Grand jury to consider allegations against Trump in Georgia election probe

The exterior of the Fulton County Lewis R. Slaton Courthouse, which houses the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. February 16, 2023. Alyssa Pointer/Reuters

ATLANTA (AP) — A grand jury meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday is likely to consider the appropriateness of criminal charges against former President Donald Trump or his Republican allies for their efforts to overturn his 2020 Georgia election defeat.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating since shortly after Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in early 2021 and suggested the state’s top election official could help him “find 11,780 votes,” just enough to get Democrat Joe Biden to beat.

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The two-and-a-half-year investigation has expanded to include an investigation into a number of sham Republican voters, phone calls from Trump and others to Georgia officials in the weeks following the 2020 election, and baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud to state lawmakers.

Willis, a Democrat, is expected to present her case before one of the two new grand juries Tuesday. She has previously indicated charges are likely to come in August.

Here’s how this process would work:

Wait. Wasn’t there already a grand jury in this case?

Yes. About a year into her investigation, Willis took the unusual step of calling for a special grand jury. She said at the time that she needed the panel’s subpoena power to compel testimony from witnesses who might otherwise be unwilling to speak to her team. This special grand jury met in May 2022 and was released in January after completing its work.

It was essentially an investigative tool and had no power to bring charges. Instead, it issued subpoenas and reviewed testimonies from about 75 witnesses and other evidence before issuing a final report with recommendations for Willis.

While part of that report was released in February, the judge overseeing the special grand jury said any recommendations on specific charges would remain classified for certain individuals for the time being. The panel’s chair said in media interviews later that month that she recommended numerous people be charged, but declined to name names.

Willis is not bound by the recommendations of the special grand jury.

Who might Willis be keeping an eye on for possible charges?

Willis sent letters last summer warning certain people — including the state’s bogus voters and former New York Mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — that they could face indictment in the case. Some of the bogus voters, meanwhile, have signed immunity deals with Willis’ team. While she hasn’t said one way or another whether she would press charges against Trump, Willis has repeatedly said that no one is above the law.

Willis is a fan of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and there have been indications she will apply it in this case. The RICO Act allows prosecutors to bring charges against multiple individuals who they believe have committed different crimes while working toward a common goal.

How common are regular grand juries?

Very. Typically, two grand juries sit in Fulton County during each two-month court session. They usually meet every week – one on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays. Their work takes place behind closed doors and is not accessible to the public or news media.

Grand Jurors must be US citizens, at least 18 years of age and resident in the county in which they operate. Each grand jury consists of 16 to 23 people and up to three alternates—a minimum of 16 must be present at trials for the grand jury to hear evidence or take official action.

What happens when the case goes to the grand jury?

Under Georgian law, most crimes – including murder, aggravated assault, robbery and other crimes – require a grand jury indictment to prosecute someone. When prosecutors present a case, they attempt to persuade the jury that there is a probable cause that one or more individuals committed crimes and to get the jury to agree to the indictment of them.

For each case, prosecutors read or explain the possible charges and then call witnesses or present other evidence. Any witness who testifies must take an oath to tell the truth.

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In Georgia, the only witnesses the grand jury often hears from are law enforcement officers, including prosecutor investigators. They can share with the jury what they learn from their investigation, including suspect or witness testimony and other evidence they have.

Grand Jury members may question witnesses.

Generally, a person named as a defendant in a possible indictment cannot be called to testify before the grand jury.

How does the grand jury deliberation work?

After the presentation of the case, only members of the grand jury can be in the room for deliberation. They discuss the case and vote on whether to return a “real bill” or “no bill.” A “true bill” means that the jury voted in favor of an indictment because they believe there is probable reason to believe that the accused committed the alleged crimes. A “No Bill” means the jury does not believe the person committed the alleged crimes or that there is insufficient evidence to indict.

A minimum of 16 jurors must participate in the vote, and 12 of them must vote in favor of an indictment.

The Georgia grand juror oath requires jurors to “keep secret the deliberations of the grand jury unless directed to testify in a court in that state.”

What happens after the grand jurors vote?

If a grand jury decides to bring indictments, the indictment must be presented in open court by the grand jury or the grand jury board of trustees in a courtroom where a judge and the court clerk are present. It is then filed in the clerk’s office and is a public document. Soon after, the accused are brought to trial and have to appear in court for the first time.

If the grand jury votes against an indictment, prosecutors may resubmit the case to another grand jury. However, if two grand juries vote not to bring indictments on the same counts, prosecutors typically cannot retry indictments on those counts.

If Trump is impeached, can he still run for President?

Yes. Neither an indictment nor a conviction would prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.

In other cases, he has already been charged twice this year. He is facing 34 felonies in a New York state court involving falsifying business records as part of a hush money scheme over allegations of extramarital sexual encounters. He faces 37 felonies in federal court in Florida, including hoarding classified documents and defying government demands to return them.

In addition, a special counsel for the Justice Department is investigating his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in several states and the events that led to the January 6, 2021 rioting in the US Capitol.