ATLANTA — A lawyer for a coalition of media outlets asked a Fulton County judge Tuesday to release the final report of a special purpose grand jury that investigated then-President Donald Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.
“There is genuine public interest in what these grand jurors found,” Thomas Clyde told Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney during a 90-minute hearing.
But Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said releasing the special grand jury’s findings in the case could jeopardize the rights of future defendants who may be indicted to a fair trial.
“We want to make sure everyone is treated fairly,” Willis said. “For future defendants to be treated fairly, it is not appropriate at this time to have this report released.”
Willis empaneled the special purpose grand jury early last year to investigate whether Trump and/or others unlawfully interfered in Georgia’s election results.
Those efforts included a phone call Trump placed to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January 2021 urging him to “find” 11,780 votes, the margin that would have been needed to put Republican Trump over the top in Georgia. Instead, Democrat Joe Biden carried the Peach State’s 16 electoral votes.
On another front, Georgia Republicans assembled an “alternate” slate of electors who met at the Georgia Capitol in December 2020 to vote for Trump on the same day the actual slate of electors were in another part of the building casting their Electoral College votes for Biden.
Willis will use the special purpose grand jury’s findings to inform her decision whether to empanel a grand jury to consider whether to indict the former president and/or his associates on criminal charges.
When the special purpose panel completed its work earlier this month, the jurors voted to ask McBurney to order their findings released to the public. On Tuesday, Clyde cited the jurors’ request as a factor in the media coalition’s efforts to put its findings out for public scrutiny.
But Fulton Assistant District Attorney Donald Wakeford said going public with the report now could taint what he characterized as an ongoing investigation.
“Ongoing criminal investigations are not subject to public scrutiny,” he said. “It is premature to make the report public at this time.”
But Clyde cited previous instances in Georgia where a special purpose grand jury has recommended prosecution of a named individual, and the information was subsequently published in its entirety.
“Ongoing investigations frequently continue after there is significant disclosure of information in a case,” he said. “This is what would happen here.”
McBurney promised careful consideration of what he called a complex case.
“I’ll think about this a little bit,” the judge told the lawyers. “There will be no rash decisions.”
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