Georgia DA asks for special grand jury in election probe
The Georgia prosecutor looking into possible attempts to interfere in the 2020 general election by former President Donald Trump and others has asked for a special grand jury to aid the investigation.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Thursday sent a letter to Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher asking him to impanel a special grand jury. She wrote in the letter that her office “has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the State of Georgia's administration of elections in 2020, including the State's election of the President of the United States, was subject to possible criminal disruptions.”
Willis has declined to speak about the specifics of her investigation, but in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month she confirmed that its scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.
A Trump spokesman has previously dismissed the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Graham has also denied any wrongdoing.
Willis' office has tried to interview multiple witnesses and gather evidence, but some witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate without a subpoena, she wrote in the letter to Brasher. For example, Willis wrote in the letter that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom she calls an “essential witness,” has “indicated that he will not participate in an interview or otherwise offer evidence until he is presented with a subpoena by my office." A special grand jury would have the power to subpoena witnesses.
Raffensperger's office did not immediately respond to an email Thursday asking whether he would decline to participate without a subpoena.
Special grand juries, which are not used often in Georgia, can help in the investigation of complex matters. They do not have the power to return an indictment but can make recommendations to prosecutors on criminal prosecutions.
Willis said the special grand jury is needed because it can serve a term longer than a normal grand jury term. It would also be able to focus on this investigation alone, allowing it to focus on the complex facts and circumstances. And having a special grand jury would mean that the regular seated grand jury wouldn't have to deal with this investigation in addition to their regular duties, Willis wrote.
Willis, who took office in January 2021, sent letters to top elected officials in Georgia in February instructing them to preserve any records related to the general election, particularly any evidence of attempts to influence election officials. The probe includes “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration,” the letters said.
In her letter to Brasher, Willis said her office has learned that people who may have tried to influence Georgia's election have had contact with the secretary of state, the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta. That means her office is the only one with the authority to investigate these matters that is not also a potential witness.