Backgrounder: Fulton County Special Grand Jury Investigation Into 2020 Presidential Interference
- In January 2022, Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis was granted authorization to convene a special grand jury to investigate election interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election contest.
- After the special grand jury members were empaneled in May 2022, they began hearing testimony from a wide array of witnesses (staff, advisors, and attorneys for former President Trump, Georgia statewide officers and their staff, Georgia legislators, federal legislators, local election workers, members of the press, and a documentary filmmaker).
- The special grand jury concluded its work in early 2023 and was dissolved. On February 13, 2023, Judge Robert McBurney, citing due process and other considerations, ruled that portions of the special grand jury report will remain private while others will be released in the near future. On February 16, 2023, sections of the report were released and the full report was released on September 8. DA Willis is still considering whether to pursue indictments.
- In August 2023, DA Willis presented her case to a grand jury, which indicted Trump and 18 other defendants on election interference charges. The 98-page indictment alleges violations of 16 Georgia statutes.
Last update: 9.29.2023
- On January 2, 2021, 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. In January 2023, the court announced that the SGJ had completed its work and was being dissolved and a hearing was held on whether to publicly release the report.
- 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.
- In July 2022, 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.
- In November 2022, it was reported that DA Willis may be exploring immunity agreements with some of the false electors.
- In early January 2023, Judge McBurney issued an order detailing that the SGJ had fulfilled its duties and submitted its final report to the judicial bench for review.
- On January 24, 2023, Judge McBurney held a hearing for stakeholders to present arguments as to whether the SGJ report should be publicly disclosed. DA Willis advocated for the report to be kept private for the time being and revealed at the hearing that her decision on whether to seek indictments was “imminent.”
- On February 13, 2023, Judge McBurney, citing due process and other considerations, ruled that portions of the special grand jury report will remain private. In that ruling, he also announced that three sections of the report will be released in the near future: the introduction, the conclusion, and a section regarding concerns that “some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony to the grand jury.”
- On February 16, 2023, these sections of the report were released. The excerpts revealed:
- the SGJ “received evidence from or involving 75 witnesses[;]”
- the SGJ members voted unanimously that “no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election that could result in overturning that election[;]”
- and that a majority of the SGJ members believe “perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses testifying before it” and recommend that DA Willis seek indictments where appropriate.
- In February and March of 2023, several members of the SGJ gave interviews to the press regarding their service on the SGJ. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed some of these members, who spoke on the condition that their identity be kept private and that they would not reveal “internal deliberations or share their indictment recommendations.
- In April 2023, DA Willis said she would announce possible criminal indictments in her investigation into interference in the 2020 Georgia election this summer (between July 11 and September 1). She provided this advance notice to law enforcement agencies so that they have sufficient time to prepare to protect the public when her announcement is made.
- As of May 2023, at least eight of the false Georgia electors for Trump have accepted immunity deals from DA Willis.
- On September 8, 2023, Judge McBurney ordered the public release of the full version of the SGJ’s final report. The SGJ’s report recommended that Trump and more than three dozen of his allies be charged. Some individuals that the SGJ recommended for indictment, that have not been charged by DA Willis, include: United States Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, ex-Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former United States Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler (who were then the sitting senators from Georgia at that time), attorneys Cleta Mitchell and Lin Wood, and former Georgia State Senators William Ligon and Burt Jones (who is now the state’s Lieutenant Governor).
The SGJ issued subpoenas to a variety of individuals (staff, advisors, and attorneys for former President Trump, Georgia statewide officers and their staff, Georgia legislators, federal legislators, local election workers, members of the press, and a documentary filmmaker) and heard testimony from numerous individuals.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. Testimony before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol also shed light on election interference events in Georgia that are of interest to DA Willis and the SGJ.
- A number of witnesses litigated their subpoenas in attempts to avoid testimony or limit their testimony: Chesebro; Deason; Eastman; Ellis; false electors; Graham; Hice; Kemp; and Meadows. The majority of individuals were unsuccessful in challenging their subpoenas, with limited exceptions (Deason and Jones).
- In February 2023, a group of news organizations filed suit asking for full access to the SGJ report.
- In March 2023, Trump filed a motion to quash the final report of the SGJ. Cathy Latham, a false elector for Trump, later filed a motion to join Trump’s and the judge extended the deadline for DA Willis’ office to respond to both motions.
- In March 2023, counsel for David Shafer (chair of the GOP Republican Party) sent a letter to DA Willis arguing that Shafer was following legal advice and broke no laws when participating as a false elector for Trump in the 2020 election.
- In April 2023, DA Willis’ office filed a motion to disqualify an attorney, Kimberly Bourroughs Debrow, who is representing ten of the false electors. The motion alleges Debrow failed to inform her clients about the potential immunity deals offered by the DA’s office last summer.
- In May 2023, DA Willis filed a motion asking the court to deem her request to remove Debrow moot now that eight of her false elector clients have accepted immunity deals and her other false elector clients have hired new counsel.
- In July 2023, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected Trump’s direct petition to that court asking for DA Willis to be disqualified from the 2020 presidential election probe and for the SGJ’s final report to be quashed.
- In July 2023, Trump filed a motion alleging that DA Willis has a conflict of interest and should be removed from 2020 election interference case because she has used this probe to solicit campaign donations.
- In July 2023, Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Ural Glanville ruled that all active county superior court judges should be recused from the civil case Trump filed against DA Willis and Judge McBurney and assigned the case to the Seventh Judicial Administrative District. The Seventh District covers 14 counties in the northwestern portion of the state. Senior Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster, a former Cobb County judge, has been assigned to this case and has scheduled a hearing for August 10.
- In July 2023, Judge McBurney rejected Trump’s and Latham’s, one of the false electors, motion to quash DA Willis’ investigation, finding that they did not have standing to make this challenge before indictments are announced.
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
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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.