ATLANTA – A Georgia judge on Monday ordered the partial release later this week of a report by a special grand jury that investigated efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss.
The report’s introduction and conclusion, as well as a section in which the grand jurors expressed concerns that some witnesses may have lied under oath, will be released on Thursday, said Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney.
Any recommendations on who should or should not be prosecuted will remain secret for now to protect their due process rights, McBurney wrote.
McBurney's order came three weeks after hearing arguments from prosecutors, who urged the report be kept secret until they decide on charges, and a coalition of media organizations, which pressed for its release.
The release is a significant development in one of several cases that threaten legal jeopardy for the former president as he ramps up a 2024 White House campaign. The special grand jury spent about seven months hearing testimony from witnesses including high-profile Trump allies, such as attorney Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and high-ranking Georgia officials, such as Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp.
McBurney wrote that the report includes recommendations for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, including “a roster of who should (or should not) be indicted, and for what, in relation to the conduct (and aftermath) of the 2020 general election in Georgia.” The special grand jury did not have the power to issue indictments, and it will ultimately be up to Willis to decide whether to seek indictments from a regular grand jury.
The special grand jury's final report was requested by Willis and is meant to inform her investigative decision-making process, McBurney wrote, adding that the panel's investigation was largely controlled by the district attorney and her team and was “a one-sided exploration."
There was “very limited due process” for people for whom the grand jurors recommended charges, McBurney wrote. Some may not have had the opportunity to appear before the panel, and those who did appear did not have the right to have their lawyers present or to offer any rebuttal.
For that reason, the judge concluded, it is not appropriate to release the full report at this time.
It is not clear if or when Willis will present the case to a regular grand jury with the purpose of getting one or more indictments. At a Jan. 24 hearing, she said decisions are "imminent” but did not elaborate.
Trump told The Associated Press last month that he did “absolutely nothing wrong.” He said he felt “very confident” that he wouldn’t be indicted.
At the January hearing, Willis had argued against the immediate release of the report, saying it could violate the rights of potential defendants and negatively affect the ability to prosecute those who may be charged with crimes.
“We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and we think for future defendants to be treated fairly, it is not appropriate at this time to have this report released,” Willis said during the hearing.
A group of news organizations, including the AP, argued in favor of releasing the report immediately in full, saying that public interest in the report is “extraordinary.”
“The discomfort of the prosecuting authority in disclosing court records isn’t enough to make them sealed,” said attorney Tom Clyde, representing the media. “It has to be significant, identifiable evidence that’s going to cause a problem.”
Willis said in an emailed statement Monday that she believes McBurney's order is “legally sound and consistent with my request” and that she has no plans to appeal. Clyde declined to comment.
Willis and her team began investigating two years ago, shortly after the release of a recording of a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In that conversation, the then-president suggested that Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, could “find” the votes needed to overturn Trump’s narrow election loss in the state to Biden, a Democrat.
“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said on the call.
Since then, the investigation’s scope has broadened considerably. The special grand jury operated behind closed doors, as required by law, but public court filings and hearings related to its work provided a window into some of the topics Willis was exploring. Those included:
— Phone calls by Trump and others to Georgia officials in the wake of the 2020 election.
— A group of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate in December 2020 falsely stating that Trump had won the state and that they were the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
— False allegations of election fraud made during meetings of state legislators at the Georgia Capitol in December 2020.
— The copying of data and software from election equipment in rural Coffee County by a computer forensics team hired by Trump allies.
— Alleged attempts to pressure Fulton County elections worker Ruby Freeman into falsely confessing to election fraud.
— The abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta in January 2021.