UPDATE: Fulton DA says indictment decisions will come soon in Trump probe

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Update: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis suggested Tuesday afternoon that a decision on whether to seek indictments is “imminent” following an eight-month special grand jury investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and his allies criminally meddled in Georgia’s 2020 elections.

Her comments came during a 90-minute hearing in which Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney considered whether and when to release the grand jury’s final report, which is expected to include the group’s findings and potential recommendations on indictments.

Willis and her team argued the report should be kept private for now.

“The state understands the media’s inquiry and the world’s interest, but we have to be mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights,” the DA, a Democrat, said.

Without commenting on who those future defendants may be, Willis said “decisions are imminent.”

“At this time, in the interest of justice and the rights of not the state, but others, we are asking that the report not be released,” she said.

McBurney said he has yet to come to a decision about sealing the report.

“There will be no rash decisions,” he said.

This is a developing story. Check back later to AJC.com for updates

ExploreFulton DA: Decision on indictments in Trump probe may be ‘imminent’

Original story: A Fulton County judge will hear arguments Tuesday from the District Attorney’s office, news media organizations and other stakeholders about whether to make public the final report of a special grand jury that investigated potential criminal interference in Georgia’s 2020 elections.

But attorneys for one of the central players, former President Donald Trump, said they do not plan on attending or participating in the hearing.

It will ultimately be up to Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney to determine whether to release the report, which is expected to include a summary of the grand jury’s findings and recommendations about whether anyone should be indicted. McBurney will also decide whether portions of the document should be redacted or expunged before it’s seen by the public.

Jurors recommended that their report be published, McBurney previously said.

ExploreFulton Trump probe: Jury’s report could be released soon — or in months

The hearing, scheduled to begin at noon, could provide the most detail yet about what jurors uncovered, as well as whether or when Fulton DA Fani Willis plans to seek charges against Trump or anyone else. Willis, a Democrat up for re-election next year, hasn’t spoken publicly about the investigation in months.

Meanwhile, a coalition of a dozen news outlets, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, plans to argue that there is no legal basis for keeping the report under seal.

ExploreMedia coalition: Make Fulton County special grand jury report public

“The public interest in the report is extraordinary, and there are no countervailing interests sufficient to overcome the presumption,” the coalition stated in a pre-hearing filing. In addition to the AJC, the group includes WSB-TV, The Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, WXIA-TV and others.

The District Attorney’s Office did not submit a pre-hearing brief.

Lawyers representing targets of the probe could also speak up at the hearing, though no one stepped forward as of Monday afternoon. Attorneys for more than a dozen targets did not respond to requests for comment.

Credit: NATRICE MILLER

Credit: NATRICE MILLER

Trump’s Georgia-based legal team said it has “never been a part of” the grand jury process. In a statement, Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little confirmed that Trump was never subpoenaed by the special grand jury, nor did Fulton prosecutors ask the former president to voluntarily answer questions.

“Therefore, we can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump,” they said Monday afternoon.

Attorney Charles Burnham, who represents John Eastman, a lawyer who helped design the plan to appoint a slate of “alternate” Republican presidential electors here, declined to discuss his strategy. But he did say, “grand juries are one-sided and unfair, but we hold out hope that jurors appreciated that while they may disagree with John Eastman’s views there was clearly no crime committed.”

The special grand jury spent eight months investigating whether Trump or his allies broke any state laws as they sought to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia more than two years ago.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The panel was convened to help Willis subpoena hostile witnesses and compile evidence. Its 23 members heard from dozens of people behind closed doors, and the jury was dissolved on Jan. 9 by a majority vote of the county’s 19 Superior Court judges.

Today’s hearing is on the one-year anniversary of when the special grand jury was authorized by those same Fulton jurists.

ExploreFulton special grand jury completes Trump investigation

The final report is expected to be released in some form, though legal experts are divided over how much will be redacted.

A 1961 Georgia appeals court decision states that a grand jury has no right, in the absence of specific statutory authority, to issue a report suggesting misconduct or impugning the character of a public official — unless such accusations are included in an indictment.

McBurney “has to walk a very fine line,” said former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan during a recent press briefing held by the Defend Democracy Project. “We will not see the full report on Tuesday. The judge, though, will put some fire behind the district attorney and say: ‘I’m going to order that this report be released in its entirety at such and such a date.’”

Norm Eisen, who previously served as President Barack Obama’s ethics czar, said McBurney may choose to keep certain details private to avoid witness tampering or threats.

“There’s considerations about the timing and the sequencing,” said Eisen, who was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment, during the briefing. “I will just say, if I were the DA… I would want the judge to sequence the release of the report with the indictments, so it comes out at the same time as the indictments. And that may mean that she needs to speed up or slow down on her indictments.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Eisen co-authored a report for the Brookings Institution arguing that Trump is “extremely exposed” to criminal liability in Fulton County. But John Malcolm, a former federal prosecutor who is vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government, is skeptical, based on the information that is available publicly, that Willis has enough to indict Trump, his onetime attorneys and other investigation targets like the GOP electors.

“I think what you’re going to end up finding is that they filed longshot lawsuits that were not thoroughly investigated and that they gave some questionable, if not outright bad legal advice,” Malcolm said. “Those things should not be crimes, and if somebody is charged with a crime for doing those things that is not only a dangerous precedent, but would have a real chilling effect on the practice of law.”