Analysis: Georgia grand jury fuels fresh intrigue over Trump’s legal exposure

(CNN) The latest significant developments from a special Georgia grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s election-stealing efforts in the state are fueling intrigue over a question the entire political world wants answered: Will the ex-president be indicted?

An excerpt of the special jury report released Thursday showed that it recommended that the district attorney file charges against one or more unnamed witnesses who he believed lied during testimony. Details on whether anyone would be charged over the underlying issue — an alleged attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory — have not been released. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis previously told a judge that criminal charges in the case were “imminent.”

It’s not clear if charges of perjury or anything else would involve Trump or anyone close to him. The ex-president did not testify before the special jury. And Trump claims he did nothing wrong.

Thursday’s developments are likely to cause nervous moments among some of the 75 witnesses who testified to the investigation. The tantalizing glimpse of some of the grand jury’s conclusions also had outsiders wondering whether the potential exposure of Trump and those around him had worsened in light of the new information. Also up in the air is how it would weigh on Willis as she considers decisions that could have huge repercussions given the involvement of a former president who’s already a declared candidate for the 2024 White House race.

The new developments in Georgia added another sobering dimension to an already serious series of criminal investigations surrounding Trump. There are signs that a special counsel is investigating his actions before and during the January 6, 2021 riot, and his hoarding of classified documents is picking up speed under Special Counsel Jack Smith. Last week, for example, it emerged that Smith had taken the extraordinary step of subpoenaing testimony from a former vice president in connection with the Jan. 6 case. Mike Pence has vowed to challenge the subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court.

Legal expert is ‘convinced’ charges could be brought

Questions about Georgia are complicated by the fact that Thursday’s excerpts come from a grand jury report that was only partially released. Such a document is, by definition, one-sided, since witnesses do not testify with counsel or have an opportunity to refute allegations. The rest of the report has not been made public so as not to prejudice the rights of people who may or may not be charged in the case. Still, the perjury prosecution’s recommendations, while non-binding, represent a small step forward on whether there is criminal liability for an attempt to subvert democracy — or to cover it up.

The grand jury heard notable figures, including Trump’s attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told CNN’s Manu Raju on Thursday that he had confidence in his testimony.

Some legal analysts have concluded that the atmosphere of the case and the signals being sent by Willis mean some indictments are likely – although of course indictments don’t mean anyone will be convicted in court.

“I am confident that there will be charges, either of perjury or other crimes,” Thomas Dupree, a former assistant district attorney in ex-President George W. Bush’s administration, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday.

And CNN legal analyst Elie Honig pointed out the candid comments written by the grand jury on the possible question of perjury.

“The grand jury believes they have witnessed serious misconduct. That’s the tone. He’s unmistakable in the report,” said Honig.

Significant comments on the lack of voter fraud

Perhaps one of the most significant excerpts from the report addresses the grand jury’s unanimous conclusion that there was no evidence of voter fraud in Georgia to change the outcome of an election won by Biden by nearly 12,000 votes.

“The grand jury heard extensive testimony on the subject of alleged voter fraud from poll workers, investigators, technical experts and Georgia state employees and officials, as well as individuals who continue to allege that such fraud occurred,” the special grand jury wrote in its report .

Norm Eisen, a former diplomat and legal and ethics expert, told CNN on Thursday that the deal is definitely a potentially important building block against Trump. The finding “gets to the heart of what Donald Trump has claimed happened in Georgia. It refutes him,” Eisen said on CNN’s Newsroom.

“It also creates a basis for indictments – without that kind of conclusion you couldn’t make indictments – for solicitation of voter fraud. This is another nail in the coffin that was already full of them.”

RELATED: Fox News stars and executives have privately dismissed Trump’s vote-fraud allegations, a court document reveals

A possible defense if Trump is indicted is that the ex-president was adamant that there was voter fraud in Georgia and elsewhere and that he was trying to protect the integrity of an election. Still, a Georgia election scrutiny that confirmed Biden’s victory and the actions of Republican election officials, who also said there wasn’t enough fraud to overturn the result, add to significant reasonable doubt that Trump may have truly believed he and the winner is. The conclusions of the special jury further support this impression.

Still, Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general in the Bush administration, warned that it is wrong to “get terribly upset” about Thursday’s events in Georgia or to overinterpret them.

“We still have a long way to go to get a more complete picture of what prosecutors see as the situation here,” Gonzales said.

Trump insisted in a statement that nothing revealed Thursday had any impact on his situation.

“The President participated in two perfect phone calls about the integrity of the Georgia election, which he is entitled to — indeed, as President, it was President Trump’s constitutional duty to ensure the security and integrity of the election,” the ex-President said in his statement.

Of course, Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was far from perfect, as he pressured the Republican official to change the vote counts for the election so he can overtake Biden in the key swing state.

“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, that’s one more than we have because we won the state,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the call, which took place on Jan. 2, 2021.

A Brookings Institution report on the Fulton County criminal investigation cites Georgia’s voter fraud law, which states that a crime has been committed when someone “prompts, solicits, orders, intrudes, or otherwise attempts to do so to the other person.” to induce the other person to engage in such behavior.” The report’s authors believe evidence suggests Trump died between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021, when the election was confirmed by the Congress was temporarily delayed by the riot in the Capitol, has committed such acts on several occasions.

Whether Willis will come to the same conclusion, and whether there is enough evidence to press charges or win such a critical case, is not yet clear. But the answer may come soon.