Lawyers for Donald Trump launched a broad attack on a Fulton County criminal probe into election interference in Georgia, arguing in a court filing on Monday that the conduct of the prosecutor, the judge and a special purpose grand jury tainted the investigation.
The former president’s legal team asked a judge to quash the final report of the special grand jury, which has recommended indictments connected to meddling in the 2020 election by Trump and his allies.
They are also demanding the DA’s office be recused from pursuing the case.
“The whole world has watched the process of the (special purpose grand jury) unfold and what they have witnessed was a process that was confusing, flawed and, at times, unconstitutional,” said the 52-page filing, which includes 431 more pages of exhibits. “Given the scrutiny and gravity of the investigation and those individuals involved — namely, the movant President Donald J. Trump, this process should have been handled correctly, fairly and with deference to the law and the highest ethical standards.”
The motion — filed by Trump’s Atlanta-based attorneys, Jennifer Little, Drew Findling and Marissa Goldberg — requests that any evidence derived from the special grand jury’s final report be “suppressed as unconstitutionally derived and any prosecuting body be prevented from its use.”
The aggressive legal offensive from Trump’s team showed they were not planning to wait and see whether the former president would be indicted in Georgia. They are seeking to severely damage — and perhaps shut down — an investigation that heard testimony from about 75 witnesses, including some of Trump’s closest aides and confidantes.
The mammoth filing came more than a month after Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who presided over the special grand jury, released a redacted version of the group’s final report. It also comes as the former president gears up for a potential indictment in Manhattan this week as part of a separate criminal case that centers on hush money payments made to a porn star during Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Trump’s lawyers said Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis’ comments to the media throughout the course of the Georgia investigation violated prosecutorial standards. They said the Democrat should have been disqualified from the entire probe after McBurney blocked her last summer from examining Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, a named “target” of the investigation, due to a political conflict of interest.
“The resulting prejudicial taint cannot be excised from the results of the investigation or any future prosecution by the (Fulton DA’s) Office,” they wrote. The filing said Georgia’s special grand jury laws “violate the principles of fundamental fairness and due process” and the investigation was “erroneous and, more importantly, unconstitutional.”
Although the special grand jury was convened about six months before Trump announced his White House bid for 2024 — and Willis first announced she was investigating in February 2021 — the filing accuses the DA’s office of playing politics.
“President Trump was inextricably intertwined with this investigation since its inception,” the motion said. “The efforts under investigation squarely relate to his bid for a second term as president of the United States.”
Credit: Miguel Martinez for the AJC
Credit: Miguel Martinez for the AJC
A spokesman for the DA’s office declined to comment.
Little, Findling and Goldberg also asked for a hearing on the motion and for it be heard by Chief Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville or another Superior Court judge, but not McBurney. The filing argued that McBurney violated the rights of parties impacted by the investigation by speaking to the media. They also pointed to his interpretation of Georgia statutes, including deeming the probe criminal, not civil, in nature.
The latter, they wrote, “had a negative ripple effect on the constitutional integrity of the entire process as it permitted the compulsion of testimony from out-of-state witnesses and impacted the application of core constitutional privileges such as the Fifth Amendment and sovereign immunity.”
McBurney declined to comment on the filing.
Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC
Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC
The motion also took aim at public comments made by special grand jury forewoman Emily Kohrs, as well as five other grand jurors who recently sat down for an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The five jurors spoke on the condition of not being named because of concerns about their safety and privacy.
None of the jurors revealed who they had recommended be criminally charged in the probe, though Kohrs told the AJC that the final report suggested that multiple people be indicted. “It’s not a short list,” she said. The final indictment decisions ultimately lie with Willis.
One of the other grand jurors interviewed by The AJC said that when the full report comes out, “it’s gonna be massive.”
Trump’s attorneys said Kohrs’ comments revealed that the grand jury’s procedures and the way they were applied by McBurney and the DA’s office “failed to protect the most basic procedural and substantive constitutional rights of all individuals discussed by this investigative body.”
They said the remarks “taint” any future grand juries or trial juries that might be appointed in this case moving forward.
Norm Eisen, former President Barack Obama’s ethics czar, said the motion was akin to “throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.”
“Special grand juries are well and long recognized under Georgia law and so Trump’s claim that this one was somehow unconstitutional is going nowhere,” said Eisen, who has co-authored an extensive report on the Fulton probe for the Brookings Institution.
Public comments from the jurors and the DA fall within the law and Trump’s arguments in favor of recusing McBurney are without merit, he added. “Trump is just attempting to get away from a judge he does not like,” said Eisen, who was special counsel to House Democrats during their first push to impeach Trump. “That kind of judge-shopping is frowned upon by applicable law and by judges.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been committed to covering the tumultuous fallout of the 2020 election — from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol to a secretive meeting in Atlanta of “alternate” GOP electors and President Donald Trump’s phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State asking him to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s narrow win. In Fulton County, those actions helped set in motion an unprecedented criminal investigation — including the seating of a special grand jury — to determine whether the ex-president and his supporters unlawfully meddled in the election.