ATLANTA (CN) — The judge overseeing the investigation into possible criminal efforts to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results by former President Donald Trump and his allies ruled Monday that key parts of the special grand jury's report will be released later this week.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney's eight-page order comes after he heard arguments last month from District Attorney Fani Willis, who urged the judge to keep the final report secret until her office determines whether to pursue charges, and news outlets arguing for its release.
The judge said during the Jan. 24 hearing that the 23 members of the special purpose grand jury requested for their final report to be published. They were seated in May 2022 and disbanded just last month.
While McBurney stopped short of ordering the release of the full report, he ruled the introduction and conclusion, as well as a section in which jurors expressed concerns that some witnesses may have lied under oath, will be released publicly Thursday. Those witnesses, however, will not be identified.
McBurney wrote that these parts will be released due to the “compelling public interest in these proceedings and the unquestionable value and importance of transparency.” He added that the rest of the report – which he described as a “roster of who should (or should not) be indicted, and for what” – is not to be disclosed until after Willis completes her investigation, to protect the constitutional due process rights of any potential defendants. (Parentheses in original.)
The judge disagreed that the report should be considered a court record subject to public disclosure, an argument put forth by the media coalition that included CNN, The New York Times, The Associated Press and others.
“The final report, as the district attorney argued, was ultimately destined for her, not the court. It will inform her investigative decision-making process, not the court’s," he wrote. "She requested it, she petitioned the chief judge to convene a special purpose grand jury for it, and she and her staff worked with that special purpose grand jury for months in an effort to provide the grand jury with sufficient evidence to generate the report for her."
He explained that this special grand jury was “essentially an investigative tool” for Willis’ ongoing criminal investigation and was “entirely appropriately - a one-sided exploration.”
Because the targets of the investigation were questioned without the presence of lawyers to call in their own witnesses or evidence on their behalf, McBurney noted that the process involved limited due process.
“The consequence of these due process deficiencies is not that the special purpose grand jury’s final report is forever suppressed or that its recommendations for or against indictment are in any way flawed or suspect,” the judge wrote. “Rather, the consequence is that those recommendations are for the district attorney’s eyes only - for now.”
The DA’s office was also instructed to give the court periodic updates on the progress of the investigation so the judge can reassess when other portions of the report may be released.
Willis first launched the investigation into the alleged election interference scheme by Trump and his allies days after the January 2021 release of a recorded phone call the then-president made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, urging him to "find" 11,789 votes needed to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in the Peach State.
Raffensperger and other witnesses were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, including Trump's former attorneys and top advisers, state Republican officials and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who was repeatedly attacked publicly by Trump for refusing to overturn the state's election results.
According to court documents and attorney statements, at least 18 people have been notified they are targets of the investigation, including Rudy Giuliani, who was Trump's attorney at the time, for allegedly purporting evidence of election fraud to Georgia legislators in December 2020.
Other known targets include David Shafer, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, and the 11 fake GOP electors that he helped enlist to falsely certify that Trump had won the vote in several states that he had actually lost.
Despite a statewide recount that confirmed Biden's victory, Trump and his legal counsel also filed multiple lawsuits contesting Georgia's election results, all of which have since been dropped or dismissed.
Findings in the House Jan. 6 committee's report released last December indicate that former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who reportedly traveled to Georgia to pressure election officials, and John Eastman, who solicited state officials and organized the fake elector scheme, are the most likely to face charges.
While Trump has called the probe a "witch hunt," Willis’ office has not said whether the former president is a target and he has not been subpoenaed to testify or appear voluntarily.
If Willis decides to pursue any charges, her case will be presented to a regular grand jury, which has the power to issue criminal indictments.
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