Trump investigations: Georgia prosecutor ups anticipation
By KATE BRUMBACK and ERIC TUCKER – Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Donald Trump and his allies were tipped off by a prosecutor, but the warning didn’t come from anyone at the Justice Department.
It was from a Georgia state prosecutor who has indicated she is likely to file criminal charges soon in a two-year investigation into election sabotage. In an effort to block the release of a special grand jury’s report, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis argued in court last week that decisions in the case were “imminent” and that the report’s publication would violate the rights of “future defendants” may be endangered.
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Although Willis, a Democrat, did not mention Trump by name, her comments were the first time a prosecutor in any of several current investigations tied to the Republican former president has hinted that charges could be possible. The comments fueled anticipation that an investigation focused in part on Trump’s call with Georgia’s secretary of state could wrap up before continuing federal investigations.
“I expect to see charges in Fulton County before I see any federal charges,” said Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University law professor.
In addition to the Georgia probe, a Justice Department special counsel is investigating Trump over his role in working with allies to reverse his loss in the 2020 presidential election and his alleged mishandling of classified documents.
Trump appeared to face the most immediate legal danger from the investigation into a cache of classified material at his Florida resort, and the threat remains. But that case appears complicated, at least politically, by the recent discovery of classified records at President Joe Biden’s Delaware home and at an office in Washington. The Department of Justice tapped a separate special counsel to investigate the case.
Willis opened her office’s investigation shortly after the release of a recording of a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In that conversation, the then-president suggested that Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, could “find” the votes needed to reverse Trump’s narrow election loss in the state to Biden, a Democrat.
“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said during the call.
Since then, the investigation’s scope has expanded significantly, including, among other things, a list of Republican voter fraud, phone calls by Trump and others to Georgia officials in the weeks after the 2020 election, and unsubstantiated allegations of widespread election fraud made to state lawmakers is. .
In an interview, Trump insisted he did “absolutely nothing wrong” and that his phone call with Raffensperger was “perfect.” He said he felt “very confident” he would not be charged.
“She’s supposed to stop violent crime, and that’s her job,” Trump said of Willis. “Not going after people for political reasons, it did things absolutely perfectly.”
It’s unclear how Willis’ case will affect Justice Department investigations or what contact her team has had with federal investigators. Justice Department prosecutors have been circumspect in discussing their investigations, offering little insight into how and when it might end.
But Willis’ comments suggest the Georgia investigation is headed for resolution — with or without charges — on a timetable independent of what the Justice Department plans to do, legal experts said.
Cunningham, the Georgia State professor, said Willis’ comments imply that the special grand jury’s report contains details about people the panel and Wills believe should at least be investigated further.
“She will not talk about releasing the report that creates prejudice for potential future defendants unless she sees in the report people’s names that she sees as potential future defendants,” he added.
Attorney General Merrick Garland in November tapped Jack Smith, a former public corruption prosecutor, to act as special counsel overseeing investigations into Trump’s actions that led to the deadly Capitol riot on January 6, 2021 and in his possession of hundreds of classified documents at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Although Smith and his team of prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas, he has not disclosed when his investigation might end or who might be a target.
Garland declined to discuss the investigations, saying only that “no person is above the law” and that there are no separate rules for Democrats and Republicans.
FBI agents recently searched Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and found six items containing classified documents, the White House said. Further confusing the Justice Department’s calculation: Classified records were found this month at the Indiana home of Trump’s Vice President, Mike Pence.
Public disclosures about Willis’ case are to some extent a result of the unusual nature of the Georgia proceedings.
In January of last year, Willis sought to convene a special grand jury to aid her investigation, citing the need for his subpoena power to compel the testimony of witnesses who would not otherwise speak to her. She said in a letter to Fulton County’s chief judge that her office had received information indicating a “reasonable likelihood” that the 2020 Georgia election was “subject to possible criminal disruption.”
The nation’s high court justices voted to grant the request, and the panel sat in May. The grand jurors heard from 75 witnesses and reviewed evidence collected by prosecutors and investigators. Among the witnesses who testified were former New York Mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Georgia state officials such as Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp.
The panel did not have the authority to issue an indictment, but its report is expected to include recommendations for further action, possibly criminal charges.
The special grand jury was disbanded earlier this month after its work was completed and a report on its investigation was completed. The grand jurors recommended that the report be made public.
News organizations, including The Associated Press, argued that the report should be released. Willis said at a hearing last week that a decision was looming on whether to seek an indictment and that she opposed releasing the report because she wanted to ensure “that everyone is treated fairly and we think for future defendants to to be treated fairly, it is not appropriate at this time to release this report.”
Attorneys for witnesses and others identified as targets insisted that Willis was driven by politics rather than legitimate concerns that crimes had been committed. Among other things, they pointed to her public statements and initial willingness to speak to print and television news channels.
Danny Porter, a Republican who served as district attorney in neighboring Gwinnett County for nearly three decades, said Willis was navigating uncharted territory. Special grand juries are relatively rare in Georgia, and the law doesn’t provide much guidance for prosecutors, he said.
Still, Porter said, it appears that Willis did not cross any ethical or legal red lines that would call into question the integrity of the investigation.
“Procedurally,” he said, “I didn’t see anything that made me go, ‘Oh, jeez, I wouldn’t have done that.’
Tucker reports from Washington. AP writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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