Segall, another law professor at Georgia State University, said the role played by the election workers in the indictment’s broader narrative creates a racial component to the case, one that is less present in the ex-president’s other criminal cases.
The women were an impediment to efforts to change election results in a state where civil rights organizing propelled the movement forward. At a future trial — which would likely be televised, thanks to Georgia’s court rules — race would play an inevitable role, he said.
“We have these white, northern … lawyer, powerful men-types intimidating these Black women,” Segall said. “It has a symbolism about it, and images can be really powerful.”
The false claims of election fraud that rapidly spread through Trump’s orbit and right-wing spaces caused Freeman and Moss to face harassment and threats they have said altered their lives.
“I don’t do nothing anymore. I don’t want to go anywhere. I second guess everything I do. It’s affected my life in a major way. In every way. All because of lies,” Moss testified during a Jan. 6 committee hearing.
Keyes Fleming said those types of details could personalize the case and be compelling for jurors.
“Many jurors can see themselves as that ordinary citizen who’s just trying to support voting rights or trying to volunteer for the greater good in some way, shape or form. And then … they find themselves in the crosshairs of vitriolic lies and attempts to undermine their credibility,” she said.
“In my experience, testimony like that can be persuasive.”
Freeman and Moss have sued Giuliani themselves for defamation over his election fraud claims, which a series of probes led by three law enforcement agencies found “were false and unsubstantiated.”
Giuliani wrote in court filings he will “not contest” that his statements were “false” and “carry meaning that is defamatory” but maintained that they were “constitutionally protected.”
But Keyes Fleming said there’s another important distinction about having the false statements about Freeman addressed in a criminal case versus a civil defamation suit where the two women could receive monetary damages.
“It’s not about reimbursement …. It’s more about punishment for a crime that’s consistent with the level of accountability for a particular act,” she said.
Though Trump’s efforts to subvert Georgia’s election results ultimately failed, the indictment makes clear his and his allies’ alleged actions were “not a victimless crime at all,” Segall said.
“Bringing in Ruby Freeman and her daughter shows a very human cost to what these people were doing,” he said.