What we know about the Georgia 2020 election investigation
Written by ABC Audio All Rights Reserved on January 23, 2023
(ATLANTA) — After months of testimony, a special grand jury seated in Atlanta last year as part of a probe into efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election has submitted its final report detailing its findings, marking a significant milestone in one of several criminal investigations targeting the former president.
Though the special grand jury does not have the ability to return an indictment, it can make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution — which could then be brought by an additional grand jury.
On Tuesday, the judge overseeing the case is scheduled to hear arguments over whether or not to make the report public, with the central question remaining: Did the grand jury recommend criminal charges for Donald Trump and his allies?
Ambassador Norman Eisen (ret.), a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 2019 to 2020, told ABC News that “the mountain of evidence” that has been made public regarding the efforts to overturn the election in Georgia “points strongly toward a forecast that the report recommends Donald Trump and his conspirators for prosecution.”
“Like the weather forecast or rain, there’s no guarantee,” Eisen said, “but when you look outside your window and the rain clouds are dark … that’s where we are with all of these facts.”
Possible charges could include solicitations of election fraud, other forms of fraud, conspiracy, and possibly racketeering, Eisen said.
“The allegations are very serious. If indicted and convicted, people are facing prison sentences,” Willis said of the investigation in an interview with The Washington Post last year.
A spokesperson for the DA’s office declined to comment on the status of the investigation ahead of the hearing next week, including whether the DA would oppose or support the release of the report.
The office also has not yet filed a motion in court indicating its position.
‘Find 11,780 votes’
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis officially launched the probe in February 2021, sparked in part by the now-infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump pleaded with Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” the exact number Trump needed to win Georgia.
Trump has repeatedly defended his call to Raffensperger, calling it “perfect.”
The special grand jury was seated in May 2022, after Willis wrote that the panel was needed because “a significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate with the investigation absent a subpoena requiring their testimony.”
Since then, those who have been subpoenaed for testimony include some of Trump’s closest allies and supporters, including attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who unsuccessfully fought his subpoena up to the United State Supreme Court.
Graham argued, among other things, that he was acting “within [his] official legislative responsibilities” as a senator and chairman of the Judiciary Committee when he allegedly made calls to Georgia officials following the 2020 election.
During calls to Raffensperger and others, Graham allegedly asked about “reexamining certain absentee ballots cast in Georgia in order to explore the possibility of a more favorable outcome for former President Donald Trump,” the judge wrote in a filing in the case.
Willis also sought testimony from a number of Georgia’s highest elected officials, including Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp and Rep. Jody Hice.
Targets of the probe
A number of individuals have also been informed that they are considered “targets” of the probe, including Giuliani. In the wake of the election, Giuliani appeared at a series of legislative hearings around the country — including Georgia — where he urged state legislators to reject the results of the election.
Responding to the notification of his status as a target of the probe, Giuliani said, “I appeared in Georgia as attorney for Donald J. Trump. So I’m going to be prosecuted for what I did as an attorney?”
Sixteen people identified as so-called “fake electors” in the state were also notified that they were considered targets in the ongoing criminal investigation, prosecutors revealed in court documents over the summer.
The 16, who allegedly participated in a scheme to overturn the state’s election results, received letters “alerting that person both that [their] testimony was required by the special purpose grand jury and that [they were a] target of the investigation” the filing said.
Specifically, they are being investigated for “creation of a document that identified [themselves] as being among the ‘duly elected and qualified Electors for president and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of Georgia,’ and the submission of that document to the National Archives.”
The House committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on U.S. Capitol described the “fake electors” plan, which appeared to have multiple iterations, as being set up by the Trump campaign in multiple swing states in which they sought to assemble “groups of individuals in key battleground states and got them to call themselves electors, created phony certificates associated with these fake electors and then transmitted these certificates to Washington, and to the Congress, to be counted during the joint session of Congress on January 6th,” according to the filing.
The Department of Justice is also examining the issue of fake electors as part of its own separate investigation, sources have told ABC News.
Attorneys for the electors have denied any wrongdoing in their actions.
“They cannot have and did not commit any crime as a matter of fact and law,” wrote attorney Holly Pierson, who represents 11 of the alleged fake electors.
Setbacks for Willis
Willis suffered a setback last year when she unsuccessfully fought to have Pierson and her law partner disqualified from representing those 11, alleging that it was a “conflict of interest.”
Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney largely denied the request, only removing one of the electors as Pierson’s client, but keeping the rest.
Earlier, McBurney disqualified Willis from investigating one of the 16 alleged fake electors, Georgia state Sen. Burt Jones, after Willis held a fundraiser for Jones’ political opponent in the race for lieutenant governor. The judge called it “harmful” to the investigation and said the “optics are horrid.”
“An investigation of this significance, garnering the public attention it necessarily does and touching so many political nerves in our society, cannot be bordered by legitimate doubts about the District Attorney’s motives,” McBurney wrote.
On Tuesday, McBurney will consider whether the report should be made public or remain sealed — though Eisen, the Brookings expert, said its release could be harmful to the case.
“If you have the report out there before the DA has taken it to the regular grand jury, it complicates her life, because the report gets ahead of the normal lifecycle of the case, where the indictments are the first,” Eisen told ABC News.
“She may not want the report to be issued until her indictments are out,” he said.
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