While investigations of former President Donald Trump in New York and at the Justice Department have monopolized the attention, it’s the probe launched in Fulton County that’s seen by some legal experts as the most potentially damaging to the ex-commander-in-chief.
Since Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis announced her inquiry in February 2021, it’s become clear she’s looking at several episodes that occurred in Georgia in the two months following the 2020 presidential elections. Among them are phone calls Trump or his allies placed to state officials and the appointment of a slate of “alternate” GOP electors.
Here are the key developments so far:
Jan. 1, 2021
Veteran prosecutor Fani Willis is sworn in as Fulton County’s district attorney, becoming the first woman to hold the job. She had punched her ticket months earlier by soundly defeating her one-time boss, the six-term incumbent Paul Howard, in the Democratic primary runoff.
Jan. 2, 2021
Then-President Donald Trump, scrambling to challenge election results in several swing states, calls Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During the leaked hourlong conversation, Trump urges Raffensperger to “find” the nearly 12,000 votes to reverse his narrow defeat in Georgia.
Feb. 10, 2021
Willis announces her office is launching a criminal investigation into alleged attempts by Trump to change the outcome of the 2020 election in Georgia. She urges Raffensperger and others the president contacted, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr, to preserve documents that could be relevant to the probe. She said the investigation includes but is not limited to “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”
Jan. 20, 2022
Willis requests a special purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation of Trump. She tells members of Fulton County’s Superior Court that a “significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate with the investigation absent a subpoena requiring their testimony,” singling out Raffensperger. Willis later told the AJC that at least 30 people had declined to testify without a subpoena.
Jan. 24, 2022
A majority of the judges on the Fulton County Superior Court bench greenlight Willis’ request for a special purpose grand jury, which can meet for a period “not to exceed 12 months.” Judge Robert McBurney is assigned to supervise the jury and receive its reports.
Jan. 29, 2022
During a rally in Conroe, Texas, Trump tells supporters to launch “the biggest protest we have ever had” in Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C., if prosecutors “do anything illegal” in their probes of his activities. Trump also called prosecutors “radical” and “racist.” The top investigators leading the four major investigations are Black.
Jan. 30, 2022
Willis asks the head of the FBI’s Atlanta field office to conduct a risk assessment of the Fulton County Courthouse and Government Center and provide other protective resources, such as federal agents and intelligence. She says that security concerns were “escalated” by comments Trump made and that she wants to deter a Jan. 6-style insurrection.
May 2, 2022
From a pool of 200 people, McBurney selects 23 Fulton County residents, as well as three alternates, to sit on the special grand jury.
June 2, 2022
Raffensperger and his wife, Tricia, become the first two witnesses to testify before the special grand jury.
Early summer, 2022
Jurors issue subpoenas for top state officials, including Raffensperger’s senior aides, Chris Carr, House Speaker David Ralston and several other state legislators. They also request the appearance of the 16 “alternate” GOP electors.
June 29, 2022
Republican members of the General Assembly, including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and former Sen. William Ligon, challenge their subpoenas in court. The group argues it’s immune from testifying due to legislative privilege. McBurney eventually rules that the lawmakers are required to testify but that there are certain categories of questions that prosecutors can’t ask because of constitutional privileges.
July 5, 2022
The jury signs off on summons for several Trump confidantes and former lawyers who live outside of Georgia. Among those who received the so-called certificates of material witness, which essentially function as subpoenas once approved by judges in their local jurisdictions, were Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
July 6, 2022
Graham (R-S.C.) vows to fight his subpoena, calling the Fulton probe a “fishing expedition.” He argues the Constitution’s “Speech or Debate” clause shields him, as a member of Congress, from having to testify. Graham eventually files a motion to quash his subpoena in a Georgia federal court.
July 15, 2022
News breaks that two high-ranking Georgia Republicans who served as “alternate” presidential electors — state GOP chairman David Shafer and state Sen. Burt Jones, who had weeks earlier won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor — received letters informing them that they are “targets” of the investigation and that they could be indicted. Days later, the DA’s office discloses that the other 14 GOP electors were also sent target letters.
July 18, 2022
Georgia U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, becomes the second member of Congress to challenge a subpoena issued by the grand jury. A federal judge later rules that Hice had to testify but that there were certain subjects that prosecutors couldn’t ask him due to legislative privilege.
July 20, 2022
New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber orders Giuliani to appear before the Fulton special grand jury after the former New York City mayor fails to attend a previously-scheduled hearing to challenge his subpoena.
