On January 2, 2021, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who had the presence of mind to tape the call. The following day, several media outlets, including The Washington Post, obtained audio copies of the phone conversation in which Trump was recorded telling Raffensberger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.”
That got everyone’s attention and those six words and one number were repeated countless times by political and legal pundits, late-night hosts and social media scribes. But though it is the most notorious, it was not the most incriminating of the statements made by Trump. Far more legally damning were remarks directed at Brad Raffensberger and his general counsel Ryan Germany before and after that infamous line.
“And you are going to find that they are — which is totally illegal — it is more illegal for you than it is for them because, you know, what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that’s a big risk.”
“But I mean all of this stuff is very dangerous stuff. When you talk about no criminality, I think it’s very dangerous for you to say that.”
As media legal consultants have pointed out, this is coercion. At the time of speaking, Trump was President and therefore head of the DoJ so these were no idle threats.
On February 10, 2021, after news broke of the Raffensberger phone call, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launched her two-and-a-half-year criminal probe into 2020 election tampering. To assist her investigation, DA Willis sought and received permission to empanel a special grand jury which convened in June 2022. Although special-purpose grand juries cannot issue indictments, they can issue subpoenas for witness testimony.
On January 9, 2023, the special grand jury completed its work and produced a report with an unspecified number of charging recommendations. At a January 24 hearing on whether to publicly release the report, DA Fani Willis opposed making it public before concluding her deliberations regarding charges. It was then that she uttered three memorable words:
“Decisions are imminent,” Willis told Judge Robert McBurney.
Imminent. Ever since that day, there has been considerable speculation as to the precise meaning of “imminent”. Legal experts weighed in with estimates ranging from 6 weeks to 3 months. As of July 11, 2023, it’s been 6 months, 2 weeks and 4 days and we are still waiting for those imminent decisions to be announced.
In all fairness to DA Willis, the obstacles that have caused delays were not of her making. They came from Trump’s lawyers who filed motions to have the special grand jury report excluded from regular grand jury evidence and DA Willis disqualified from the case on… some sort of grounds they thought would sway a white, male, Republican judge and there’s plenty of those in Georgia.
When their motions before the first district judge failed, they immediately filed them with a higher court, the Fulton County Superior Court, and scored Judge Robert McBurney. It did not go well for them.
Judge McBurney, in Monday’s ruling, seemed to have little patience for the arguments from Mr. Trump’s legal team, and he suggested that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were gumming up the legal process with frivolous filings.
Dear New York Times, this is not a suggestion, it is an accurate observation. Delay is the aim of the Trump game when it comes to legalities.
In contrast to the colourless banality of Trump advisors and hires, it’s a joy to encounter intelligent, erudite and witty persons in the legal profession and judiciary. Judge McBurney is one of them.
“For some, being the subject of criminal investigation can, à la Rumpelstiltskin, be turned into golden political capital, making it seem more providential than problematic,” he wrote in a footnote. “Regardless, simply being the subject (or target) of an investigation does not yield standing to bring claim to halt that investigation in court.”
The Judge concluded by offering Trump’s lawyers this guidance:
“In the future, counsel is encouraged to follow the professional standard of inquiring with chamber’s staff about timing and deadlines before burdening other courts with unnecessary and unfounded legal filings,” Judge McBurney wrote.
They did not heed Judge McBurney’s advice but instead filed for a third time in neighbouring Cobb County. The court there was due to serve up another failure on August 10 but then, unexpectedly, common sense – or some other force as yet unidentified – intervened and they withdrew both motions.
Maybe they realised that filing in County Cobb would not serve their goal of causing delays in Fulton County because DA Willis was set to proceed regardless of the ruling scheduled for August 10.
In the excellent podcast Prosecuting Donald Trump “A Protective Order”, Andrew Weissman suggested that Trump and his legal team were sick of losing. Co-host Mary McCord agreed, adding that a third straight loss would not look good for them in Georgia.
Whatever the reason, DA Willis was now free of frivolous impedimenta to take her multi-case investigation before a regular grand jury.
Two regular grand juries were scheduled for Fulton County’s fourth court term. While we don’t know which one DA Willis is using, nor on which days the jurors are hearing evidence, we do know it was convened in July and will run until the end of August. But there are indicators of her timeline.
Last month, Willis told law enforcement she would make charging decisions during the grand jury term that begins July 11 and ends Sept. 1. She said the announcement may “provoke a significant public reaction” and asked officials to prepare.
