The release of a portion of the Fulton county special purpose grand jury’s report marks a new step toward potential criminal charges holding Donald Trump and his allies accountable for election interference.
Georgia was crucial in the 2020 presidential election, providing a key victory for Joe Biden and drawing the intense focus of Trump and his backers.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump said on the now infamous phone call to the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. During the call, Trump maintained that widespread voter fraud took place in Georgia, claiming that he had in fact won the state despite audits confirming the validity of election results.
It was this call that sparked the initial Fulton county investigation and now fuels Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis’ ability to bring charges. Unlike other investigations into Trump’s legal and business matters, the case is meant to face the former president’s election meddling head-on.
The report excerpt revealed today recommends that charges be filed against a majority of witnesses who lied under oath and concludes there was not widespread voter fraud in Georgia during the 2020 election. It illustrates Fulton county’s role in looking to reveal how Donald Trump and his allies sowed seeds of election interference and denialism during the 2020 presidential election.
While these segments fall short of clear criminal charges, they signal that the investigation already contains legitimate evidence of perjury, which could be enough to bring criminal charges against those in Trump’s orbit.
Anthony Kreis, Georgia State University College of Law professor and political scientist, said the meticulously curated release of the report points to the ever-growing potential that the Willis’ office is working to prepare indictment charges for Trump and his allies.
“The most damning evidence against Trump is in Georgia,” Kreis said. “The phone call from former president Trump to the secretary of state’s office is exceedingly damning both in the sense that there seems to be an express demand for something that could be the solicitation of election fraud and the fact that it is all caught on tape and it’s much more than just an allegation.”
Due to the clarity of Trump’s indiscretions in Georgia, the Fulton county district attorney’s office is likely ahead of ongoing federal investigations and closer to presenting charges, according to Georgia attorney Kurt Kastorf, a former US justice department prosecutor.
“It is likely that if there are charges [in Fulton county], the charges are going to be in the near term,” said Kastorf.
While the report did not reveal the range of these potential charges, the scope of the investigation has been comprehensive. The grand jury called at least 75 prominent witnesses, including many of Trump’s known allies. Attorneys Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Cleta Mitchell, Senator Lindsay Graham and newly elected Georgia lieutenant governor Burt Jones all appeared before the committee.
Though the report does not name which witnesses it believes lied under oath, it does conclude that “perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses.” It also recommends indictments for “such crimes where the evidence is compelling.”
No matter the charges brought forth against Trump and those included in the investigation, state law presents a specific set of circumstances that are much different from any ongoing federal cases.
According to Kastorf, there are two key elements that make Fulton county different for Trump and others who face potential indictment from the Fulton county district attorney’s office: the difference in the jury pool of Fulton county and the political considerations of a state-level case in comparison to a federal case.
Fulton county is a predominantly Democratic region in the largely Republican state. This means that the jury pool could be comprised of largely Democratic leaning jurors who could be guided by partisan beliefs should a trial ensue. Furthermore, pardons and political immunity are much more difficult to obtain in Georgia.
“The US president does not have pardon power in Georgia,” said Kastorf. “In fact, the governor doesn’t have pardon power in Georgia. It is significantly less likely that if Trump or someone associated with his campaign were convicted in Georgia, they would be able to obtain a pardon or have immunity based on holding political office.”
Though there is not exactly legal precedence for this case that points to what happens when a sitting president attempts to influence and change the results of an election, according to Kreis, there is a parallel with another historical moment critical to democracy in the US.
“We had election denialism run rampant in the United States at the end of the 19th century, and people who engaged in election denialism then decided that they were going to use that to dampen voting rights and disenfranchise people,” Kreis said.
According to Kreis, this led to “democratic backsliding” that threatened the foundation of democracy in the US, similar to what we see today.
“But the key difference is, nobody was ever really held accountable for engaging in actions of election denialism that led to acts of political violence back then,” said Kreis.
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