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Decisions on charges in Trump election case 'imminent,' Georgia prosecutor says

By Joseph Ax

Jan 24 (Reuters) - A Georgia prosecutor investigating Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his defeat in the state's 2020 presidential election told a judge on Tuesday that decisions on whether to bring criminal charges are "imminent."

Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, spoke at a hearing on whether to release a special grand jury's report on its findings. She urged county Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney to keep the report sealed for now, warning that future defendants could argue that releasing the document publicly hurt their right to have a fair trial, among other rights.

"We are asking that the report not be released, because - you having seen that report - decisions are imminent," Willis said.

It is not clear whether the special grand jury's findings will lead to criminal charges against Trump or anyone else for election interference. Willis, an elected Democrat, will ultimately decide whether to make Trump the first former U.S. president to face criminal prosecution.

Members of the special grand jury voted to recommend the public release of their findings. Lawyers for a coalition of media organizations, including news networks and major newspapers, argued that the report should be published in part due to the overwhelming public interest in the case.

The panel was convened last year at Willis' request to aid in her investigation of the Trump campaign's actions following the 2020 election.

During his final weeks in the White House, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to "find" more votes to overturn the Republican's loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Days later, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse Biden's victory.

Trump's lawyers did not attend the hearing. In a statement on Monday, his Georgia-based legal team said the grand jury never subpoenaed Trump or asked him to appear voluntarily.

"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," attorneys Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little said.

The special grand jury had subpoena power to gather evidence and compel witness testimony but did not have the authority to issue indictments. If Willis determines that charges are warranted based on the findings, she could seek indictments from a regular grand jury.

Jurors heard testimony from 75 witnesses, including state officials such as Governor Brian Kemp and Raffensperger as well as Trump advisers such as U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and attorney Rudy Giuliani. Many witnesses unsuccessfully sought to quash their subpoenas.

In addition to Trump's January 2021 phone call, the investigation has examined a scheme to appoint an alternate slate of presidential electors in an effort to award Georgia's electoral votes to Trump, rather than Biden, ahead of Congress's certification of the results on Jan. 6, 2021.

In a series of posts on his social media site Truth Social on Tuesday, Trump defended the phone call as "perfect" and repeated his false claim that the Georgia election was stolen.

The Georgia investigation is among several civil and criminal probes threatening Trump, his family and his associates.

A special counsel is overseeing U.S. Justice Department investigations into Trump's actions to alter the outcome of the 2020 election and his retention of classified materials after leaving the White House in 2021.

Trump's real estate business, the Trump Organization, was convicted in New York court in December of tax fraud. The state's Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, has sued Trump, his company and his children, accusing them of lying to banks and insurers about the value of their assets. The Manhattan district attorney's office is pursuing its own criminal investigation into Trump's business.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis