Fulton DA details next stage of Trump probe

In an interview, Fani Willis discusses plans for special grand jury, recent threats

The Fulton County investigation examining former President Donald Trump’s push to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results is entering a new phase, District Attorney Fani Willis said.

One year after the Democrat announced she was probing the actions of Trump and his allies here, prosecutors are turning their attention to a newly approved special purpose grand jury that can authorize subpoenas to compel testimony from more reticent witnesses.

“We realize that we’re coming to a place that there are enough people that will require a subpoena for us to speak to or for us to be able to get information,” Willis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday in an exclusive interview.

The comments are some of Willis’ most extensive about the criminal probe since a group of Fulton County judges greenlit her request for a special grand jury, unlocking a rarely used prosecutorial tool that her team can use for up to a year.

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Unlike a regular grand jury, which hears information on dozens of felony cases on any given day, this group will focus solely on the Trump investigation.

Selection of the 16 to 23 jurors will begin May 2. They can hear testimony directly from witnesses and issue subpoenas for documents and information but can’t indict. The jury will instead issue a report at the end of its service laying out recommendations, including possible charges that prosecutors could pursue before a regular grand jury.

Willis’ probe is centered on the phone call that Trump placed to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, during which he urged the Republican to “find” the 11,780 votes to overcome President Joe Biden’s win in Georgia. The inquiry is also examining the abrupt resignation of former Atlanta-based U.S. Attorney BJay Pak; a November 2020 call U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., placed to Raffensperger; and false claims made by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani during a state Senate hearing.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Willis on Thursday didn’t specify exactly what she would do regarding the16 fake Republican electors who cast ballots for Trump in a sham ceremony in the Georgia Capitol in December 2020. The January 6 Committee on Capitol Hill issued subpoenas to some of those participants last week, including Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer.

“Our investigation is going to be complete,” the veteran prosecutor said. “So if it is found that that which you speak of with the electors is part of a scheme to do something criminal related to the 2020 election, then it’s going to be looked at.”

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Among the potential violations of state law Willis’ office is examining are criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, intentional interference with the performance of election duties, conspiracy and racketeering, among others.

Willis on Thursday clarified her timeline for the investigation. She said past comments she made, which led some people to believe she could decide whether to bring charges as early as the first half of 2022, were imprecise.

Instead, Willis said she expects the special grand jury will see a lot of activity in June and July. Even though the group can meet until spring 2023, she said it’s possible it wraps up its work earlier.

“There’s a possibility that after two months we’ll have all the information we need to press forward. There’s a possibility that after week one that some appellate issue will come and there’s a halt,” she said. “But what I do think is within a year we will have all the information that we need.”

In the meantime, 10 or so members of Willis’ staff will be working behind the scenes to prepare for the special grand jury.

Willis wouldn’t elaborate on whom she wants to compel to testify, though she previously said Raffensperger wanted to first be subpoenaed before submitting to questions.

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Twelve months into the probe, Willis said she’s received a mix of responses from supporters of the former president, including a litany of racist slurs and threats over the phone and on social media that have prompted her to increase security at work and at home. She said those threats have escalated over the last week after Trump called out investigators in Fulton County, New York and Capitol Hill during a recent rally in Texas.

“If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt,” Trump told supporters last Saturday.

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The remarks prompted Willis to request security assistance from the FBI’s field office in Atlanta for the Fulton County courthouse and the surrounding areas.

“What I’ll tell you is that conversations have begun and I believe that those partnerships are necessary to keep all of us here safe,” she said.

Willis said she plans to run for reelection in 2024 and insisted that politics is playing no role in her decision-making about whether to move forward with the Trump case.

Trump’s allies have dismissed Willis’ probe, as well as two separate inquiries in New York, as partisan witch hunts.