Backgrounder: Fulton County Special Grand Jury Investigation Into 2020 Presidential Interference
Last update: 12.09.2022
On January 2, 2020, then-President Donald Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During their 67-minute phone call, Trump made a variety of false claims alleging that ballots for then-candidate Joe Biden had been transported in suitcases to the Atlanta counting facility, that roughly 5,000 dead people voted in Georgia, and that Raffensperger could be subject to criminal liability for his role in administering Georgia’s elections. Most notably, Trump asked Raffensperger to “find 11,780” votes in his favor, one vote more than the number Biden received. This phone call and Trump’s other activities to undermine the 2020 Georgia election results have been subject to scrutiny at the state and national level.
Trump’s allies concocted a proposal to produce slates of false electors in seven different states that were critical to the outcome of the 2020 presidential contest. As detailed further below, in Georgia, 16 individuals signed a false electors slate in an attempt to overturn the state’s 2020 election results that was certified for Biden.
In at least seven instances across four states (including in Coffee County Georgia), local officials are alleged to have given Trump supporters access to voting machines and/or their data. In January 2021, individuals copied Coffee County’s voting machine data, including the sensitive election software used throughout the state.
In January 2022, superior court judges in Fulton County, Georgia approved the request from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to seat a special grand jury (“SGJ”) to aid in her investigation into interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election contest. This investigation began in 2021. The court authorized DA Willis to impanel the SGJ on May 2, 2022, for a period up to one year.
- The order authorized the SGJ to “investigate any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia …[and] make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit.”
- On May 2, 2022, 23 Georgians were selected to serve on the SGJ.
- The SGJ can subpoena witnesses to testify, consult with experts, as well as compel the production of documents, emails, and other relevant records.
- While the SGJ is similar to regular grand juries in several ways, it cannot issue an indictment. The SGJ can issue a report with recommendations for action, including possible criminal charges. DA Willis then has discretion regarding further action on those recommendations, and would need to present the case to a regular grand jury with the power to issue indictments if she wanted to pursue criminal charges.
- Judge Robert McBurney said that he would ensure the final recommendations of the SGJ would not be released too close to Georgia’s 2022 November general election.
- On August 2, 2022, DA Willis stated she was at least 60 days away from having to decide whether to subpoena Trump to the SGJ.
- On August 29, 2022, DA Willis stated she is approximately “60% through all of the people” that she intends to bring before the SGJ and that the report will not be completed until after the November general election.
- In October 2022, it was reported that DA Willis is “aiming to quickly wrap up the grand jury’s work after the midterm elections and could begin issuing indictments as early as December” 2022.
- In November 2022, it was reported that DA Willis may be exploring immunity agreements with some of the false electors.
The SGJ has issued subpoenas to a variety of individuals (staff, advisors, and attorneys for former Trump, Georgia statewide officers and their staff, Georgia legislators, federal legislators, local election workers, members of the press, and a documentary filmmaker). Testimony before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol may also shed light on election interference events in Georgia that are of interest to DA Willis and the SGJ. Some individuals have already testified before the SGJ, while others are litigating their subpoenas or are scheduled to testify at a later date.1Since SGJ proceedings are kept secret, the nature and date of the individual’s testimony is limited to public reporting on the progress of the SGJ. Individuals in this section are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
- Meadows is litigating his subpoena.
- Kemp litigated the timing of his SGJ subpoena appearance.
- Trump attorneys Chesebro, Deason, Eastman, and Ellis have filed litigation challenging their SGJ subpoenas.
- Graham is currently embroiled in litigation to quash his subpoena.
- States United filed an amicus brief on August 4, 2022. Graham and the DA’s office both had an opportunity to respond.
- Hice was unsuccessful in his efforts to quash his subpoena.
- Eleven of the 16 false Georgia electors for Trump filed motions seeking to quash their subpoenas. Following a ruling from Judge McBurney, DA Fani Willis and her office will not be permitted to question Jones’ before the SGJ regarding his role as one of the 16 false electors for Trump. Instead, there will be a special prosecutor appointed to oversee the inquiry into Jones.
- The judge ruled that DA Willis will be allowed to proceed with bringing the other false electors for Trump before the SGJ. The other false electors have moved for reconsideration of that ruling, which the judge rejected.
- DA Willis has informed the false electors that they are targets in the SGJ probe.
A bipartisan team of former prosecutors and ethics experts authored two reports for The Brookings Institution that outlined the possible charges that Trump and his allies could face as a result of the SGJ’s investigation:
- Trump could be indicted for election crimes under Georgia law:
- Solicitation to commit election fraud (Ga. Code Ann. 21-2-604(a))
- Intentional interference with performance of election duties (Ga. Code Ann. 21-2-597)
- Conspiracy to commit election fraud (Ga. Code. Ann. 21-2-603)
- Interference with primaries and elections (Ga. Code Ann. § 21-2-566)
- Trump could be indicted for other crimes under Georgia law:
- Making false statements (Ga. Code Ann. 16-10-20)
- Improperly influencing government officials (Ga. Code Ann. 16-10-93)
- Forgery in the first degree (Ga. Code. Ann. § 16-9-1)
- Criminal solicitation (Ga. Code Ann. 16-4-7) (requires one or more additional crimes to be solicited)
- Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violations (Ga. Code Ann. § 16-14-1 et. seq.)
- The Jolt: DA Fani Willis on Trump grand jury probe: ‘This is not a game at all.’
- Opinion | The Jan 6. Hearings have turbocharged the Georgia investigation of Trump
- Opinion | The Georgia investigation remains Trump’s biggest problem yet
- Accountability for the ringleaders of Jan. 6. must come from the states
- By Train, Bus or Uber, Giuliani Is Told to Come to Georgia
- Lindsey Graham hires former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn in Georgia election investigation
- AJC poll: Most Georgia voters say Trump at least partly to blame for Jan. 6
- On the docket: Atlanta v. Trumpworld
- Fulton judge ‘Alternate’ GOP electors must honor subpoenas to testify
- Fulton County DA sends ‘target’ letters to Trump allies in Georgia investigation
- Fulton grand jury subpoenas Giuliani, Graham, Trump campaign lawyers
- Trump was told overturning Georgia election was illegal; he tried anyway
Since SGJ proceedings are kept secret, the nature and date of the individual’s testimony is limited to public reporting on the progress of the SGJ. Individuals in this section are listed in alphabetical order by last name.