By Kate Brumback | Associated Press
ATLANTA — A special grand jury investigating efforts by then-President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia says it believes “one or more witnesses” committed perjury, and it’s urging local prosecutors to bring charges.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should “seek appropriate indictments for such crimes where the evidence is compelling,” according to portions of the special grand jury’s final report that were released on Thursday.
The sections that were made public are silent on key details, including who the panel believes committed perjury and what other specific charges should be pursued. But it marks the first time the grand jurors’ recommendations for criminal charges tied to the case have been made public. And it’s a reminder of the intensifying legal challenges facing the former president as he ramps up his third White House bid amid multiple legal investigations.
Trump is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for holding classified documents at his Florida estate.
The former president never testified before the special grand jury, meaning he is not among those who could have perjured themselves. But the case still poses particular challenges for him, in part because his actions in Georgia were so public.
Trump and his allies made unproven claims of widespread voter fraud and repeatedly berated Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp for not acting to overturn his narrow loss to President Joe Biden in the state.
Willis has said since the beginning of the investigation two years ago that she was interested in a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump suggested to Raffensperger that he could “find” the votes needed to overturn his loss in the state.
“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said during that call. “Because we won the state.”
Trump has said repeatedly that his call with Raffensperger was “perfect,” and he told The Associated Press last month that he felt “very confident” that he would not be indicted.
State and federal officials, including Trump’s attorney general, have consistently said the election was secure and there was no evidence of significant fraud. After hearing “extensive testimony on the issue,” the special grand jury agreed in a unanimous vote that there was no widespread fraud in Georgia’s election.
The special grand jury, which was requested by Willis to aid her investigation, was seated in May and submitted its report to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney on Dec. 15. The panel does not have the power to issue indictments. Instead, its report contains recommendations for Willis, who will ultimately decide whether to seek one or more indictments from a regular grand jury.
Over the course of about seven months, the special grand jurors heard from 75 witnesses, among them Trump allies including former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Top Georgia officials, such as Raffensperger and Kemp, also appeared before the panel.
Graham told reporters Thursday that he has not been contacted by authorities regarding his testimony. “I’m confident I testified openly and honestly,” he said.
The partial release of the grand jury’s report was ordered Monday by McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury. During a hearing last month, prosecutors urged him not to release the report until they decide on charges, while a coalition of media organizations, including the AP, pushed for the entire report to be made public immediately.
McBurney wrote in his Monday order that it’s not appropriate to release the full report now because it’s important to protect the due process rights of people for whom the grand jury recommended charges.
While there were relatively few details in Thursday’s release, it does provide some insight into the panel’s process. The report’s introduction says an “overwhelming majority” of the information that the grand jury received “was delivered in person under oath.” It also noted that no one on the panel was an election law expert or criminal lawyer.
“The majority of this Grand Jury used their collective best efforts,” the report said, “to attend every session, listen to every witness, and attempt to understand the facts as presented and the laws as explained.”
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Based on witnesses called to testify before the special grand jury, it is clear that Willis is focusing on several areas. Those include:
— 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.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed reporting.