Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis suggested Tuesday that the special grand jury investigating Donald Trump and his allies’ efforts to upend the 2020 election in Georgia has recommended multiple indictments and said that her decision on whether to bring charges is “imminent.”
At a hearing in Atlanta on whether to publicly release the special grand jury report. Willis, a Democrat, said she opposes making it public at the moment, citing her ongoing deliberations on charges.
“Decisions are imminent,” Willis told Judge Robert McBurney.
“We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, and we think for future defendants to be treated fairly it’s not appropriate at this time to have this report released,” she said.
The special grand jury, barred from issuing indictments, penned the highly anticipated final report as a culmination of its seven months of work, which included interviewing witnesses from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The special grand jury heard from a total of 75 witnesses, Willis said Tuesday.
Its final report is likely to include some summary of the panel’s investigative work, as well as any recommendations for indictments and the alleged conduct that led the panel to its conclusions.
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Donald Wakeford, Fulton County’s chief senior assistant district attorney, also argued to the judge that it would be “dangerous” to release the report before any announcement related to possible charges is made.
“We think immediately releasing before the district attorney has even had an opportunity to address publicly whether there will be charges or not – because there has not been a meaningful enough amount of time to assess it – is dangerous,” Wakeford said. “It’s dangerous to the people who may or may not be named in the report for various reasons. It’s also a disservice to the witnesses who came to the grand jury and spoke the truth to the grand jury.”
Atlanta-area prosecutors are already poring over the report as they weigh whether to bring charges against Trump or his associates.
McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury’s roughly seven-month investigation, will decide whether the report should be released publicly and, if so, how much of it. While the panel of grand jurors recommended its report be made public, so far, the contents have been closely held.
A media coalition, which includes CNN, is seeking for the full report to be made public.
“We believe the report should be released now and in its entirety. And that approach is consistent with the way the American judicial system operates,” attorney Tom Clyde, representing the coalition, argued. “In other words, it is not unusual for a district attorney or a prosecuting authority to be generally uncomfortable with having to release information during the progress of the case. That occurs all the time.”
At the close of the nearly two-hour hearing, McBurney emphasized the unique nature of the issue, saying, “I think the fact that we had to discuss this for 90 minutes shows that it is somewhat extraordinary.”
“There’ll be no rash decisions” he said, adding later: “No one’s going to wake up with the court having disclosed the report on the front page of a newspaper.”
McBurney will have to weigh the public’s interest in learning about efforts to interfere in the last presidential election against concerns that making the information public could hinder an ongoing investigation if the district attorney is pursuing indictments and that the release could disparage individuals who have not been charged with crimes, said Peter Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.
“What you don’t want is an opportunity for a grand jury to make some allegation of criminal conduct that later on either can’t be proven or is unsubstantiated and the person hasn’t had a chance to clear his or her name,” Skandalakis said.
Attorneys for Trump did not participate in Tuesday’s hearing.
“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,” Trump attorneys Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little said in a statement. “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.”
The Georgia probe began soon after Trump phoned Raffensperger in January 2021, pressing the secretary of state to “find” the votes necessary for Trump to win the state. He lost the state to Joe Biden by nearly 12,000 votes.
“Our vote is as important as anyone else,” Willis told CNN in a 2022 interview. “If someone takes that away or violates it in a way that is criminal, because I sit here in this jurisdiction it’s my responsibility.”
Willis requested a special grand jury to investigate the case and the panel began its work in June 2022, calling a roster of witnesses that included Raffensperger, Giuilani, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Over time, the investigation has expanded well beyond the Trump call to include false claims of election fraud to state lawmakers, the fake elector scheme, efforts by unauthorized individuals to access voting machines in one Georgia county and threats and harassment against election workers.
Along the way, Willis has designated a number of people as targets of her probe, including 16 Republicans who served as pro-Trump electors in 2020 and Giuliani.
But how much of that makes it into the final report was up to the special grand jurors.
“It’s important for people to know that the prosecutor’s office does not write the presentment, traditionally,” said Robert James, who used a special grand jury to investigate local corruption when he was district attorney in Georgia’s DeKalb County. “It literally is the will of the people.”
Now that Willis has the special grand jury’s report, it’s up to her to decide whether to go to a regular grand jury to pursue indictments. She’s not required to follow the exact recommendations laid out by the special grand jury, but its work product is likely to eventually become public and she could risk backlash if she runs too far afield of the panel’s suggestions.
Willis has previously said she could pursue Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges in this case, which would allow prosecutors to bring charges against multiple defendants and make the case that Trump and his allies were part of a criminal enterprise.
Whatever her approach, she’s likely to face pressure to move expeditiously with indictments or close her investigation.
The level of pressure is “all encompassing,” said James, who predicted Willis would marshal her resources and get her case trial-ready before she seeks any indictments.
“The spotlight is hot,” James said. “You can’t afford to lose a case like this, right?”
Prior special grand jury reports have laid out a narrative of the panel’s investigation and concluded with recommendations.
The 2013 special grand jury James worked with issued a roughly 80-page report, but it was only released publicly after a months-long court fight.
The DeKalb County panel’s investigative summary referenced testimony and documents provided to the grand jury. Tacked on to the end of the report was a list of all the witnesses who appeared. The grand jurors ultimately referred one person for indictment – who fought the report’s public release – and nearly a dozen others for further investigation, laying out the infractions in each case that led them to their conclusions. They also recommended a variety of government reforms.
A 2010 report from a special grand jury in Gwinnett County summarized its investigative activity surrounding local land acquisition deals and indicted one public official, though the indictment was later overturned when a court ruled that special grand juries could not issue indictments.
For McBurney, there are only a few special grand jury examples to guide his decision-making on the report’s handling.
“Like everyone else I’m sitting around eating popcorn waiting to see what he’s going to release and what he’s not going to release,” said Robert James, who used a special grand jury to investigate local corruption when he was district attorney in Georgia’s DeKalb County.
This story has been updated with additional details.