Willis Ups Trump Probe Anticipation 01/30 06:01
Former President Donald Trump and his allies have been put on notice by a
prosecutor, but the warning didn't come from anyone at the Justice Department.
ATLANTA (AP) -- Former President Donald Trump and his allies have been put
on notice by a prosecutor, but the warning didn't come from anyone at the
It was from a Georgia prosecutor who indicated she was likely to seek
criminal charges soon in a two-year election subversion probe. In trying to
block the release of a special grand jury's report, Fulton County District
Attorney Fani Willis argued in court last week that decisions in the case were
"imminent" and that the report's publication could jeopardize the rights of
Though Willis, a Democrat, didn't mention Trump by name, her comments marked
the first time a prosecutor in any of several current investigations tied to
the Republican former president has hinted that charges could be forthcoming.
The remarks ratcheted anticipation that an investigation focused, in part, on
Trump's call with Georgia's secretary of state could conclude before ongoing
"I expect to see indictments in Fulton County before I see any federal
indictments," said Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University law professor.
Besides the Georgia inquiry, a Justice Department special counsel is
investigating Trump over his role in working with allies to overturn his loss
in the 2020 presidential election and his alleged mishandling of classified
Trump had appeared to face the most pressing legal jeopardy from the probe
into a cache of classified materials at his Florida resort, and that threat
remains. But that case seems complicated, at least politically, by the recent
discovery of classified records at President Joe Biden's Delaware home and at a
Washington office. The Justice Department tapped a separate special counsel to
investigate that matter.
Willis opened her office's investigation shortly after the release of a
recording of a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of
State Brad Raffensperger. In that conversation, the then-president suggested
that Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, could "find" the votes needed to
overturn Trump's narrow election loss in the state to Biden, a Democrat.
"All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one
more than we have," Trump said on the call.
Since then, the investigation's scope has broadened considerably,
encompassing among other things: a slate of Republican fake electors, phone
calls by Trump and others to Georgia officials in the weeks after the 2020
election, and unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud made to state
In an interview, Trump insisted he did "absolutely nothing wrong" and that
his phone call with Raffensperger was "perfect." He said he felt "very
confident" that he would not be indicted.
"She's supposed to be stopping violent crime, and that's her job," Trump
said of Willis. "Not to go after people for political reasons, that did things
It is unclear how Willis' case will impact the Justice Department's probes
or what contact her team has had with federal investigators. Justice Department
prosecutors have been circumspect in discussing their investigations, offering
little insight into how or when they might end.
But Willis' comments indicate that the Georgia investigation is on a path
toward resolution -- with charges or not -- on a timetable independent of what
the Justice Department is planning to do, legal experts said.
Cunningham, the Georgia State professor, said that Willis' comments implied
that the special grand jury's report contained detail about people who the
panel and Wills believe should, at minimum, be further investigated.
"She wouldn't be talking about the release of the report creating prejudice
to potential future defendants unless she saw in the report peoples' names who
she saw as potential future defendants," he added.
Attorney General Merrick Garland in November tapped Jack Smith, a former
public corruption prosecutor, to act as special counsel overseeing
investigations into Trump's actions leading up to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021,
Capitol riot and into his possession of hundreds of classified documents at the
Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Though Smith and his team of prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas,
he has not revealed when his investigation might conclude or who might be a
Garland has declined to discuss the probes, saying only that "no person is
above the law" and that there aren't separate rules for Democrats and
FBI agents recently searched Biden's Wilmington, Delaware, home, finding six
items containing classified documents, the White House said. Further muddling
the Justice Department's calculus: Classified records were found this month at
the Indiana home of Trump's vice president, Mike Pence.
Public disclosures about Willis' case are the result, to some degree, of the
unusual nature of the Georgia proceedings.
Willis in January of last year sought to convene a special grand jury to
help her investigation, citing the need for its subpoena power to compel the
testimony of witnesses who otherwise wouldn't talk to her. She said in a letter
to Fulton County's chief judge that her office had received information
indicating a "reasonable probability" that the 2020 election in Georgia "was
subject to possible criminal disruptions."
The county's superior court judges voted to grant the request, and the panel
was seated in May. The grand jurors heard from 75 witnesses and reviewed
evidence collected by prosecutors and investigators. Among the witnesses who
testified were former New York mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen.
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and such Georgia state officials as
Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp.
The panel lacked the authority to issue an indictment, but its report is
presumed to include recommendations for further action, possibly including
potential criminal charges.
The special grand jury was dissolved earlier this month after wrapping up
its work and finalizing a report on its investigation. The grand jurors
recommended the report be made public.
News organizations, including The Associated Press, argued for the report to
be released. At a hearing last week, Willis said that a decision was looming on
whether to seek an indictment and that she opposed releasing the report because
she wanted to ensure "that everyone is treated fairly and we think for future
defendants to be treated fairly, it is not appropriate at this time to have
this report released."
Attorneys for witnesses and others identified as targets have insisted that
Willis is driven by politics rather than by legitimate concerns that crimes
were committed. Among other things, they pointed to her public statements and
initial willingness to speak to print and television news outlets.
Danny Porter, a Republican who served as district attorney in neighboring
Gwinnett County for nearly three decades, said Willis has been navigating
unfamiliar territory. Special grand juries are relatively rare in Georgia, and
the law doesn't provide much guidance for prosecutors, he said.
Even so, Porter said, it appeared Willis had not crossed any ethical or
legal red lines that would call into question the integrity of the
"Procedurally," he said, "I haven't seen anything that made me go, 'Oh,
jeez, I wouldn't have done that.'"