Fulton DA urges judge to reject Trump’s attempt to gut inquiry

Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis (center) confers with colleagues Nathan Wade (left) and Donald Wakeford (right) during a Jan. 24, 2023, hearing before Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis (center) confers with colleagues Nathan Wade (left) and Donald Wakeford (right) during a Jan. 24, 2023, hearing before Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Fulton County’s top prosecutor was dismissive Monday of efforts by former President Donald Trump and a GOP ally to derail her office’s more than 2-year-old criminal investigation of attempts to meddle in Georgia’s 2020 elections.

District Attorney Fani Willis said recent court motions from Trump and Cathy Latham, who served as an “alternate” GOP elector, were “procedurally flawed and advance arguments that lack merit.”

“The state respectfully requests that this court retain supervision of this matter and dismiss or deny the motions as appropriate without a hearing,” wrote Willis and one of her deputies, Donald Wakeford, in a 24-page court filing. They added that “most of the (Trump’s and Latham’s) arguments are barred by lack of standing, untimeliness, and other procedural flaws, and any remaining arguments are without merit.”

The DA’s comments came in response to an extensive broadside Trump’s Atlanta-based attorneys filed in late March. Trump’s team is seeking to disqualify the Fulton DA’s office from investigating the former president and to quash the release of the full final report authored by the special grand jury that aided Willis and recommended upwards of a dozen indictments, according to its forewoman.

Trump’s team wants to suppress the use of any evidence collected by the special jury during its nearly eight months of work. The Republican also requested that Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the panel, step aside given past rulings and comments to the media.

McBurney, who has heard other disputes related to the inquiry over the last year, had asked the DA’s office to respond and address whether a hearing needed to be held on the matter.

In their filing, the prosecutors said that such a hearing would be premature given that no one has been charged with a crime.

Trump’s and Latham’s challenges, “fly in the face of the orderly administration of the laws of the state of Georgia,” their motion stated. “If an investigation results in actual criminal charges against (Trump and Latham), the justice system ensures they will have no shortage of available remedies to pursue.”

In a statement, Trump’s lawyers — Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg — said the DA’s response “failed to address several of the critical substantive issues which were discussed at length in our brief and exhibits.” On Tuesday, the legal team filed a request to file a response to the DA’s filing, asking McBurney for 21 days to do so based “on the complexity of the issues at bar.”

Latham’s lawyer, Kieran Shanahan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s motion asserted that the Georgia statute allowing for the operation of special grand juries was unconstitutionally vague. It said that publication of excerpts of the final report violated the former president’s rights to fundamental fairness and due process.

His motion was joined last month by Latham, the former head of the Coffee County GOP who served as a fake elector and was on hand to greet data technicians hired by a Trump campaign attorney to copy confidential elections data from voting machines at the county elections office in Jan. 2021.

Prosecutors said Trump’s and Latham’s challenge to the constitutionality of the special grand jury’s operation involve its effects upon “the rights of actual witnesses” who testified before it. Yet neither Trump nor Latham testified before the special grand jury and, partly for this reason, they have no standing to make such a challenge, the response said.

As for their claims that Willis said and retweeted things that were so improper the office should be disqualified, the motion said Trump and Latham should have filed such complaints years ago when the comments were made. Moreover, even if such a motion was filed earlier, the comments were “conditional, vague comments regarding ‘allegations,’ or general statements about the investigation and the reason for its pursuit,” the DA argued.

Trump and Latham “are not content to follow the ordinary course of the law,” the DA’s filing said. “They seek to ‘restrain’ a criminal investigation before any charges are filed or even sought.”

In interviews with the AJC, special grand jurors said their final report recommends that Willis seek indictments against a number of unidentified individuals, though the final decision rests with the DA.

In a recent letter to local law enforcement officials, Willis warned them to prepare security for her charging decisions that could come in July or August and suggested that Trump would be indicted.

Separately, a number of news media outlets on Monday, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, opposed Trump’s motion to expunge the special grand jury’s final report.

“Not only is such a remedy unsupported by any legal basis, it would also be starkly at odds with the fundamental principles of this nation and state,” the motion said. “The report is a matter of the utmost public concern, and it should be released to the public in its entirety.”

Among those joining the AJC motion were CNN, The Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and CMG Media Corp. and its station WSB-TV.