In a May 18 letter addressed to Fulton County Chief Judge Ural Glanville, DA Willis asked judges to clear their in-person court dockets for two weeks in August.
She noted most judges will be at the state’s annual judicial conference July 31 through August 4, so she requested they refrain from holding in-person hearings and trials during the second two weeks of August.
A copy of the letter is included in the WABE report.
On Thursday, July 27, further preparations were reported in Atlanta. This caused some misguided speculation because, on the same day, the Beltway media was camped outside the courthouse in DC in anticipation of a second indictment for Trump. When bright orange barriers went up around the Fulton County courthouse, the rumour mill switched their expectation to a DA Willis announcement of charging decisions.
As it turned out, the action was quietly taking place in Miami where a grand jury there issued a superseding indictment in the government documents case. Though DC and Fulton County did not combine to create a deliberate distraction for Miami, it was fortuitously effective.
It also caused the media spotlight – and considerable speculation – to swing back to Georgia. Why would the courts be cleared and barriers go up if it wasn’t because DA Willis was about to announce indictments?
Yet to date, there has been no announcement. So the speculators now wonder, “What the heck is going on in Georgia?”
What’s become evident is that DA Fani Willis and her team are only now ready to go before the regular grand jury.
11Alive, Saturday, July 29:
“The work is accomplished,” Willis said, “We’ve been working for two-and-a-half years. We’re ready to go.”
While no start date has been made public, this statement tells us that, at the time of the 11Alive interview, Willis and her team had not yet presented their case to the grand jury.
Might they have started two days later on Monday, July 31? After all, the barricades were erected on July 27 in anticipation of what the sheriff’s office referred to as “high-profile legal proceedings.” Making charging decisions does not come under the heading of “legal proceedings” but the work of a grand jury does. That these security precautions are being put in place to safeguard court employees and grand jury members is confirmed in the following remarks.
11Alive, Saturday, July 29:
“I think that the sheriff is doing something smart in making sure that the courthouse stays safe,” Willis said.
That includes the grand jury.
“I’m not willing to put any of the employees or the constituents that come to the courthouse in harm’s way,” Willis said.
The constituents to whom DA Willis refers are, undoubtedly, the citizen jurors in the grand jury and the witnesses who will appear before them.
But indictment watchers ruled out July 31 as a possible start date when local media reported this breaking news a week later.
ATLANTA — Authorities have shut down the street outside the Fulton County Courthouse ahead of special court proceedings this month.
Pryor Street between Mitchell and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the Fulton County Courthouse is off-limits to vehicles starting Aug. 7 until Aug. 18.
Later national news reports suggested Willis’s grand jury presentation wouldn’t begin until next week but I think we can be confident that whoever came up with that notion, the one whom everyone else copied, was wrong. A traffic rerouting plan is a major undertaking for any urban centre and is not put into place a week before the event begins.
What we can also surmise is that the grand jury proceedings will continue into next week.
NBC has been in contact with three people who received subpoenas to appear before a grand jury in Fulton County Superior Court, where officials have been ramping up security measures in recent days.
Two of those people — former Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, and former Georgia Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan — said that as of Wednesday they had not received a notice to appear before that panel within 48 hours, indicating their testimony would not occur this week.
Fani Willis has vowed to keep her promise to the people to announce her charging decisions by Friday, September 1. If the grand jury presentation is completed by Friday, August 18 – and the timeline outlined above shows that is the goal – the announcement may come much sooner.
The Florida indictment was unsealed in June and the DC indictment in July. If DA Willis indicts in August, it will nicely round off three consecutive months of legal calamities for Trump. It’s accountability and schadenfreude all rolled into one glorious reprisal.
And Trump will not be the only perp to be charged. Fani Willis is all set to pass Jack Smith’s current total of indictments. Those in the know say she’s preparing RICO charges that will sweep up dozens of co-conspirators including Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor, Burt Jones, who foolishly volunteered to be one of Georgia’s fake electors.
We’ve already seen how national Republicans are mishandling Trump’s legal quicksand – and many of them will be joining him there in the coming months – but it remains to be seen how Georgia’s state Republicans will react, especially as there are several potential defendants among their own.
Thankfully, we won’t have long to find out because, at last, charging decisions really are imminent!
Pictured in the feature image: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (centre)
From bottom left to top right: John Eastman, Lt Gov Burt Jones, Gov Brian Kemp, Rudy Guiliani, Mark Meadows, Cleta Mitchell, Trump, Brad Raffensperger.