Fulton DA requests special grand jury for Trump election investigation

By: - January 21, 2022 1:00 am

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is requesting a special grand jury investigate if Donald Trump or associates broke the law by trying to overturn the 2020 election results. In a recorded January 2020 phone call, Trump pressed Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find enough votes. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is asking a special grand jury to hear evidence of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 Georgia election election results.

Willis’ request is for Fulton County superior court judges to allow the panel to be put in place on May 2 to determine if the former president and or his allies committed criminal offenses in the Georgia election that Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden by fewer than 12,000 votes.

Willis opened the investigation in February 2021 following a Jan. 2 phone in which  Trump asked the secretary of state and other election officials to “find” enough votes to change the outcome of the election.

“The district attorneys office has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the state of Georgia’s administration of elections in 2020 including the state election of the president of the United States was subject to possible criminal disruptions,” Willis wrote in a Thursday letter to the chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court.

“Our office has learned that individuals associated with these disruptions have contacted other agencies in power to investigate this matter, including the Georgia Secretary of State, the Georgia Attorney General and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, leaving this office as the sole agency with jurisdiction that is not a potential witness to conduct related to this matter.”

A majority of the Fulton Superior Court judges must agree to appoint the special grand jury, which Willis said would allow her to subpoena witnesses who have not cooperated with the investigation and give her more time to present her case.

Willis wrote in the letter that a special grand jury is better suited to handle complex matters since it focuses on one case for as long as 12 months and doesn’t handle multiple cases over a two-month period like a regular grand jury.

Clark Cunningham, a professor at Georgia State College of Law, said Watergate set the stage for a criminal investigation into the actions of a president, with the U.S. Supreme Court ordering the release of tapes that led to burglary convictions and Richard Nixon’s resignation.

As a district attorney, Willis would have more power than with Trump’s impeachment investigation or with the Congressional committee digging into the former president’s role in the deadly Jan. 6 U.S.  Capitol breach.

“The fact that this is being done by a special grand jury, convened by a criminal prosecutor, is going to give a priority to this investigation that quite possibly even Congress will not have,” Clark said.

“(Fulton prosecutors) might find someone they feel like they have a very strong case against, indict them and then attempt to negotiate with that person to take cooperation,” he said. “So the first indictment is not going to be against Donald Trump, I don’t think, but it may be against someone who in the view of the grand jury has criminal liability but also has important and useful information.” 

Danny Porter, former longtime Gwinnett County district attorney, said it’s helpful for prosecutors that a special grand jury can meet much more often a regular grand jury.

Although a special grand jury cannot issue indictments, it can recommend them if they find enough probable cause for prosecution, he said.

“She knows what she’s doing,” Porter said. “She’s given herself enough time to present the evidence at a reasonable pace. The other thing she’s doing is she is trying to get where citizens have heard the case and made a recommendation rather than rashly rush to a grand jury and drop indictments.”

Then-President Trump’s request on the call was directed at Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who declined Trump’s request, and stated on Thursday that his office is cooperating with the Fulton prosecutor’s requests and would testify if subpoenaed.

Willis wrote that Raffensperger has refused to provide evidence or to be interviewed without being subpoenaed.

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In February, Willis sent letters to Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan asking them to preserve documents and other evidence that might reveal election fraud, false statements, conspiracy theories, racketeering and other violations.

“Obviously she’s been slow-walking this,” Raffensperger said during an interview on Fox News. “She’s been in office for over year now and now she’s just finally getting to this point. I think she’s just trying to score some cheap political points with her Democrat friends.”

Trump said in statement Thursday that his conversation with Raffensperger was “a perfect call” that doesn’t warrant any further investigation.

“Although I assumed the call may have been inappropriately, and perhaps illegally, recorded, I was not informed of that,” Trump said. “I didn’t say anything wrong in the call, made while I was president on behalf of the United States of America, to look into the massive voter fraud which took place in Georgia.”

It is legal to record a call in Georgia as long as one party knows it’s being recorded.

In the aftermath of the 2020 general election, Trump and his allies repeated baseless fraud accusations and conspiracy theories even after Raffensperger and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said they found no evidence of widespread fraud. Several recounts and audits confirmed Biden’s win while the majority of lawsuits challenging the validity of the results have been dismissed or pulled by the plaintiffs. 

The former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung “BJay” Pak, said he quit after hearing rumors Trump was considering firing him due to his refusal to overturn the election results. 

In the event Willis moves forward with the Trump investigation, Porter believes she will handle it like other cases despite the national attention it’s receiving.

“This is a case that’s going to garner a lot of scrutiny and a lot of attention and already has,” he said. “And if Trump goes by any of his previous history, there’s going to be an army of lawyers and I suspect he’s not going to surrender meekly.”

Trump is also facing more legal scrutiny with a request for a New York grand jury to examine potential financial misconduct with his organization in a civil case.

Meanwhile, the Jan. 6 Congressional committee continues to subpoena witnesses to examine Trump and associates’ role in the election and rioting that followed. Wednesday, The U.S. Supreme Court allowed more than 700 documents from the presidential record to be sent to the U.S. House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the year that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened the investigation.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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