ATLANTA (AP) — A grand jury that was sworn in Tuesday in Atlanta will likely consider whether criminal charges are appropriate for former President Donald Trump or his Republican allies for their efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating since shortly after Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in early 2021 and suggested the state`s top elections official could help him “find 11,780 votes,” just enough needed to beat Democrat Joe Biden.
The 2 1/2-year investigation expanded to include an examination of a slate of Republican fake electors, phone calls by Trump and others to Georgia officials in the weeks after the 2020 election and unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud made to state lawmakers.
Willis, a Democrat, is expected to present her case before one of two new grand juries being seated Tuesday. She has previously suggested that any indictments would likely come in August.
Here’s how that process would work:
WAIT. WASN’T THERE ALREADY A GRAND JURY IN THIS CASE?
Yes. About a year into her investigation, Willis took the unusual step of asking for a special grand jury. She said at the time that she needed the panel`s subpoena power to compel testimony from witnesses who otherwise might not be willing to talk to her team. That special grand jury was seated in May 2022 and was released in January after completing its work.
It was essentially an investigative tool and didn`t have the power to indict. Instead, it issued subpoenas and considered testimony from about 75 witnesses, as well as other evidence, before drafting a final report with recommendations for Willis.
While part of that report was made public in February, the judge overseeing the special grand jury said any recommendations on specific charges for specific people would remain secret for the time being. The panel’s foreperson said in media interviews later that month that they recommended indicting numerous people, but she declined to name names.
Willis isn’t bound by the special grand jury’s recommendations.
WHO MIGHT WILLIS BE EYEING FOR POSSIBLE CHARGES?
Willis sent letters last summer warning certain people; including the state’s fake electors and former New York mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that they could face charges in the case. Some of the fake electors have since reached immunity deals with Willis` team. While she hasn’t said one way or the other whether she would seek charges against Trump, Willis has repeatedly said no one is above the law.
Willis is a fan of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and there have been hints she’ll use it in this case. The RICO Act allows prosecutors to bring charges against multiple people that they believe committed separate crimes while working toward a common goal.
HOW COMMON ARE REGULAR GRAND JURIES?
Very. There are generally two grand juries seated in Fulton County in each two- month term of court. They usually meet every week, one on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays. Their work takes place behind closed doors, not open to the public or to news media.
Grand jurors must be U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old and must live in the county where they serve. Each grand jury is made up of 16 to 23 people and up to three alternates; at least 16 must be present for cases for the grand jury to hear any evidence or take any official action.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING GRAND JURY SELECTION?
A total of 96 potential grand jurors showed up at the Fulton County courthouse Tuesday. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney explained what a grand jury does and asked basic questions to the group to make sure everyone was eligible to serve.
McBurney then called on members of the group one by one and asked them to say whether they were “ready to serve” or if they had a hardship that should prevent them from serving. Afterward, McBurney, Willis and members of her team began meeting privately with people who cited a hardship to decide whether they would be excused.
Then McBurney read out 26 names, 23 grand jurors and three alternates, to serve on Grand Jury A, which will meet Mondays and Tuesdays, and 26 names for Grand Jury B, which will meet Thursdays and Fridays. It’s unclear which one of those grand juries would hear Willis` election case.
The district attorney and her team then met with the grand jurors behind closed doors before McBurney returned to the room to swear in the grand jurors and give them instructions.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE CASE IS PRESENTED TO THE GRAND JURY?
Georgia law requires an indictment from a grand jury to prosecute someone in most felony cases; things like murder, aggravated assault, robbery and other crimes. When prosecutors present a case, they’re trying to convince the grand jurors that there is probable cause that one or more people committed crimes and to get the grand jurors to sign off on bringing charges against them.
For each case, prosecutors read or explain the potential indictment and then call witnesses or present any other evidence. Any witnesses who testify must swear an oath to tell the truth.
Often in Georgia, the only witnesses the grand jury hears from are law enforcement officers, including investigators for the district attorney’s office. They can tell the grand jurors what they’ve learned in their investigation, including what suspects or witnesses have said and what other evidence they have.
Members of the grand jury are allowed to question witnesses.
In general, a person who is named as a defendant on the potential indictment cannot be called to testify before the grand jury.
HOW DO GRAND JURY DELIBERATIONS WORK?
After the case has been presented, only members of the grand jury can be in the room for deliberations. They discuss the case and vote on whether to return a “true bill” or a “no bill.” A “true bill” means the grand jurors have voted to indict because they think there is probable cause to believe that the person accused committed the alleged crimes. A “no bill” means the grand jurors don`t believe the person committed the alleged crimes or there isn`t enough evidence to indict.
At least 16 grand jurors must participate in the voting, and an indictment requires 12 of them to vote in favor of charges.
The grand juror oath in Georgia requires jurors to “keep the deliberations of the Grand Jury secret unless called upon to give evidence thereof in some court of law of this State.”
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER GRAND JURORS VOTE?
If a grand jury votes to bring charges, the indictment must be presented in open court by the grand jury or the sworn grand jury bailiff in a courtroom where a judge and the clerk are present. Then it is filed in the clerk`s office and is a public document. Soon after that, those charged will be booked and have their first court appearances.
If the grand jury votes against indicting anyone, prosecutors can present the case again to a different grand jury. But if two grand juries vote not to indict on the same charges, prosecutors generally cannot try again to get an indictment on those charges.
IF TRUMP IS INDICTED, CAN HE STILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT?
Yes. Neither an indictment nor a conviction would prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.
He has already been indicted twice this year in other cases. He faces 34 felony charges in New York state court accusing him of falsifying business records in a hush money scheme over allegations of extramarital sexual encounters. And he faces 37 felony charges in federal court in Florida accusing him of hoarding classified documents and refusing government demands to give them back.
In addition, a Justice Department special counsel is investigating his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in multiple states, as well as the events leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.