by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
January 23, 2023
You could get your first glimpse soon into what a Fulton County special grand jury heard behind closed doors as it investigated efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to interfere in the results of the 2020 election.
The calls by several media groups for an immediate release of the grand jury’s findings into the lengthy investigation are set to come to a head at a hearing on Tuesday before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney.
Dozens of witnesses have testified in the Atlanta courthouse since last summer, including top state officials and close supporters and aides of the former president and dominant leader of the Republican party.
Legal experts predict that details of the grand jury’s report will begin trickling out depending on when criminal charges are filed, but that under state law some details may be kept from the public as the investigation continues.
McBurney, who oversaw the special investigation, has discretion over what information is revealed. However, don’t expect the full report to come out next week, said J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County District Attorney and criminal law professor at Western Carolina University.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ special grand jury was appointed last year to investigate whether Trump’s team interfered with Georgia’s 2020 presidential election that Trump lost to President Joe Biden by fewer than 12,000 votes.
“The judge will put some fire behind the district attorney and say, I’m going to order that this report be released in its entirety on such and such a date and portions of it may be released next week and you need to judge yourself accordingly,” Morgan said. “This report puts the D.A. in a quandary because the report says there have been certain crimes and certain persons should be prosecuted and if she doesn’t prosecute, it’s going to come back to bite her.”
In a press briefing on Friday, Morgan joined the Defend Democracy Project to discuss the Fulton case, which could deliver explosive national aftershocks, including the first-ever criminal indictment of a former president. Trump says he intends to run again in 2024.
Willis’ investigation was boosted by the January 2021 public release of a recorded phone call in which Trump pressed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough ballots to overcome Biden’s victory.
In the court circuit, a special investigative grand jury is appointed by a majority of the judges. Special investigative grand juries can recommend to the district attorney whether the crimes might have been committed based on the evidence.
Before a district attorney can even subpoena witnesses in a regular case, the case must be indicted before a regular grand jury.
Former U.S. Ambassador Norman Eisen, legal scholar and counsel in the first impeachment trial of Trump, said Fulton prosecutors may want to redact the names of key witnesses who could face threats. The timing of the details becoming public may hinge on when any indictments are handed down.
“The strong possibility is that Donald Trump and his co-conspirators have been recommended for criminal charges under multiple Georgia statutes for their attempted coup and assault on the 2020 election results,” Eisen said.
“While the great likelihood is that we’re going to see a recommendation of charges here, you just never know,” Eisen said. “The proof of the pudding is in the edict.”
Eisen was one of the authors of a Brookings Institute report that said Trump appears to be at substantial risk of prosecution in Georgia for several criminal charges that could include solicitation and conspiracy to commit election fraud and interfering in elections.
The Brookings report asserted that Trump and his cohorts, including 16 Georgia false electors, might have committed other crimes, including making false statements, improper influence on government officials, and forging documents.
Among the witnesses who testified during the months-long grand jury probe were Raffensperger, Trump’s ex-chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump’s former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer.
Eisen said that the Fulton probe along with a separate U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the attempted coup are tipping points in American justice.
The U.S. House Jan. 6 select committee report alleges obstruction of probable cause findings regarding Trump. The Department of Justice has been referred to investigate and possibly prosecute Trump over his attempts to overturn his election results.
“It’s vitally important for the future of our democracy, that there be accountability for this very serious misconduct by Donald Trump and others who attempt to overthrow the legitimate outcome of election results,” Eisen said. “Because I believe this special grand jury report likely reflects that. I think it will be an important document in the history and in the future of American democracy.”
Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: email@example.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.