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Fulton County special grand jury ends its Trump investigation. What happens next?

Will the report be public? Will charges be pursued? Here's what we know

ATLANTA — The Fulton County special grand jury investigating attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election is no more. The panel issued its final report and was dissolved by county superior court judges, according to court documents filed Monday.

It's been nearly a year since those Fulton County judges voted to grant District Attorney Fani Willis' request to convey a Special Purpose Grand Jury to investigate alleged violations of state law committed by former President Donald Trump and his allies in the overtures made to state officials, investigators and others to declare Trump the winner.

Its work, which began in May 2022, is the first step in a process that could land the former president and his associates in criminal trouble. 

Next comes the legal fights and choices. Those who testified will likely not want the report to be released. Willis and her office must decide if they will seek criminal charges.

Three legal experts who have followed the case told 11Alive that it is likely the grand jury will recommend charges be brought against Trump and several of his allies — similar to findings from the United States House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack.

11Alive Digital Investigative Reporter Nick Wooten reviewed hundreds of pages reports and Jan. 6 testimony taken from Georgia public officials, examined state laws governing special purpose grand juries and spoke with lawyers familiar with the probe to lay out what could happen in the coming months.

"Given some of the statements that (Willis) made at the time of the impaneling, I would be willing to bet big sums of money that Donald Trump is going to be indicted," said former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who used two special purpose grand juries during his nearly three decades as the county's top prosecutor.

"Now, whether he'll ever go to trial and ever be convicted, is so far down the road that you can't even see it," Porter added.

What could be in the report?

The scope of the grand jury's investigation is broad. 

The order creating the grand jury states that it has the authority to investigate "any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia" tied to the 2020 Presidential election.

Trump's Jan. 2, 2021 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where the then-President asked the state's top election official to "find" 11,780 votes prompted the investigation. It will be a key focus.

Several other key events that could appear in the report include:

  • The fake electors who cast Electoral College votes for Trump
  • Pressure Trump and his allies may have placed on Raffensperger, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State investigator Frances Watson and other key state officials
  • The resignation of U.S. Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak in January of 2021
  • The threats and pressure Fulton County election workers Ruby Freeman and daughter Shaye Moss were subjected to after the election
  • The breach of Coffee County election data in January 2021

The 23-person jury is responsible for the contents of the report. However, Willis and her team were likely involved in the drafting process in an advisory role, Porter said.

Porter was Gwinnett County's top prosecutor in 2009-2010 when a special purpose grand jury was impaneled -- or formed -- to investigate property acquisition by the county's board of commissioners.

"I felt like my only role in it was to make sure it was legal," said Porter. "I didn't want to put words in their mouth. Some DAs don't have any involvement. Most DAs did what I do which is an advisory role."

Will we see the report? 

It's unclear if or how much of the grand jury's report will be public. That's one of the key issues to be decided in the near future.

In Monday's order, McBurney set a hearing for Jan. 24 where the Fulton County District Attorney's office, members of the media and other involved parties will make arguments about whether the final report should be made public. 

State law allows the special purpose grand jury to recommend publication of the report, and judge overseeing the proceedings "shall order the publication as recommended."

The jury recommended that the report be published. However, case law could allow McBurney to redact portions or seal the entire thing.

Porter told 11Alive that Trump, his allies and other parties involved in the proceedings could file motions to prevent the report's publication.

"I think what the defense attorneys will do, is they'll file a motion to quash the report and to dismiss any action by the special purpose grand jury," said Porter. "They'll say it was improperly impaneled. It was improperly impaneled procedurally, and it was improperly impaneled for an improper purpose. That will get them in court."

What could the Jan. 6 findings tell us about the grand jury's report?

Georgia was a key state in Trump's alleged attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat and the events that ultimately led to the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol.

In mid-December, the committee released its findings and recommended that the Department of Justice pursue criminal charges against Trump and others.

In its 845-page final report, Georgia is mentioned nearly 400 times — more than any other state.

