Fulton prosecutors to begin jury selection for Trump probe

Special grand jury can issue subpoenas but not indictments

Jury selection is slated to begin early Monday in downtown Atlanta for a special investigative panel that will delve into the actions of former President Donald Trump and his allies as they sought to reverse Georgia’s 2020 election results.

Prosecutors from the Fulton County District Attorney’s office are set to choose 23 residents, along with three alternates, to serve on a so-called special purpose grand jury.

The group will provide some much-needed investigative firepower to prosecutors, who have reached out to some 30 witnesses who have declined to testify voluntarily over the course of their 15-month-long criminal probe. That includes star witness Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state whom Trump called in January 2021 and pressured to reverse Joe Biden’s win in Georgia.

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The special grand jury can issue subpoenas for documents and testimony but can’t approve indictments. Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis would ultimately need to present a case in front of a separate regular grand jury to do the latter.

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Still, impaneling a special grand jury represents a “significant legal step” in a potential criminal case, said former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.

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“I think (Trump) probably should be concerned in that now, instead of just investigators poking around the edges, he’s got a grand jury that can go directly to the heart of it and compel testimony,” Porter said. “They may be able to compel his testimony.”

In addition to the Trump-Raffensperger phone call, Willis has indicated that her team is scrutinizing the abrupt resignation of former Atlanta-based U.S. Attorney BJay Pak; a November 2020 call that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., placed to Raffensperger; and false claims made by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani during a hearing before the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Prosecutors could also investigate the 16 phony Republican electors who cast ballots for Trump in a sham ceremony in December 2020.

Willis previously told state officials that among the potential violations of Georgia law she was examining were criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, intentional interference with the performance of election duties, conspiracy and racketeering.

If there’s enough evidence that someone committed a crime, Willis recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I’m going to bring an indictment — I don’t care who it is.”

Monday’s proceedings at the Fulton County Justice Center Complex are expected to snarl traffic in downtown Atlanta. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has advised the public to avoid the area if possible and announced a slate of road closures surrounding the courthouse.

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Jury selection is expected to be relatively straightforward and take about a day, though it’s possible it could bleed into Tuesday.

After the panel’s lineup is set, Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert C.I. McBurney, who’s been assigned to supervise the special grand jury, will swear in the jurors and task them with their legal responsibilities. Prosecutors are also expected to give introductory remarks about how the process will work and answer questions.

Some of the proceedings will be streamed live on the Fulton County Superior Court webpage.

The substance of the DA’s investigation, though, and the specific records and witnesses that prosecutors are seeking to subpoena will only be shared behind closed doors.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

All grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret, which means that neither the press nor lawyers for Trump will be allowed to monitor the discussion.

Unlike regular grand juries, which meet for two-month periods in Fulton County and hear hundreds of different felony cases, special grand juries convene for much longer and focus on a single issue.

This panel is authorized to meet for up to one year, but Willis said it’s possible their work could wrap up sooner.

At the end of their service, special grand juries issue a set of recommendations about what the DA should do next, including potentially pursuing charges. The top prosecutor can then choose to agree with or ignore the advice.

Special grand juries have been used sparingly in Georgia, mainly for complex public corruption cases.

Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said that such bodies tend to take on personalities of their own. Jurors often become deeply interested in the cases before them and can proactively make requests of prosecutors.

“Anything’s possible because they don’t just sit there and listen to two sides present a case. They get to ask questions, they get to get involved,” he said. “They can break out in committees if they want to look at different things, and then come back and report to the full body.”

Out of the 23 grand jurors, 16 must be present at any given time to conduct business and at least 12 must agree for a subpoena or any other action to be approved.

In the opening weeks of the investigation, the grand jury is expected to meet regularly and issue a flurry of subpoenas, though Willis said she won’t require witnesses to testify before June 1 in order to steer clear of the May 24 primary election.

Trump has remained relatively tight-lipped about developments in Fulton County, though he previously called his phone call with Raffensperger “perfect” and complained more broadly about “radical,” “vicious” and “racist” prosecutors singling him out.

Legal observers, however, expect Trump’s attorneys to fight to delay and stymie the proceedings at every turn.

Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.

OUR REPORTING

Balanced, accurate fact-based reporting is an ethical obligation for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

We are committed to comprehensively covering the Fulton County district attorney’s investigation of former President Donald Trump, from the latest developments to its political and historical implications.

We’ve covered other angles like Trump’s potential legal defenses, Willis’ experience with racketeering laws and how legal experts disagree whether prosecutors have enough evidence of criminal intent to move forward with a case.

Read those stories and more on AJC.com.

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