Those wondering why no jurisdiction has actually brought criminal charges against Donald Trump and his minions need to remember that when done properly, a criminal investigation is supposed to take time. A good prosecutor is supposed to build a Mount Everest-sized trove of evidence against a defendant—and do so in a way that the defendant’s claim of innocence is slowly and painstakingly strangled. Such a thorough investigation is certainly the only way to bring down a former president who maintains a cult-like following.
It looks like one of the many prosecutors investigating Trump is poised to begin the next phase of her strangulation. Namely, Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia—home to almost all of Atlanta. The New York Times reports that Willis is about to empanel a special grand jury to investigate election interference by Trump and his deceitful buddies. Of course, the most infamous part of that interference is Trump’s attempt to bully Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into helping him “find 11,780 votes” that would overturn Joe Biden’s lead in Georgia.
This is the biggest sign that Willis’ investigation, which began in February, is ramping up to a level that would be perilous for Trump.
That Willis is taking this case to a special grand jury should tell you something about how seriously she’s taking this investigation—and its potential import.
Instead of impaneling a special grand jury, Ms. Willis could submit evidence to one of two grand juries currently sitting in Fulton County, a longtime Democratic stronghold that encompasses much of Atlanta. But the county has a vast backlog of more than 10,000 potential criminal cases that have yet to be considered by a grand jury — a result of logistical complications from the coronavirus pandemic and, Ms. Willis has argued, inaction by her predecessor, Paul Howard, whom she replaced in January.
By contrast, a special grand jury, which by Georgia statute would include 16 to 23 members, could focus solely on the potential case against Mr. Trump and his allies. Ms. Willis is likely to soon take the step, according to a person with direct knowledge of the deliberations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the decision is not final. Though such a jury could issue subpoenas, Ms. Willis would need to return to a regular grand jury to seek criminal indictments.
That grand jury would have plenty of evidence to consider besides Trump’s attempt to shake down Raffensperger. Before that fateful call, Trump also tried to push Raffensperger’s chief investigator into finding evidence of “dishonesty” in Georgia. He also tried to get Byung Pak, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, which covers Atlanta, to push lies about voter fraud in Georgia. Pak told the House Jan. 6 committee that he resigned rather than go along with the scheme.
Additionally, Trump may have talked himself into further legal peril at a rally in September. He told the crowd that he tried to press none other than Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to resolve the “election-integrity problem” in his state, possibly by calling a special election.
Last month, a bipartisan group of legal experts wrote an analysis of the case for the Brookings Institution. They concluded that Trump’s actions put him “at substantial risk” for a host of state charges—including racketeering, solicitation of election fraud, and conspiracy to commit election fraud.
They also noted that Trump’s comments in September could make it far easier to prove he intended to get lawmakers to join him in an attempt to steal an election he didn’t win. One of the authors, former Obama White House ethics counsel Norm Eisen, said that Trump’s conversation with Kemp was evidence that he intended to get Kemp to join him on this fishing expedition; as Eisen put it, Trump’s comments “offered the prosecution free admissions about the content of that exchange.”
Willis already gave a loud indication of where she’s going with this case when she tapped John Floyd, the man who literally wrote the book on prosecuting a state racketeering case, to assist in the investigation. That amounted to capital letters announcing that she was seriously considering hitting Trump with the legal equivalent of napalm. Georgia’s version of RICO makes false statements to state officials a predicate act.
That prospect alone should have Trump, along with everyone else in on that now-infamous call to Raffensperger, crapping themselves. If they weren’t then, they definitely should be now that it looks like Willis believes she has enough to call in a grand jury whose specific task will be to assist her with her investigation.
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