In the weeks since the final report's publication, the committee has released hundreds of pages of testimony from key witnesses, including those with ties to Georgia. 

They include:

  • Brad Raffensperger
  • Ruby Freeman, Fulton County election worker
  • Shaye Moss, Fulton County election worker
  • David Shafer, Georgia Republican Party Chair and Trump "fake" elector  
  • Robert Sinners, current secretary of state spokesperson and ex-Trump staffer during the 2020 election
  • John Isakson, son of former U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. John was asked to be a Trump elector in Georgia but did not participate.
  • Byung “BJay” Pak

Others who played key roles in Georgia in the post-election aftermath include Trump allies like Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, Lindsey Graham and Michael Flynn.

In his testimony, Raffensperger blamed Trump for spreading social media misinformation and fueling the violent threats that his office received. Raffensperger also detailed how the former president pressured him and one of his chief investigators, Frances Watson, to flip Georgia's election results.

"I understood the positional power that the President of the United States of America has, and I heard what he was saying," Raffensperger testified. "And so I heard what he said, but I also knew that we followed the law, we followed the Constitution. And he was alleging, really, accusing of us of doing something illegal, something criminal, but knew we followed the law. It was a hollow threat, but it was, I feel, a threat."

Sinners, who worked as Trump's election day operations director in Georgia, told the panel that he and others involved in the fake elector scheme were "useful idiots or rubes" being used by Trump's allies.

"I am angry because I think -- I think in a sense, you know, no one really cared if -- if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy," said Sinners.

The hundreds of pages of testimony further detailed the lengths to which the Trump campaign targeted Georgia in the election's aftermath, said Norman Eisen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

"We now have a very detailed public record, which will also be reflected in the grand jury report, of how the attempted coup impacted Georgia," said Eisen, who has closely followed the proceedings. "The special grand jury will have a broader evidentiary base where they'll build on what the Jan. 6 committee did."

What could the charges be? When could indictments come?

Since the investigation began, 18 people have been identified by Willis' office as potential criminal targets. They include the 16 fake electors, Rudy Giuliani and Dallas attorney-podcaster Jacki Pick Deason.

In October, Eisen and his colleagues at the Brookings Institute published a 304-page report taking a look at the case. They argue that Trump could potentially be prosecuted for the following crimes in Georgia: 

  • solicitation to commit election fraud
  • intentional interference with performance of election duties
  • interference with primaries and elections
  • conspiracy to commit election fraud

Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 2019 to 2020 during Trump's impeachment and trial, said the former president and his allies could also be charged with nonelection crimes such as making false statements, improperly influencing government officials and violations of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

"As the Jan. 6 committee confirmed this, this attempted coup had a very strong presence out in the states," Eisen said. "Of all the states where Trump was trying to overturn the election, Georgia was the target of the most intense activity. There was no state where there were more phone calls and meetings."

Georgia law is particularly well suited to address Trump's alleged crimes, Eisen added.

"There's no federal law that fits what happened on the Jan. 2 (phone call) quite as tightly as that the solicitation of election fraud law in Georgia. It's just fits the Jan. 2 call and the phony elector's behavior like a glove."

Anthony Kreis, professor at Georgia State University's College of Law, told 11Alive that the case against Trump and his allies has strengthened over time as more information has come out.

The call to Raffensperger demonstrates Trump's intent to "overthrow a legitimate election." Kreis said he is now "less skeptical" of potential RICO charges as evidence shows a coordinated effort by multiple parties to change the election.

"I think there may be far more wide-ranging charges than we initially thought," said Kreis. "Everything is in the DA's hands at this point."

If Willis wanted to pursue criminal charges against Trump or any of his allies, she would have to take the case before a regular grand jury to obtain indictments.

Special purpose grand juries can’t issue indictments. 

Instead, the special purpose grand jury can issue a comprehensive report called a presentment. The report can recommend indictments uncovered by the special purpose grand jury during the course of its investigation.

If Willis' office gets the recommendation to seek charges, Porter said the case or cases could be brought before a grand jury quickly.

"There's really no reason to wait," said Porter.

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