ATLANTA (AP) — A judge will hear arguments Tuesday over whether to release a report from a special grand jury tasked with investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies broke laws when they tried to reverse his narrow 2020 election loss in Georgia.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney will hear arguments from prosecutors, news outlets and possibly other parties before making a decision on whether to release the report. The special grand jury, overseen by McBurney, recommended that the report be made public.
The report is expected to include recommendations for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on a possible prosecution, although it’s unclear how specific those recommendations will be. The special grand jury had no authority to bring indictments, and it will ultimately be up to Willis whether to bring indictments from a regular grand jury.
If McBurney decides to distribute the report, he must also determine whether parts of it should be redacted and whether the report should be published now or later. How soon he will rule is unclear.
The probe is one of several threatening potential legal ramifications for the former president as he seeks re-election in 2024. Over a period of about seven months, the special grand jury heard dozens of witnesses, including high-profile Trump allies, including South Carolina Attorney Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Lindsey Graham, and senior Georgia officials, such as Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp.
Willis began investigating shortly after a recording of a January 2021 phone call between Trump and Raffensperger was released. In that appeal, the President suggested that the state’s top election official, a fellow Republican, could “find” the votes needed to make up for his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, that’s one more than we have,” Trump said. “Because we won the state.”
A coalition of news organizations including The Associated Press called for the report to be released in full, saying in a filing Monday that the document is “a court record subject to the presumption of openness,” under state court rules as well state and federal constitutions. The media group said the public interest in the report was “extraordinary” and that there were “no opposing interests sufficient to disprove the presumption”.
Willis had not filed a brief as of Monday setting out whether the report should be made public.
Trump’s legal team in Georgia said in a statement that they have no intention of attending or attending the hearing.
“We have never been part of this process before,” wrote Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little, noting that the former president was never subpoenaed or asked to come voluntarily as part of the investigation.
“Therefore, we can assume that the grand jury did its job, looking at the facts and the law, as we did, and concluded that President Trump did not violate the law,” they wrote.
The order, which granted Willis’ request for a special grand jury, authorized the panel “to make prosecution recommendations in its sole discretion.”
A grand jury handbook issued by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia states that courts have repeatedly held that a grand jury “shall not include comments in any report or general presentation charging identifiable persons with wrongdoing or… be blamed”. This is only possible in an indictment document, such as an indictment, the manual says.
“I don’t think you can charge anyone specifically with committing a crime, so it has to be a general recommendation” on whether the district attorney should continue the investigation, said Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the prosecutor’s advisory board.
If the special grand jury recommended indicting specific individuals, Skandalakis believes this would need to be redacted before the report can be released.
While the work of the special grand jury took place in secret, as required by law, relevant public court filings gave a glimpse of the investigative strands being pursued. These included:
– Phone calls from Trump and others to Georgia officials after the 2020 election.
– A group of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate in December 2020 that falsely said Trump had won the state and that they were the state’s “duly elected and qualified” voters.
– False allegations of voter fraud made during state legislature meetings in the Georgia Capitol in December 2020.
– The copying of voting machine data and software in rural Coffee County by a computer forensics team hired by Trump allies.
– Alleged attempts to pressure Fulton County Election Worker Ruby Freeman into falsely admitting to voter fraud.
— The abrupt resignation of the US attorney in Atlanta in January 2021.