Atlanta D.A. Wants Grand Jury Findings Kept Private in Trump Inquiry
The prosecutor asked that a report on efforts to overturn former President Donald J. Trump’s election loss not be released, saying that she was “mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights.”
By Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim
Hakim and Fausset, who is based in Atlanta, have been covering the investigation into election interference in Georgia since it began two years ago. They welcome information through nytimes.com/tips.
Fani T. Willis, the local prosecutor overseeing the investigation into efforts by former President Donald J. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, asked a judge in Atlanta on Tuesday not to make public the findings of a special grand jury that heard months of testimony in the case, saying that she was “mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights.”
In a two-hour hearing before Judge Robert C.I. McBurney of Fulton County Superior Court, Ms. Willis argued that disclosing the jury’s recently completed investigative report could complicate potential efforts to seek indictments.
“We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly,” Ms. Willis said, “and we think for future defendants to be treated fairly it is not appropriate at this time to have this report released.”
Judge McBurney said he would rule on the matter at a later date. The Trump team did not send a lawyer to the hearing, but a lawyer representing a coalition of news organizations asked Judge McBurney to make the report public.
Nearly 20 people known to have been named targets of the criminal investigation, as well as others, could face charges, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, and David Shafer, the head of the Georgia Republican Party.
Understand Georgia’s Investigation of Election Interference
An immediate legal threat to Trump. Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta area district attorney, has been investigating whether former President Donald J. Trump and his allies interfered with the 2020 election in Georgia. The case could be one of the most perilous legal problems for Mr. Trump. Here’s what to know:
Looking for votes. Prosecutors in Georgia opened their investigation in February 2021, just weeks after Mr. Trump made a phone call to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, and urged him to “find” enough votes to overturn the results of the election there.
What are prosecutors looking at? In addition to Mr. Trump’s call to Mr. Raffensperger, Ms. Willis has homed in on a plot by Trump allies to send fake Georgia electors to Washington and misstatements about the election results made before the state legislature by Rudolph W. Giuliani, who spearheaded efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power as his personal lawyer. An election data breach in Coffee County, Ga., is also part of the investigation.
Who is under scrutiny? Mr. Giuliani has been told that he is a target of the investigation, and prosecutors have warned some state officials and pro-Trump “alternate electors” that they could be indicted. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has been fighting efforts to force him to appear before a grand jury.
The potential charges. Experts say that Ms. Willis appears to be building a case that could target multiple defendants with charges of conspiracy to commit election fraud or racketeering-related charges for engaging in a coordinated scheme to undermine the election.
In a statement this week, Mr. Trump’s legal team noted that “the grand jury compelled the testimony of dozens of other, often high-ranking, officials during the investigation, but never found it important to speak with the President.”
“He was never subpoenaed nor asked to come in voluntarily by this grand jury or anyone in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office,” the statement said. “Therefore, we can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump.”
Lawyers representing 15 media organizations, including the publishers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as well as CNN and Gannett, have said there is no reason for keeping any of the report private.
“The scale and scope of news organizations filing this brief reflect the profound public interest in this issue,” lawyers representing the companies said in a motion filed this week.
Ms. Willis’s office argued in court Tuesday that the report should be kept under wraps until after she had made her own decisions about who should be charged.
Judge McBurney pushed back, noting that grand jury secrecy rules in Georgia are not as strict as federal rules. He asked on what grounds he could order grand jurors who had finished their work to stay quiet.
He also noted that the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol covered much of the same ground, and did so in public.
“I don’t know that you’ve pointed to any law that says the final report must not be disclosed,” the judge told Ms. Willis’s team. “A parallel process happened in Washington, D.C., and the world kept spinning.”
As a legal matter, the rules governing the disclosure of the report are not particularly clear-cut, in part because special grand juries are a relative rarity in Georgia.
“There’s nothing traditional about this report or this process,” the judge said Tuesday.
Because they can meet for a longer period than a regular grand jury, special grand juries are typically convened by a court system in order to investigate an area of concern in detail. The grand jury looking into Mr. Trump and his associates was empaneled in May, and disbanded earlier this month.
And although special grand juries have the power to issue subpoenas for documents and testimony, they cannot issue indictments. Rather, they are tasked with issuing a final report that can be used by prosecutors to seek indictments from a regular grand jury. The report concluded months of private testimony from dozens of Trump allies, state officials and other witnesses.
After the court hearing, Ms. Willis declined to comment.