Anticipation ahead of partial release of Trump special grand jury report

The investigation itself began over a year ago and stemmed from alleged efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results not long after they were finalized.
Court releasing special grand jury report
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 9:17 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2023 at 8:32 AM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A highly anticipated special grand jury report reviewing attempts to influence Georgia’s 2020 election results is scheduled for release on Thursday, but not the entire report.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney released an eight-page order on Monday revealing his intentions to keep certain parts of the report secret, including the special grand jury’s recommendations that could steer Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis towards charges against some high-profile officials and politicians, including former president Donald Trump.

One constitutional law professor suggested the released sections will lack any major bombshell allegations or incriminating facts.

“We won’t get hard fast evidence. We’re not going to get names. A lot of the anticipation that people might think would come with this report, they’re not going to get tomorrow. They’re going to have to wait days and weeks for that,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, Constitutional Law Professor at Georgia State University.

What could also water down the report are redactions in the sections that are released.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for DA Willis’ Office said they expect “a significant portion of the report will be redacted.”

In terms of when criminal charges could be handed down, DA Willis said those potential charges are “imminent”, while clarifying that they are “legally imminent, not reporter imminent,” suggesting a slightly longer timeline.

The investigation itself began over a year ago and stemmed from alleged efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results not long after they were finalized. Joe Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes.

Weeks after the election, in a January 2, 2021, phone call that lasted a little over an hour, Trump spoke to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and called into question the legitimacy of the outcome.

Read: Full transcript of Donald Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger

“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump implored Raffensperger.

The report could be publicly released as soon as this month.

Thursday’s release will include the report’s introduction and conclusion but will redact portions that recommend charges for individuals who did and didn’t testify before grand jurors.

Kreis said it’ll be important for the public to read for subtleties from the grand jury that could suggest if they recommend criminal charges to any defendants.

“It’s all going to be about tone. There’s going to be a lot of speculation and reading between the lines and that’s not a great thing in terms of legal analysis, but it might set up the terms that DA Willis is dealing with,” said Kreis, in an interview with Atlanta News First on Wednesday.

“There was very limited due process in this process for those who might now be named as indictment worthy in the final report,” McBurney wrote in his order, citing subpoenaed witnesses’ inability to have lawyers present during questioning or to present evidence on their own behalf.

“That does not mean that the District Attorney’s investigative process was flawed or improper or in any way unconstitutional,” McBurney continued. “By all appearances, the special purpose grand jury did its work by the book. The problem here, in discussing public disclosure, is that that book’s rules do not allow for the objects of the District Attorney’s attention to be heard in the manner we require in a court of law.”

In a footnote, McBurney noted that every witness had the ability to pause proceedings and consult with their attorneys outside the grand jury room, or have their lawyers elevate concerns to the supervising judge, but that it was a “poor and insufficient proxy for the right to have counsel present in the grand jury room.”

The special grand jury report was requested by Willis and will inform her decisions on whether or not to press charges against those she felt violated the law by trying to influence the election results. McBurney, calling the probe a “one-sided exploration,” said that information is “for the District Attorney’s eyes only — for now.”

“This special purpose grand jury investigation was, appropriately, largely controlled by the District Attorney,” he wrote. “She and her team decided who would be subpoenaed, when they would appear, what questions would be asked, and what aspects of the general election would be explored.”

But McBurney indicated that the recommendations would be kept sealed to protect the due process of those named in the report.

Donald Trump and Fani Willis
Donald Trump and Fani Willis(WANF)

It’s a partial win for Willis, who agreed that witnesses’ due process should be protected but wanted the report to remain sealed in its entirety. Several media outlets, including the Associated Press and Atlanta News First, sued for the release of the full report.

In a statement issued Monday, Willis said the judge’s decision was “legally sound and consistent with my request” to protect the due process of those questioned in the probe.

It’s difficult to project the effects of the report without knowing who may or may not be indicted. Depending, the report could most certainly impact the Republican field heading into the 2024 race for the White House.

“If Donald Trump, it looks like, is going to be indicted, that might encourage others on the Republican side to say, yeah, I need to get in also,” said Dr. Charles Bullock, a political science professor with University of Georgia.

Only one other candidate besides Trump – former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley – has announced a presidential campaign on the GOP side.

“If [Trump] is named, then he will have to deal with this every time he makes appearances in the press,” said Dr. Ben Taylor, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University. “And that could, in some sense, get his campaign off to something of a rocky start.”

The case could also be a catapult for Willis’ future ambitions in politics or elsewhere. Bullock said it’s not uncommon for attorneys to use high-profile cases to garner a stronger national reputation.

It could also have implications for Georgia’s rapidly changing political landscape.

“This could also add to the competitiveness here in Georgia,” said Bullock. “If indeed there are some Republican leaders who get caught up in this – who are charged with criminal activities – that arguably would strengthen the hand of the Democratic party going forward and weaken the hand of the Republican party.”

The timing of the report’s release on Thursday still isn’t known.