Politics

Georgia DA asks judge to delay release of grand jury report on whether Trump should be charged with crimes

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis at a hearing Tuesday in Atlanta to determine whether the final report of a special grand jury investigating possible interference in the 2020 presidential election can be released. (John Bazemore/AP)

Saying “decisions are imminent” in one of the most talked-about criminal investigations in the country, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Wednesday asked a Georgia judge to temporarily delay the release of a special grand jury report on Donald Trump’s efforts to to overturn the 2020 presidential election to protect the rights of potential defendants in the case.

Willis’ comments were the strongest indication yet that she is close to announcing whether she will pursue criminal charges against the former president and potentially more allies who helped him in his effort to overturn Georgia’s 16 electoral votes.

“The state understands the media investigation and the world’s interest,” Willis told Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney during a hearing on whether to release the report from the special grand jury.

“But we must be mindful of protecting the rights of future accused,” she added. “I don’t think there’s any way the court would be able to guarantee that if that report is released, the argument can be made that it affects the rights of later people who want to have a fair trial.”

Willis and one of her deputies, Donald Wakeford, made it clear that their request to keep the report sealed was only for a relatively short period of time while she completes what was described several times as an “ongoing investigation” of her office.

But McBurney appeared to be looking for ways to release at least some parts of the highly anticipated report, noting that Georgia law only required special grand jury proceedings to be kept secret, not the reports they write after they have finished their work.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. (John Bazemore/AP)

“The grand jurors shouldn’t be talking about their deliberations, but when they’re done, what pops out of the toaster — instead of an indictment — is a final report,” McBurney said at one point. “I don’t see how it’s secret based on the legal framework that we’re working in.”

Moreover, the judge noted, the grand jurors themselves recommended that their report be made public. But he also made it clear that his inclination to reveal at least some parts of the document was “not dispositive.” At the end of the 90-minute hearing, he said, “it’s not simple” and that he will “think about this a little bit” and then notify Willis’ office and lawyers for a coalition of media organizations that called for public disclosure of the entire document before he issues a final order. (Yahoo News is among a number of media organizations, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, that are members of the media coalition.)

Willis’ first announced his investigation two years ago following the publication of the January 2, 2021, phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to “find” just enough votes to unseat the president Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state and appeared to threaten criminal sanctions if he didn’t.

Since then, her investigation has expanded to include other efforts by Trump and his allies to change the outcome of the Georgia election. Among the issues under investigation, sources have said, is Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani making false allegations to a Georgia legislative committee about alleged election fraud in Fulton County and the appointment of so-called “fake voters” who are promised to Trump, himself whether the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, had officially certified Biden voters from the state.

But Willis, who took over an office with thousands of unindicted cases in January 2021, was initially slow in his investigation and only last year asked a special grand jury to look into the case. Such special juries are relatively rare in Georgia, and while they have the power to subpoena witnesses and hear testimony, they do not have the power to issue indictments.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis argues against the release of the final report of a special grand jury investigating possible interference in the 2020 presidential election Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Atlanta.  (John Bazemore/AP)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis argues against the release of the final report of a special grand jury investigating possible interference in the 2020 presidential election Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

After receiving the report and its recommendations on whether to pursue criminal charges, Willis now has the momentous decision of whether to seek indictments from a regular grand jury.

Sources familiar with the matter say she is likely to make that decision by May. That could well come before any final decisions by Attorney General Merrick Garland on whether to indict Trump on the two counts being investigated by special counsel Jack Smith — the former president’s refusal to hand over classified documents found at this home in Mar-A -Lago and his role in the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The report has been particularly anticipated because the Fulton County grand jury heard from several witnesses, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., who did not testify before the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 6. selected committee.

In all, McBurney revealed, 75 witnesses appeared before the special jury during his seven-month investigation, which began last May and lasted until the end of the year. But that was all McBurney revealed about the report, which was delivered to him and Willis’ office several weeks ago.

One question hanging over the proceedings was whether the release of the report would damage the reputations of people who might, or might not, eventually be accused of crimes by Willis. But Tom Clyde, an attorney representing the media organizations, said that under Georgia law, that consideration should not be a sufficient factor to prevent the release of an official court document.

Attorney Tom Clyde argues for the release of the final report of a special grand jury investigating possible interference in the 2020 presidential election Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Atlanta.  (John Bazemore/AP)

Attorney Tom Clyde argues for the release of the final report of a special grand jury investigating possible interference in the 2020 presidential election Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

“A blanket statement that people’s reputations might be hurt is not enough,” he said. “We’re talking about one of the most compelling situations of legitimate public interest that I can think of in this courthouse. “There is genuine public interest in what these grand jurors found. They are citizens and speak to these issues from that point of view as well.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button