‘No rash decision’ | Judge deciding whether Trump grand jury report will be made public
Atlanta News First has joined media organizations from Georgia, and across the country, to request the public release of the grand jury’s final report
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Whether the results of a grand jury’s investigations into allegations that then-President Donald Trump tampered with Georgia’s 2020 election results will be made public was the subject of a Tuesday court hearing.
Atlanta News First has joined media organizations from Georgia, and across the country, to request the public release of the grand jury’s final report. The grand jury itself, according to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, had recommended its report be made public.
But Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appealed to McBurney the report not be released to ensure “all future defendants be treated fairly” and that decisions on indictments “are imminent.”
“At this time, in the interest of justice and the rights of not the state, but others, we are asking that the report not be released,” she said.
The grand jury handed its report to Willis earlier this month. Willis and her team said it would be “dangerous” to release the report prematurely.
“We think immediately releasing before the district attorney has even had an opportunity to address publicly whether there will be charges are not, because there’s not been a meaningful enough amount of time to assess it, is dangerous,” said Donald Wakeford, Chief Senior District Attorney.
Willis said the grand jury heard from 75 witnesses. While her office claimed protecting future defendants’ rights constitutes secrecy, media interveners argued the report has enormous public interest and the law requires its release.
“The discomfort of the prosecuting authority in disclosing court records isn’t enough to make them sealed. It has to be significant, identifiable evidence that is going to cause a problem,” said Thomas Clyde, the attorney representing news outlets. “The faith of the public in the court system is much improved by operating in a public way.”
Anthony Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University thought the judge was “somewhat skeptical” of the prosecutor’s arguments. He believes Georgia law is clear that the report is a public document.
“These folks have done this investigation in our, the public name, and they might have information that’s not just critical to understanding what happened but might be essential to creating public policy to prevent the undermining or overturning of a democratic election every again,” Kreis said.
McBurney said he has yet to come to a decision about sealing the report.
“There will be no rash decisions,” he said.
Tuesday’s hearing was held to determine whether all or part of the report should be released. McBurney said he would consider all of the arguments for and against releasing the report’s results now and then notify both sides when he’d made his decision.
“There will be no rash decisions,” McBurney said.
The report, which was finalized on Jan. 9, was the result of an eight-month investigation into possible interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.
Several high profile current and former members of the state and federal government testified privately with their accounts of what happened during Georgia’s 2020 election process, which included allegations of election fraud - and most notably then-President Donald Trump - calling Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to find enough votes to reverse his election defeat.
“On the morning of Wednesday, November 4, 2020 – the day after Georgia citizens had finished casting their votes in the 2020 Presidential Election – the focus of the nation turned to Georgia,” the brief’s introduction said. “As poll workers continued to tabulate votes, it became clear that, by the narrowest margins, the voting results in Georgia and a small group of other states would determine the outcome of the Presidential election. In the days and weeks that followed, enormous controversy and confusion descended on the State.
“Without credible evidence, an array of public officials, paid advocates, and private citizens spread allegations that voting fraud had been rampant in Georgia. The claims of fraud were aimed with particular force at Fulton County where, for example, routine video of vote counting at a tabulating center was mischaracterized as illegal ballot stuffing using a ‘suitcase’ of fake ballots.
“As pressure mounted in the weeks that followed, then-sitting President Donald J. Trump made a recorded telephone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State asking for the assistance of the Secretary’s Office to “find” more than 11,000 votes. These and many other events from the post-election time-period have raised serious questions about whether the State’s election system was subjected to a premeditated attempt to distort the results of the Presidential election.
“This question has been one of enormous public interest not just to Georgians, but also to citizens throughout the United States. The scale and scope of news organizations filing this brief reflect the profound public interest in this issue.”
Trump has accused Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of conducting a “strictly political witch hunt” as she pursues an investigation into alleged election interfering in the 2020 presidential vote count.
Last year, Willis opened a criminal investigation “into attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia General Election.” A special grand jury with subpoena power was seated in May at her request. In court filings last month, she alleged “a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Trump also has defended his now-famous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger a few days after the last presidential election.
Back in June, Raffensperger told a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that Trump’s claims of 2020 election fraud “were false.”
Georgia’s secretary of state, along with Gabriel Sterling, the office’s chief operating officer, appeared before the Democrat-led House Select Committee when the commission resumed its round of nationally televised public hearings.
Raffensperger told the committee the Nov. 6, 2020, election went “remarkably smooth,” with average ballot-casting wait times between two to three minutes statewide.
“I felt we had a successful election,” Raffensperger said.
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