As Atlanta DA’s Trump Election Probe Advances, She Explains Her Approach
Fani Willis, the District Attorney of Fulton County, Ga., began investigating the possibility of criminal interference in Georgia’s November 2020 election in early February last year, several weeks after a recorded phone call during which former President Trump asked Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” over 11,000 votes. Multiple tallies, recounts, audits, and other evidence have proven that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by roughly 12,000 votes. Last week, Willis asked for a special grand jury to continue an investigation of what she described as a “reasonable probability” of “possible criminal disruptions” of the 2020 presidential election.
And on Monday, about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to speak by phone, Willis’ request was granted by Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher S. Brasher, after a majority of the county’s 20 superior court judges—all of whom were seated after technically non-partisan elections or were midterm appointments made by the state’s long string of Republican governors—voted in favor of it.
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Robert McBurney was initially appointed by the governor to the bench. Nathan Deal, a Republican has been appointed to oversee the jury. Initially, the special-purpose Grand Jury will be allowed to work for 12 months. During that time, like other grand juries, it will have something that Willis’ public-corruption team has not: subpoena power. This will allow for the compulsion of testimony and evidence. The special grand jury will then issue a recommendation and report to the regular grand jury on whether any indictments should or should not be filed.
Willis, whose county includes the city of Atlanta, is generally tight-lipped about the investigation but took questions illuminating a process that doesn’t exactly appear on every episode of Law & Order. She also hinted at the possibility that the Supreme Court’s recent decision to grant Congress access to hundreds of Trump Administration documents may have meaning in Georgia. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that Willis’ office is sharing information with committees investigating the events of Jan. 6 in Congress and with New York officials examining Trump’s businesses and charities for possible wrongdoing.) These are edited versions of her responses, which were reduced in clarity and length.
TIME: The order has been issued by the chief judge. In May, a special grand jury for this purpose will meet. My natural question would be, “Why May?” Why not the next week, or even next month?
Grand juries are appointed for two-month terms. So you have a January-February term, which we’re currently already in the midst of, then you’ll have a March-April term, and then you have the May-June term. There are two terms. [are also]In preparation for the special purpose grand jury, there are still many things we have not done before. So, May was the next time I had available.
What are the powers of a special-purpose grand jury? In particular, what will this jury be expected to do in return?
[In Fulton County] we’re in this historical backlog and actually running two [ordinary grand] juries. And what those grand juries do is they just hear case, after case, after case, after case, after case—typically somewhere between 40 and maybe 65 cases a day, every day. You can find everything, including drugs and murder and rapes. These grand juries don’t have the time or resources to investigate. This is why [special]A grand jury will not hear any testimony [other] cases. They won’t do any of the other business of Fulton County. They will only receive relevant information in this investigation.
Some people might read the need for a special-purpose grand jury as an indicator that your office hasn’t been able to make enough progress on its own. What’s your response to that sort of reaction?
I’m going to define the word because I don’t ever want to be offensive to anyone. I think that’s kind of ignorant. It doesn’t mean you are stupid, but ignorant. If you asked me anything about medicine, I’m completely ignorant, right? Because it’s not my trade. What I think is very intuitive, on the other hand, is that we need to collect more information and that’s absolutely right. You are more involved in bigger investigations [a special purpose grand jury] is often used as a tool of a district attorney’s office to gather more information.
I’m curious then what you make of Georgia’s Secretary of State Say it that your office has been “slow walking” this investigation?
Honestly, you’re the first time I’ve heard it. I don’t really make anything of it.
He did so in statements public on Fox News. Clearly indicatedHe thinks that this is an opportunistic witch hunt. That idea makes me wonder what you might have to say.
I think the public will have to make interpretations about the Secretary of State’s motivation to make any of those comments. Sincerely, I have not yet heard the comments mentioned. Public will need to make their own conclusions as to what caused this shift.
[Trump]Also said last week that the phone call in question that drew so much attention to Georgia was “perfect.”It makes me wonder what your thoughts would be on that comment.
I guess you would say nothing to that because he’s a citizen of the United States. He has the right to make statements, and freedom of expression. And ultimately, we’re conducting an investigation.
The public corruption section of your office has been investigating for about a year. What is the evidence that Georgian election fraud took place?
I respect you so much for asking, but I’m going to decline answering that question.
I guess the reason that I asked that question is because I took note of some particular language in the letter, which was, there is a “reasonable probability” that “possible criminal disruptions” of the election had occurred. It is amazing to me what you are all seeing.
The letter’s drafting was done by the district lawyer. The letter was completely accurate and there were no mistakes, accidents or omissions. We hope the letter will speak for itself. We are very happy today that the judges in Fulton County Superior Court decided that it was legal and appropriate to give us a special-purpose grand jury and we’re going to continue on with our work.
Some public comment has been made about the possible actions of the ex-President on this call. Do you suppose that either the special-purpose Grand Jury or your staff can expect to be able to access records from this office? [Congressional]Are there any committees that are investigating Jan. 6’s events?
I’m going to actually leave that on the floor.
Okay. I guess I’ll ask why, in this case, that’s a question that you feel shouldn’t be answered.
You should contact us within a week. I think that’s a different story.
Some people would argue that the tape is exactly what it is. Trump is adamant that he speaks the truth. This person may be asking why this almost-year-long process is going on. What is the problem?
Because what I’m going to do is do the full investigation, and this is the process that’s required.
Having been in your office and seeing the sort of fine-toothed comb with which you go through charges, I do wonder if in this case there’s a higher standard. It’s unprecedented to investigate a former President for possible crimes. What finer-toothed tool will be used to investigate a former President?
I mean, you’ve seen my comb. It’s been effective for over 25 years now. Und ich will get it back.