Fulton judge again bats away Trump bid to derail expected grand jury indictments

Donald TrumpPresident Donald Trump poses for his official portrait at The White House, in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 6, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

August 1, 2023

A Fulton County judge has rejected former President Donald Trump’s attempt to head off any potential indictments that may soon be announced in the closely watched investigation into the attempts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump’s attorneys have filed wide-ranging motions in a push to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the probe, circumvent Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney and quash the special grand jury’s final report. 

Cathy Latham, who was a fake elector and the chair of the Coffee County Republican party who opened the local election office to Trump’s campaign team in the wake of the election, had also filed a motion joining the former president in his preemptive court maneuvering.

McBurney ruled Monday that Trump and Latham lack standing to challenge the ongoing Fulton County investigation and any potential prosecution that may come from it and rejected their attempt to disqualify Willis from any further involvement. And he batted away the attempt to quash the special grand jury’s final report as moot for now. 

“(Trump and Latham’s) asserted ‘injuries’ that would open the doors of the courthouse to their claims are either insufficient or else speculative and unrealized,” McBurney wrote in his order.

“They are insufficient because, while being the subject (or even target) of a highly publicized criminal investigation is likely an unwelcome and unpleasant experience, no court ever has held that status alone provides a basis for the courts to interfere or halt the investigation.”

McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury investigation, said Trump and Latham were acting prematurely, considering no charges have been filed at this point and the work of prosecutors – who represent the executive branch – has not yet been revealed.  

“Guessing at what that picture might look like before the investigative dots are connected may be a popular game for the media and blogosphere, but it is not a proper role for the courts and formal legal argumentation,” he wrote.

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected a similar push from Trump to block Willis in mid-July. The former president’s attorneys have also petitioned another judge to take up the matter, leading to a potential Aug. 10 hearing.

Willis has not yet announced whether charges will be filed based on the findings of the special grand jury. But she has signaled such an announcement would be made in the first half of August. 

Bright orange security barriers went up around the downtown Atlanta courthouse last week.

“The work is accomplished,” Willis told 11Alive News this weekend. “We’ve been working for two-and-a-half years. We’re ready to go.”

The Fulton County investigation spawned from a recorded phone call in early 2021 where Trump can be heard pushing Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes.” Trump narrowly lost Georgia to President Joe Biden.

The long-awaited announcement in Georgia comes as Trump has also said he is a target of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal investigation, indicating another indictment of the former president is likely over his role in encouraging the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Willis told WABE over the weekend that the two investigations have not coordinated.

“I don’t know what Jack Smith is doing and Jack Smith doesn’t know what I’m doing,” she told WABE in a Saturday interview. “In all honesty, if Jack Smith was standing next to me, I’m not sure I would know who he was. My guess is he probably can’t pronounce my name correctly.”

Any charges from the two pending investigations would add to Trump’s legal woes as he attempts a White House comeback bid. Trump has maintained his innocence.

A New York state grand jury alleged in April that Trump falsified business records and used campaign cash to cover up an affair with an adult film actress, and a federal grand jury indicted him in June on charges he mishandled classified material when he left office. 

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