July 21, 2022
Jones seeks to disqualify Willis and her office from investigating him, arguing in court that a fundraiser she held for his Democratic opponent for lieutenant governor, Charlie Bailey, created a conflict of interest. McBurney sides with Jones, barring Willis and her office from questioning or investigating the legislator. His move allows the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia, a-state agency that assists Georgia’s district attorneys, to appoint another set of prosecutors to determine whether to subpoena Jones or charge him with any crimes.
Aug. 15, 2022
Federal U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May denies Graham’s bid to quash his subpoena, ruling that Willis “has shown extraordinary circumstances and a special need for Senator Graham’s testimony.” Graham’s lawyers quickly announce they’re appealing the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Aug. 17, 2022
Giuliani testifies before the special grand jury for roughly six hours, drawing dozens of reporters and television crews to downtown Atlanta. The blockbuster testimony comes two days after one of Giuliani’s attorneys confirmed that the former New York city mayor was a target of the investigation.
Aug. 17, 2022
Attorneys for Gov. Brian Kemp file a motion seeking to kill a subpoena for his testimony before the special grand jury. The summons was issued after plans for a voluntary interview with Fulton prosecutors were scuttled after an apparent communication breakdown with the DA’s office. About two weeks later, McBurney rules that Kemp must testify, but delays his testimony until after the November elections. Kemp ultimately testifies in mid-November.
Aug. 25, 2022
The grand jury issues additional summons seeking testimony from a fresh batch of Trump allies, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell and adviser Boris Epshteyn. It’s also soon revealed that they’re seeking testimony from libel attorney and election denier Lin Wood and evidence from Atlanta data services firm SullivanStrickler.
Sept. 7, 2022
Dallas-based attorney and podcaster Jacki Pick wins her legal fight against the Fulton DA’s office after the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas rules that her summons is moot. The court also notably suggests that Texans shouldn’t have to appear before Georgia special grand juries. Pick, who was named a target of the investigation, testified at a Georgia legislative hearing in Dec. 2020 and presented selected portions of security video footage taken election night at State Farm Arena, according to court filings. Pick is one of only two known witnesses to win her challenge against the Fulton DA’s office.
Oct. 7, 2022
The special grand jury approves summons for another batch of Trump allies, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn. Both Gingrich and Flynn appeal in their respective home states of Virginia and Florida. While Gingrich is seemingly able to run out the clock without testifying, a Florida appeals court clears the way for Flynn to testify in early December.
Nov. 1, 2022
The Supreme Court effectively forces Graham to testify before the special grand jury. Graham, who fights his summons longer than any other witness, appears before the panel just before Thanksgiving, answering questions for more than two hours.
Nov. 16, 2022
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testifies before the special grand jury. Her comments to the House Jan. 6 committee about conversations she said she had or overheard thrust her into the national spotlight.
Nov. 29, 2022
The South Carolina Supreme Court rejects former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ attempt to avoid testifying before the special grand jury. Spokesmen for Meadows and the Fulton DA’s office refuse to confirm Meadows’ testimony date.
Late December, 2022
The Select Committee established to examine the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol releases its final report, along with a trove of transcripts from hundreds of witnesses it interviewed over the course of its investigation. The transcripts provide Fulton prosecutors with additional evidence for their own probe, including under-oath interviews with new witnesses and information that legal experts say could help establish Trump’s state of mind as it relates to Georgia.
Jan. 9, 2023
McBurney announces that the special grand jury completed its work to the satisfaction and that the jury is being dissolved. Grand jurors recommended their report be released to the public but McBurney defers a decision.
Jan. 23, 2023
Issuing a statement for the first time since they were hired, former President Donald Trump’s Georgia-based legal team notes that their client was not subpoenaed or asked to voluntarily answer questions by Fulton prosecutors. “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,” Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little said in the statement.
Jan. 24, 2023
Fulton DA Fani Willis argues that Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney should keep the special grand jury’s report private for the time being — until her office decides whether to pursue any indictments stemming from the investigation. Meanwhile, a coalition representing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a dozen other news outlets urges McBurney to release the report as soon as possible. During that hearing, Willis says decisions are “imminent” in the case and suggests that indictments could be forthcoming. “We have to be mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights,” the DA says.
Feb. 13, 2023
McBurney rules that some parts of the grand jury’s report can be made public but others must remain under seal until Willis completes her investigation.
Feb. 16, 2023
Three portions of the grand jury’s report, over nine pages, are released by the Fulton County Superior Court. The report states that the grand jury believes that one or more witnesses committed perjury and recommend indictments against them. The report excerpt did not specify which witnesses.
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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC