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Georgia grand jury sworn in to consider Trump charges over attempts to upend 2020 election

A new grand jury in Atlanta could consider criminal charges against the former president and his allies

Alex Woodward
Tuesday 11 July 2023 21:10 BST
Listen: Trump bullies and threatens Georgia secretary of state to ‘find 11,780 votes’

A grand jury in Georgia has been sworn in to consider charges against Donald Trump and his allies in their attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state.

The office of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has helmed the investigation into the former president and his allies for more than two years, following Mr Trump’s pressure campaign targeting state officials to reject the results.

Ms Willis began investigating Mr Trump shortly after his call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official, who was pressed to find “11,870 votes” – just enough needed for then-President Trump to beat Joe Biden in the state.

A special grand jury previously heard testimony from 75 witnesses, including aides and former attorneys to Mr Trump. That jury concluded its report in January with recommendations for state prosecutors to bring charges that will soon be reviewed by the newly impaneled grand jury.

The investigation is among several facing the former president, who is separately the subject of a US Department of Justice special counsel probe into his attempts to subvert the election.

He also faces 37 federal charges stemming from the alleged mishandling of dozens of sensitive government documents and has been criminally charged in New York City on fraud-related charges from hush-money payments to bury potentially damaging stories about his affairs in the leadup to the 2016 election.

Mr Trump has repeatedly rejected any charges and investigations against him in several jurisdictions as political “witch hunts” and has called the Democratic elected prosecutor in Atlanta, who is Black, “racist” and a “lunatic Marxist.”

He has similarly characterised prosecutors in Manhattan, where was found liable for sexual abuse, hit with a $250m lawsuit from the state attorney general, and criminally charged with more than 30 counts of falsifying business records.

Ms Willis has previously suggested that any potential charges stemming from the grand juries could come in August.

What happens now?

The new grand jury in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta and surrounding suburbs, was sworn in on 11 July.

Two jury panels selected at a courthouse in downtown Atlanta each have 26 participants. One of those panels will handle the Trump investigation.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who previously handled the special grand jury that collected evidence in the investigation, will preside.

What happened to the special grand jury?

Roughly one year into her investigation, Ms Willis took the unusual step of asking for a special grand jury to rely on its subpoena power to compel testimony from witnesses who otherwise would not be willing to talk with prosecutors.

That special grand jury was seated in May 2022 and concluded its work in January 2022.

A list of witnesses included former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, US Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Kelly Loeffler, and five members of Mr Trump’s legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and “fake elector” architect John Eastman, among several others.

In all, the grand jury heard from roughly 75 witnesses before dissolving in January.

As a judge heard arguments on 24 January whether to publicly release the grand jury’s report, Ms Willis said that a decision from her office on whether to bring criminal charges was “imminent”.

A partially released report from the special grand jury shows that jurors unanimously agreed that “no widespread fraud took place” in Georgia’s election following interviews with election officials, analysis and poll workers.

Fani Willis (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

It also includes a recommendation that prosecutors seek indictments for “one or more” witnesses who likely committed perjury, and it will ultimately be up to her office to “seek indictments where she finds sufficient cause”. The publicly released filing does not include witness names, names of people recommended for indictments, or other recommended charges.

Who could be charged in the case?

Lat year, Ms Willis’s office sent letters warning several people – including fake electors and Mr Giuliani – that they could face charges in the case.

She also may be considering a wider set of charges that Ms Willis has made a career out of bringing against dozens of others. The state’s anti-racketeering RICO statute – typically used to break up organized crime – has been used by her office in indictments against more than two dozen people connected to a sprawling Atlanta hip-hop empire, 38 alleged gang members, and 25 educators accused of cheating Atlanta’s public school system.

The RICO Act allows prosecutors to bring charges against multiple people that they believe committed separate crimes while working toward a common goal.

How common are regular grand juries?

Two grand juries are typically seated in Fulton County in each two-month term of court. They usually meet every week – one on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays. Their work takes place behind closed doors, not open to the public or to news media.

What will they do?

Georgia law requires an indictment from a grand jury to prosecute someone in most felony cases. When prosecutors present a case, they’re trying to convince the grand jurors that there is probable cause that one or more people committed crimes and to get the grand jurors to agree to bring charges against them.

For each case, prosecutors read or explain the potential indictment and then call witnesses or present any other evidence. Any witnesses who testify must swear an oath to tell the truth.

Often in Georgia, the only witnesses the grand jury hears from are law enforcement officers, including investigators for the district attorney’s office. They can tell the grand jurors what they’ve learned in their investigation, including what suspects or witnesses have said and what other evidence they have.

Members of the grand jury are allowed to question witnesses.

In general, a person who is named as a defendant on the potential indictment cannot be called to testify before the grand jury.

After a case is presented, members of the grand jury convene to deliberate the case and whether to vote for a “true bill” or a “no bill” indictment, the former meaning that there is probable cause to believe a person committed a crime. A “no bill” means jurors did not believe a person committed a crime or that there is not enough evidence to indict them.

An indictment is then presented in open court.

Additional reporting from the Associated Press

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