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Georgia DA says Trump charging decision is imminent as Judge considers request to keep report secret

By Sarah May
|
January 25, 2023

As an investigation into former President Donald Trump's conduct in the aftermath of the 2020 election continues in Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has asked Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney to keep a grand jury report on the matter sealed, pending “imminent” indictment decisions, as The Hill reports.

The probe itself was spurred by a telephone call made by Trump to Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in advance of the Jan. 6, 2020 Capitol unrest, asking whether he could “find” the 11,780 votes needed for the then-president to win the state in the hotly contested election.

Battle over report

As The Hill notes, the jurors responsible for the report have already declared their belief that it should be disseminated to the public, but it is ultimately McBurney – who heard arguments in the matter this week – who will make that decision as well as a determination of whether redactions might be needed before widespread release.

Willis, however, has argued that release of the report – at least at this time – should not occur because it has the potential to impair the right of certain defendants to receive 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 opined, adding, “[charging] decisions are imminent.”

The crux of the issue appeared to be whether the jury's report constitutes a “presentment” under state law governing special grand juries, and if it does, McBurney would have no discretion in the matter, and the report would have to be released at the jurors' instructions.

Media urges release

As Politico explained, despite Willis' insistence that the report remain sealed for the time being, representatives of a number of media outlets took part in the hearing and argued that the jurors' preference for releasing it ought to win the day.

Attorney Thomas Clyde spoke on behalf of several such entities, and said simply, “We believe the report should be released now and in its entirety,” and, while acknowledging the routine discomfort prosecutors tend to have when it comes to releasing information earlier than they would like, added, “the faith of the public in the court system is much improved by operating in a public way.”

In support of that contention, Clyde said that findings produced during the course of criminal probes are frequently released to the public, even if those investigations and grand jury processes are ongoing.

Though McBurney commented that a great deal of information pertaining to the Fulton County probe had already emerged via the House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, and that fact had not scuttled Willis' work, he did not make an immediate decision and said he needed time to deliberate further.

“Perfect phone call”

Though it is not the only area of inquiry covered by Willis' probe, the district attorney's investigation has focused significant effort on reviewing the controversial aforementioned all between Trump and Raffensperger, as The Hill noted.

After Willis made public remarks last fall suggesting that multiple people could end up facing prison time as a result of her findings, Trump issued a statement blasting the investigation and defending his actions in the aftermath of the election, as The Hill reported separately.

Speaking to the issue through his Save America PAC, Trump slammed Willis for “spending almost all of her waking hours, which aren't many, on attempting to prosecute a very popular president, Donald J. Trump,” adding that she “is basing her potential claims on trying to find a tiny word or phrase (that isn't there) during an absolutely PERFECT phone call, concerning widespread Election Fraud in Georgia.”

Trump further contended that participants in the conversation at issue “had no problems with the call and didn't voice any objections or complaints about anything that I said on the call which could be construed as inappropriate,” though Raffensperger ultimately declined to assist Trump with his request to search for additional votes.

Multiple targets

Though Trump's call with Raffensperger has perhaps garnered the most attention in the context of Willis' probe, reports have suggested that there are number of other avenues that could result in prosecution, not just of the former president, but of others accused of trying to overturn the election results in Georgia.

Among those rumored to be in potential legal jeopardy are 16 Republicans who convened at the state Capitol on Dec. 14 of 2020 to explore the possibility of sending alternative electors to falsely certify the race for Trump.

Furthermore, filings made during the course of the case suggest that the probe also covers the circumstances surrounding the sudden resignation of a then-U.S. Attorney in Georgia, which followed his determination that, contrary to claims from Trump adviser Rudy Guiliani and others, there were not “suitcases” full of uncounted or mishandled ballots that could have altered the outcome of the election.

Though it remains to be seen what Judge McBurney will ultimately decide to do with the report, he indicated on Tuesday that if he does rule in favor of release, he will issue an order in advance specifying the future date on which public dissemination will occur.