Something unprecedented is happening in the state of Georgia, although it is expected to take place under tight security.
A special county-level grand jury will consider, in part, whether a former US president may have committed criminal offenses — all related to Donald Trump’s desperate attempts to change Georgia’s critical 16 electoral votes, which helped Joe Biden win. win the 2020 elections.
What if a former president was charged had never been tested in the United States? Richard Nixon was pardoned by his successor before he could face criminal consequences related to Watergate.
“It’s hard to think of anyone, even Nixon, who tried to interfere with the actual running of an election. We certainly don’t have examples like this in modern times,” he said. said Rick Hasen, a professor specializing in electoral law at the University of California, Irvine, told CBC News.
“And there is an audio recording, which provides a sort of solid evidence that makes it more realistic to examine this potential criminal activity.”
On a recording of this Jan. 2, 2021, phone call, Trump is heard pleading with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as an elected official and his legal counsel to refute a series of voter fraud allegations the president heard about in Trump media. “ Trump urges them to move mountains to double-check state totals, which he said would wipe out Biden’s 11,779-vote advantage.
The special grand jury selection process begins Monday. Here’s what you need to know:
The district attorney
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened an investigation last year to examine “attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 general election in Georgia.” She argued that her office was in the best location, given that several state officials were possible witnesses.
About 50 people have been interviewed, with subpoenas scheduled for another 30, Willis said. His team includes an expert in racketeering laws, often used in organized crime prosecutions.
The Special Grand Jury
Special grand jury proceedings are overseen by a Georgia Superior Court judge.
As many as 30 Fulton County residents will hear testimony and view documents. Unlike a regular grand jury, which sits for a fixed term and can hear many different cases, the special grand jury will be made up of lay people singularly focused on this issue.
Willis reported that the witnesses would not appear until June. The jury has the power to subpoena — so it can call more witnesses — but it wouldn’t have the power to indict Trump or anyone else.
“There is a heaviness to the special grand jury in that it does not readily lend itself to sequential prosecutions,” said Clark Cunningham, W. Lee Burge Professor of Law and Ethics at Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta. .
In other words, if a potential foul play is discovered by, say, September, it won’t be pronounced then. Instead, the special grand jury is expected to release a report, and from there, Willis could convene a grand jury — a judicial body that has the power to indict.
Who could the jury hear
Raffensperger says he will appear if subpoenaed.
His book 2021 Integrity Matters depicts how Georgia had to “waste taxpayer resources” tracking down allegations and rumors of voting irregularities by Trump cronies. Additionally, it details the state’s manual count — which matched the original total — and a Cobb County audit that found few irregularities.
During their call, Trump told Raffensperger it was “very dangerous” for the Georgia official to hold press conferences and tell the public that nothing had been found to justify changing the result.
“I felt then – and still believe today – that it was a threat,” Raffensperger writes in his book.
Trump also implored other Georgia officials by phone, including Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and election investigator Francis Watson.
“When the correct answer comes out, you will be congratulated,” Trump reportedly told Watsonwhile overseeing the Cobb County Audit.
Other witnesses could include federal attorneys Byung Pak and Bobby Christine, who could provide information on their unsuccessful efforts to uncover voter fraud in Georgia — and who ordered them to watch.
All told, while Trump was aware of a number of tight state races, he was focused on Georgia “as the eye of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings“Cunningham said.
Who else could be examined
Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff at the time, arranged Trump’s unprecedented phone calls and traveled to Georgia while the Cobb County audit process was underway.
Pak told a US Senate committee he found this visit “very unusual”.
“I don’t remember that ever happening in the history of the United States,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and attorney Rudy Giuliani, Trump allies, also communicated with Georgia officials following the vote. Giuliani’s accusation of a Fulton County election worker and a suitcase of illegal ballots has been debunked by federal and state investigators who have seen unedited recordings from that location. He also had his lawyer’s license suspended in New York for false allegations.
Additionally, 16 Georgia Republicans were enlisted as surrogate voters, producing a document confirming their state’s votes for Trump. David Shafer, one of them, would have testified to the committee investigating the violence on January 6, 2021, that they had done so under the direction of the Trump campaign.
“It’s very hard to see – some of them are lawyers – how they thought what they did was even remotely legal,” Cunningham said.
In the United States, this year’s Republican primaries often pit those who cling to the idea that the 2020 election was “stolen” against those who think deliberate misinformation about the validity of the vote party night. Raffensperger is in a close race against Rep. Jody Hice, who continues to claim the state’s 2020 vote was spoiled.
Over the past two years, the United States has experienced jarring public anger directed at public health, education, and government officials, culminating in the deadly January 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill in Washington. Willis has requested extra security for the proceedings, and a section of Atlanta is blocked off to traffic, reflecting what will be extensive efforts to protect jurors’ identities.
What will we know and when
The term of the special grand jury is one year, and it is conceivable that Trump could announce another presidential candidacy before the jurors are finished.
But it’s child’s play trying to accurately predict how long the special grand jury will sit or when a report will be produced.
Tamar Hallerman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently exposed on several potential avenues Trump’s legal team could employ to push back the proceedings, but it should be noted that the district attorney’s office is not a congressional panel that must schedule time to vote on contempt proceedings. Unlike the DC congressional committee investigating the riot, which endured lengthy processes to deal with witnesses who defied subpoenas, the Georgian body exists within the criminal justice system. This means it has both more mechanisms and more bite to deal with uncooperative witnesses.
Witnesses are not legally bound to secrecy after appearing. We might hear details of what’s being discussed if they speak to reporters or the Trump team.
The end game
In a Brookings Institution report, a team of legal experts exposed criminal offenses that Trump and some of his allies may have committed, including criminal solicitation to commit voter fraud, conspiracy to commit voter fraud and racketeering violations by the ‘State.
Hasen wrote a piece for Slate in early 2021, expressing skepticism Trump will finally be indicted for interference in Georgia, and he still seems to share that view.
“Even if there is a strong legal case, there may be reasons why a prosecutor might be quite reluctant to bring a case like this,” he told CBC News, citing, as an For example, any potential jury will include Trump voters.
While Trump has a lifespan, other dishonest politicians will exist in the future. Therefore, Cunningham believes that if the conduct is found to be criminal, it may be even more important for American democracy to indict those who obeyed the orders of the former president.
“As long as no one faces criminal justice for this attempt to overturn the election, we will be in trouble.”