For nearly eight months, 23 Fulton County residents met in secret to investigate a hotly contested question: did former President Donald Trump and his allies break Georgia laws by meddling in the 2020 election?
On Thursday, the public got its first glimpse into what they found as a judge released five pages of their final report.
Members of the special grand jury agreed unanimously that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election as Trump and his supporters had claimed. A majority of the panel also recommended that prosecutors should pursue perjury charges against at least one witness they believe lied under oath in their testimony.
But anyone looking for juicy details about the probe came away disappointed. Besides dropping some tantalizing clues, the portions of the report which were made public raised more questions than they answered.
No witnesses were named and no new evidence revealed. There was also no mention of the panel’s highly-anticipated recommendations for who should be charged with state crimes. Those portions are likely to be released only after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis makes indictment decisions, which could take weeks or longer.
Still, Thursday’s excerpts were being picked apart by observers seeking hints on what was proposed. Some expressed surprise that the final document might only be nine pages long, not the expansive look at the election that the Jan. 6 committee on Capitol Hill took late last year.
“It’s certainly not definitive on whether Trump should be charged,” said attorney Norm Eisen, who co-authored a report on the Fulton probe for the Brookings Institute. “But the declaration that they found that no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election is another nail in Trump’s coffin.”
Trump, however, cast the report as a win.
“Thank you to the Special Grand Jury in the Great State of Georgia for your Patriotism & Courage,” Trump posted on his platform Truth Social. “Total exoneration. The USA is very proud of you!!!”
It is possible other parts of the report, which remain under seal, could implicate Trump.
Eisen, who was President Barack Obama’s ethics czar and helped lead House Democrats’ first Trump impeachment, noted that Trump’s defense has been that something amiss happened during the 2020 election in Georgia.
“That defense has now been eliminated, not by a prosecutorial adversary but by 23 members of the grand jury who unanimously explained this is their view,” he said.
In the report, grand jurors wrote that they heard “extensive testimony on the subject of alleged election fraud from poll workers, investigators, technical experts and state of Georgia employees and officials, as well as from persons still claiming that such fraud took place.” But they said they were unanimous in finding “no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election that could result in overturning that election.”
‘Perjury may have been committed’
Grand jurors provided their clearest guidance in a section of the report devoted to whether witnesses lied to them under oath.
“A majority of the Grand Jury believes that perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses testifying before it,” the report said. “The Grand Jury recommends that the District Attorney seek appropriate indictments for such crimes where the evidence is compelling.”
But it did not specify which witnesses it was referring or why it believed they lied. Among those who testified were leaders in state government as well as key members of Trump’s inner circle.
“With this cast of characters, and I mean those on the national level, is there really any surprise there might be suspicions of perjury?” asked former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.
The grand jurors also noted an appendix of relevant Georgia statutes was attached to the final report.
But in the introduction of the report that was released, the special grand jurors wrote that they had provided “recommendations on indictments and relevant statutes.” They also said the report will show the tallies of their votes on “each topic.”
Porter said that could prove helpful when the DA considers bringing possible charges.
“Let’s say you put up your case with no cross-examination and no evidence from the defense, which is how the grand jury system works, and you only got 12 of 23 votes recommending indictment, you might want to think about that,” he said. “And it would be quite another thing if you have other charges with 23 votes.”
A Willis spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Trump’s Georgia-based legal team.
On Truth Social, Trump noted that the report excerpts did not mention his name.
They “have nothing to do with the President because President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong,” the statement said. “The President participated in two perfect phone calls regarding election integrity in Georgia, which he is entitled to do — in fact, as President, it was President Trump’s Constitutional duty to ensure election safety, security, and integrity.”
The statement went on to falsely state that none of the people who participated in either phone call “objected, even slightly protested, or hung up.” On his Jan. 2, 2021 phone call with Trump, Brad Raffensperger and his office’s counsel Ryan Germany repeatedly rebuffed claims made by the then-president.
The special grand jury, which was advised by the DA’s office, interviewed 75 witnesses, including top state officials, former White House aides and several of Trump’s closest advisers. But jurors did not seek testimony from the probe’s central figure: Trump himself, according to his attorneys.
Among the incidents jurors investigated was the leaked Trump-Raffensperger phone call, during which Trump asked the fellow Republican to “find” 11,780 votes, one more than was needed to swing the outcome of the election. The panel also examined the appointment of a slate of 16 “alternate” Republican electors, testimony lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others gave to Georgia lawmakers, the alleged harassment of a Fulton poll worker and a breach of elections data in Coffee County, Ga.
At least 18 people were named investigation “targets” and warned by prosecutors that they could face charges. Among them were Giuliani and David Shafer, the head of the Georgia GOP who abruptly announced last week that he would not seek another term. More people could ultimately be indicted, or Willis could opt to focus on a smaller group or decline to prosecute anyone, though the latter is considered less likely.
The special grand jury delivered its recommendations to Fulton prosecutors in January. A majority of jurors had to reach an agreement for items to be shared in the report.
If Willis decides to pursue charges, she must present her case before a regular grand jury. Willis has kept her plans close to the vest, though she hinted at a hearing last month that decisions were “imminent.”
Under Georgia law, perjury could be tried as a standalone charge or a predicate act under the state’s anti-racketeering statute. Willis previously said she was looking at potential violations of RICO in connection with the elections investigation.
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Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC