ATLANTA — A group of Atlanta-based and national news outlets urged a Fulton County judge to make public a special purpose grand jury report on potential criminal interference by President Donald Trump and his allies during the 2020 election.
Attorneys for the media outlets argue there is "no basis" to seal or expunge portions of the report. 11Alive is one of the organizations part of the joint motion.
"This investigation has been a matter of profound public interest that goes to the heart of the nation’s democratic forms of government," the document reads. "Much of the matters before the special purpose grand jury are already public knowledge through related federal and state court proceedings and Congressional hearings. There is quite simply no 'clear and convincing proof' that sealing, either in whole or in part, is warranted."
The filing comes just before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney is set to hear arguments from the media outlets, the Fulton County DA's office, and — possibly — lawyers representing targets of the investigation about whether the report should be made public or not.
Attorneys for Trump told 11Alive in a statement Monday that they will not take part in Tuesday's hearing. They also said the former president wasn't asked to testify as part of the probe.
"To date, we have never been a part of this process. 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," said attorneys Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little. "(Trump) was never subpoenaed nor asked to come in voluntarily by this grand jury or anyone in the Fulton County District Attorney's Office. 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."
As of Monday evening, attorneys representing targets of the probe had not filed motions objecting to the report's publication.
"I think probably the hearing tomorrow is going to be an anti-climax for a lot of folks who are anticipating fireworks," said former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who used multiple special purpose grand juries while in office. "I thought lawyers for the targets were going to show up."
It's unclear if or how much of the report will be made public.
McBurney will have to decide if the grand jury's report is considered a presentment — a specific type of grand jury report — under state law.
Georgia statute allows the special purpose grand jury to recommend publication of presentments, and the judge overseeing the proceedings "shall order the publication as recommended." The jury recommended that the report be published.
If McBurney rules the report is not a presentment, the entire document could be shielded from public view, Porter said.
It's possible the report recommends criminal charges against Trump and his inner circle. However, two former district attorneys with special purpose grand jury experience disagreed over whether that would be allowed in the document. They spoke with 11Alive last week.
The scope of the grand jury's investigation was broad.
The order creating the panel states that it had 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. Court orders also stated the jury "may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit."
Peter Skandalakis, the Executive Director of Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia and former District Attorney of Coweta Judicial Circuit, said there's Georgia case law that prevents a grand jury from making disparaging remarks without issuing an indictment.
However, Porter told 11Alive there is a legal way for juries to criticize without indicting.
The Fulton County Special Purpose Grand Jury lacks the power to indict. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis would have to take the case to a separate, regular grand jury to seek criminal charges.
Much about the special grand jury process moving forward remains unresolved, Porter said.
"We are in unknown territory," he said. "There's no guidance. ...I don't think special purpose grand juries have been or will be scrutinized at the level that this case is going to be."