Georgia DA notes ‘imminent’ charging decisions in seeking to shield grand jury report
A Georgia prosecutor investigating whether former President Trump and his allies broke any laws as they sought to influence the outcome of the 2020 election has asked a judge to keep sealed a grand jury report detailing the probe, saying charging decisions for multiple people “are imminent.”
The probe, led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D), comes in response to Trump’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) shortly before Jan. 6, 2021, asking him to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.”
The report is expected to include recommendations to Willis on whether to charge Trump and others involved in numerous actions, including a plot to send so-called alternate electors for the state, which President Biden won.
Jurors involved in crafting the report have previously determined it should be released to the public, but the final decision over whether to do so rests with Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who will weigh whether to do so and if any redactions are necessary to disclose the document.
Willis cautioned the court against imminently releasing the report, saying it could impact the right of numerous defendants to have a fair trial.
“We have to be mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights. And so what the state does not want to see happen — and don’t think that there’s any way that the court would be able to guarantee — is that if that report was released, there somehow could be arguments made that it impacts the right for later individuals — multiple — to get a fair trial, to have a fair hearing, to be able to be tried in this jurisdiction,” Willis said at the outset of the hearing.
“Decisions are imminent,” she added.
Much of the hearing centered on whether the report qualifies as a “presentment” under Georgia’s complex laws dealing with special grand juries. If so, McBurney would be required to follow the recommendation of the jurors and release it.
McBurney did not make an immediate ruling from the bench, and said he expected to send additional questions to lawyers for both the state and the media, which on Tuesday argued in favor of releasing the documents.
The special grand jury, which was dissolved on Jan. 9, reviewed a number of actions in the state beyond the now-infamous phone call and included appearances — many under court order — from numerous Trump allies.
Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, his then-attorney Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) all appeared before the jury.
Willis revealed a new detail in her opening remarks, noting that the grand jury heard in total from 75 witnesses.
Many view the probe as one of the most plausible paths for a prosecution of Trump.
A November prosecution memo prepared through the Brookings Institution found numerous state and federal statutes that may have been violated through the attempts to reverse the election results.
Attorneys for Trump said Monday they would not be present at the hearing, noting that the former president was never subpoenaed or asked to voluntarily appear before the grand jury.
“We can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump,” attorneys Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little said in a joint statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
However, 16 Republicans who met at the Georgia Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, as part of the plot to falsely certify the election for Trump have been informed they are targets of the investigation and could face criminal charges.
Unofficial hearings led by Giuliani with state legislators reviewing baseless claims of fraud were also reviewed, and Giuliani has likewise been informed he may face prosecution.
Court filings also detail other areas of interest, including the abrupt resignation of B.J. Pak, then a U.S. attorney in the state, after he determined there was no substance to claims by Giuliani that there were “suitcases” full of ballots that were being mishandled by election workers.
Donald Wakeford, a deputy to Willis, noted the district attorney’s office has had little more than a week to review the report and determine how to proceed on any charges.
“The District Attorney in its ongoing investigation has to assess what has been provided by the Special Purpose Grand Jury. … There has been no opportunity whatsoever for this office to incorporate anything in the document into an ongoing investigation in a meaningful way,” he said.
“Our position should not be understood to be a blanket opposition to release of the report forever and until the end of time,” he added later.
Tom Clyde, a lawyer arguing on behalf of numerous media outlets, said prosecutors often must tangle with the release of information while continuing their investigation and that the DA’s office failed to offer sufficient specifics about how their cases might be harmed.
“We believe the report should be released now and in its entirety,” he said.
“It is not unusual for a district attorney or a prosecuting authority to be generally uncomfortable with having to release information during the progress of a case. That occurs all the time,” he argued, adding that judges have often mandated the release of information “because the faith of the public in the court system is much improved by operating in a public way.”
McBurney said any eventual decision to release the documents would be first announced through an order giving a future date for the release of the report.
He noted there were “precious few” prior cases on similar matters, and that while some reports had been released, “that doesn’t mean that that was the right thing to do.”
“I just want to be thoughtful about it because there’s clearly great interest in the work the Special Purpose Grand Jury completed,” he said. “And we need to be responsive to what may be competing concerns of the investigative interests of the District Attorney’s Office and the public’s interest in understanding what its colleagues, the members of the Special Purpose Grand Jury, did after they heard the evidence that was presented to them.”
Updated at 2:10 p.m.