A special grand jury is investigating whether then-Pres Donald Trump and his associates illegally tried to reverse his defeat in the 2020 election Georgia appears to be completing its work, but many questions remain.
The investigation is one of several that could lead to criminal charges against the former president as he asks voters to return him to the White House in 2024.
Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis, who began the investigation nearly two years ago, said she will go where the facts lead. It would be an extraordinary step if she decided to press charges against Trump himself.
“Even if a jury acquits him, his facing a court and a public trial with the evidence would be an epic in American history,” said Georgia State University law professor Clark Cunningham.
Here’s what we know as the special grand jury appears to be convening:
WHAT’S THE LAST?
For about six months, the grand jury reviewed evidence and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including high-ranking Trump associates and top government officials. A prosecutor on Willis’ team said during a hearing in November that they had few witnesses left and did not expect the special grand jury to last much longer.
The grand jury is expected to issue a final report with recommendations on possible next steps. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who presides over the panel, will review the report and recommend that the chief judge dissolve the special grand jury. The county’s Superior Court judges will then vote on whether to discharge the special grand jury or whether more investigation is necessary.
A special grand jury cannot issue indictments. Willis will decide whether to go to a regular grand jury for criminal charges.
WHAT DID WE LEARN ABOUT THE INVESTIGATION?
More than a year after the investigation began, Willis has revealed little. But, ironically, as soon as a special grand jury began its deliberations in June, its proceedings shrouded in mandatory secrecy, hints began to emerge as to where the investigation was leading.
That’s because every time Willis wanted to compel someone living outside of Georgia to testify, she had to file documents in open court explaining why that person was a “necessary and material witness.” Also, anyone who fought the subpoena had to do so in public trials and hearings.
In documents Willis filed seeking depositions from some of Trump’s associates, she said she wanted to know about their ties to the Trump campaign and others “involved in a coordinated multi-state effort to influence the outcome of the November 2020 election in Georgia.” and elsewhere.”
Prominent Trump allies sought to testify included former New York mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as John Eastman and other lawyers , who were involved in Trump’s attempts to stay in power.
“We know from witness identification that this is a far-fetched conspiracy that she’s looking at,” said Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment and co-authored the Brookings Institution report. an analysis of the “reported facts and applicable law” in the Fulton County investigation.
HAVE THERE BEEN KICKBACKS?
A number of Trump advisers and allies have fought Willis’ attempts to bring them to testify, but Willis has mostly prevailed.
“I think it bodes well for the preliminaries if she does press charges,” Eisen said.
Willis made a notable mistake when she organized a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, even as her investigation focused on fraudulent state voters, including Bert Jones, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. McBurney said that created a “plain — both factual and unwarranted — conflict” and ruled that Willis could not challenge or press charges against Jones, who won the election in November.
WHAT WAS THE FOCUS OF THE INVESTIGATION?
Information that has become public indicates that Willis was considering the following:
— Trump and other phone calls to Georgia officials after the 2020 election
— A group of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed an affidavit in December 2020 falsely claiming that Trump had won the state and that they were “duly elected and qualified” electors of the state
— False allegations of election fraud made during State Legislature meetings at the Georgia Capitol in December 2020
— Copying of data and software from election equipment in rural Coffey County by a team of computer experts hired by Trump allies
— Alleged attempts to pressure Fulton County Elections Clerk Ruby Freeman into falsely confessing to election fraud
— Sudden resignation of the US Attorney in Atlanta in January 2021
WHAT ABOUT THE PHONE CALL?
In a telephone conversation between Trump and the Secretary of State of Georgia on January 2, 2021 Brad Raffenspergerthe president suggested that the state’s top elected representative, a fellow Republican, could “find” the votes needed to overturn his narrow defeat in the state to Democrat Joe Biden.
A month later, Willis sent letters to Raffensperger and other top government officials instructing them to preserve the records because she was investigating “attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia general election.”
Trump told Raffensperger he needed 11,780 votes, one more than Biden. That was a mistake, Cunningham said, because the specific and transactional nature of that comment makes it hard to say that he was simply urging Raffensperger to look into the alleged fraud.
But other legal experts said prosecutors would struggle to prove criminal intent, which requires showing the actions were intentional, knowing, reckless or negligent.
WHAT CHARGES MAY BE PURSUED?
In her letters to state leaders in February 2021, Willis said she was considering potential crimes that include “inciting election fraud, making false statements to state and local government, conspiracy, racketeering, perjury, and any engagement in violence or threats related to with the election administration.”
Many believe Willis will face charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, better known as RICO. In a high-profile prosecution while she was an assistant district attorney, she successfully used the law to secure charges against Atlanta teachers in a test-cheating scandal. It has also recently used it to attack alleged gang activity.
The state RICO law, which is broader than the federal version, requires prosecutors to prove a pattern of criminal activity by an enterprise that could be a single person or a group of related individuals. This allows prosecutors to allege complicity in the crime without having to prove that each person participated in each act.
Eisen said RICO seemed “most commensurate with the nature of the people testifying and the questions she wanted to ask.”
As the special grand jury was working, Willis told several people that they were the targets of the investigation, including Giuliani and 16 fraudulent state voters. Others may have received similar notices but did not disclose it publicly.
WHAT DID TRUMP SAY?
The former president has consistently called his phone call with Raffensperger “perfect” and dismissed the Fulton County investigation as a witch hunt.
Criminal defense attorney Drew Findling, who is part of Trump’s legal team in Georgia, said in August that the focus on Trump “is clearly misguided and politically motivated harassment.”
Trump’s allies also deny any wrongdoing.