Georgia jury to consider whether Trump unlawfully interfered in 2020 election

ATLANTA — While the criminal investigation into Donald J. Trump by Manhattan prosecutors appears to be stalling, the separate investigation into whether the former president and his allies unlawfully interfered with Georgia’s 2020 election results has made a significant step forward on Monday, when 23 people were chosen to serve on a special investigative grand jury.

The panel will focus exclusively on “whether there were any unlawful attempts to disrupt the administration of the 2020 election here in Georgia,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert CI McBurney told 200 potential jurors who had been called to a downtown Atlanta courthouse teeming with law enforcement officers.

The special grand jury’s ability to subpoena witnesses and documents will help prosecutors, who have met resistance from some potential witnesses who have refused to testify voluntarily. The panel will have up to a year to issue a report advising District Attorney Fani T. Willis of whether to pursue criminal charges.

Some legal experts have said the investigation could be perilous for Mr Trump, who in a January 2021 phone call asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to put Mr. Trump ahead of his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., in Georgia’s presidential election count.

The Georgia grand jury nomination comes as a criminal investigation in Manhattan has apparently stalled. Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney, is said to be concerned about the strength of the New York case, which focuses on whether Mr. Trump overstated the value of assets in annual financial statements. People familiar with the investigation told The New York Times that the investigation could fizzle out if other witnesses do not step in to cooperate.

In the case of Georgia, a group of legal experts, in an analysis published last year by the Brookings Institution, wrote that the appeal to Mr. Raffensperger, and other post-election actions by Mr. Trump , put the former president at “substantial risk” of criminal charges in Georgia, including racketeering, solicitation of voter fraud, willful interference in the performance of election duties and conspiracy to commit voter fraud.

The probe is also likely to examine Trump allies who have dabbled in election administration matters in Georgia, including Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani; Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff. The investigation falls under the jurisdiction of the Fulton County District Attorney, as many of the actions in question took place in or involved phone calls to officials in Fulton County, which includes the State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta and many government offices.

In addition to the call with Mr. Raffensperger, Mr. Trump publicly described how he called Gov. Brian Kemp after the election and asked him to call a special election to “get to the bottom” of a “big problem of ‘election integrity in Georgia.’ Mr Trump also called Chris Carr, the state attorney general, asking him not to oppose a lawsuit challenging the election results in Georgia and other states , and Mr Raffensperger’s chief investigator, asking him to find “dishonesty” in the election.

Inquiries into those matters were already underway, Judge McBurney told the court on Monday. “But now is the time for 26 members of our community to participate in this inquest,” he said, referring to the 23 jurors and three alternates.

Judge McBurney told potential jurors to announce they had a potential conflict if they were convinced that a crime had definitely been committed in relation to the 2020 election – or if they were convinced that no crime had not been committed. About 25 said they had such a conflict.

Special grand jurors will issue subpoenas, hear testimony and review documents. The meetings will be confidential and the jurors will not be allowed to discuss the proceedings outside of their meetings. But the judge noted that witnesses could speak publicly about the proceedings if they wished.

In January, a majority of judges in the Fulton County Superior Court system approved Ms. Willis’ request for the special grand jury, allowing it to meet for up to a year from May 2. Once the committee makes recommendations regarding criminal prosecution, it is up to Ms. Willis, a Democrat, to return to a regular grand jury to seek criminal charges.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University, said the constitution of the grand jury was a sign that prosecutors recognized the complexity, sensitivity and unique nature of the case. Among other things, Ms. Willis raised the possibility that Mr. Trump and his allies violated the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. Like the federal RICO Act, which has been used to target the Mafia and other organized criminal networks, Georgia’s Racketeering Act is a tool that can be used to prosecute a wide range of groups that participate in patterns of criminal conduct. Proving this case would require a thorough examination of several moving parts.

Among them is potentially a call Mr. Graham made to Mr. Raffensperger asking if mail-in votes could be rejected in counties with high rates of questionable signatures on ballots; a visit Mr. Meadows made to suburban Atlanta to monitor an election audit there; and post-election appearances Mr. Giuliani made before state legislative committees during which he called for the nomination of an alternative pro-Trump voter list.

“There’s a lot more to it than just a phone call,” said Kreis, who added that the case involved areas of law that were “underdeveloped.”

“We don’t have many allegations or potential allegations that someone violated Georgia law by soliciting voter fraud, because you’d have to be crazy enough to go to the secretary of state’s office to demand a change in vote tabulation,” he said. mentioned. “It’s such brazen stuff it’s almost unbelievable.”

Mr. Trump has other legal challenges to overcome following his one-term presidency, all of which take on greater significance given that he appears to be positioning himself to make another presidential run in 2024.

In addition to a Manhattan investigation, New York Attorney General Letitia James is set to file a civil suit in her investigation into the Trump Organization’s fraudulent and deceptive marketing practices, her staff told the court. court. A judge recently charged Mr. Trump with contempt in the case for failing to fully comply with a subpoena and began fining him $10,000 a day.

The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office is investigating financial matters related to a golf course owned by Mr. Trump’s company. And a federal grand jury has been appointed to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Mr Trump, called the Fulton County investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt”.

In an interview last month with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ms. Willis said she would wait until after Georgia’s May 24 primary election to bring witnesses to testify before the special grand jury to avoid her appearing seek to influence state policy. .

Mr. Kemp, Mr. Raffensperger and Mr. Carr, all Republicans, face high-profile primary challenges from candidates who have echoed Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud in the state and which received the approval of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump planned to hold a call-in”tele-rallyMonday night for Mr. Kemp’s opponent, former Senator David Perdue, who falsely claimed that Mr. Kemp allowed “radical Democrats to steal our election”.

On Monday, security at the downtown courthouse was tightened, with streets around the court complex closed to traffic and a heavy presence of law enforcement inside and outside the buildings.

In January, Ms. Willis wrote to the FBI that her office had received communications from “persons unhappy with our commitment to perform our duties” and asked the FBI to provide “intelligence and federal agents” to the courthouse. Ms Willis said security concerns had been ‘aggravated’ by Mr Trump’s comments at an event in Texas where he called on prosecutors focusing on him as ‘vicious and horrible people’ who were ‘ racists” and “mentally ill” and unfairly. targeting him.

Ms. Willis noted that Mr. Trump has called for large protests in Atlanta and elsewhere if prosecutors prosecute him illegally.

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