NATIONAL NEWS

Georgia special grand jury recommended charges against 39 people, including Sen. Lindsey Graham

Sep 7, 2023, 9:06 PM | Updated: Sep 8, 2023, 3:50 pm

FILE - Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge R...

FILE - Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney speak in the Fulton county courthouse, Tuesday, July 11, 2023, in Atlanta. A judge on Friday, Sept. 8, is expected to release the full report compiled by a special grand jury that helped an investigation by the Georgia prosecutor who ultimately indicted former President Donald Trump and 18 others. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — The special grand jury that investigated efforts by Donald Trump and others to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results recommended indictments against twice as many people as the 19 ultimately charged by prosecutors, leaving South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham among those not indicted.

The grand jurors’ report released Friday showed they recommended racketeering charges against 39 people, including Graham, former U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Charging recommendations against others included false statements and writings, influencing witnesses and criminal solicitation to commit election fraud.

Released at the request of the special grand jury, the report provides insight into one of the most expansive investigations into Trump, who is also facing two federal indictments along with unrelated state charges in New York City. While critics have accused Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of launching an unwieldy, overly broad investigation, the report suggests she used her discretion to streamline the case.

There are many reasons Willis might have chosen not to charge all those recommended, including immunity deals with some, federal protections for others or insufficient evidence to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University who has been closely following the case, speculated that Willis took some of the special grand jury’s vote breakdowns into consideration when deciding who to ultimately go after.

“If you have a jury and a group of folks who have pored over evidence for eight months and there’s still a 50-50 divide or a two-thirds divide … I don’t think that’s something that you’d look at and say, we have a high probability of a conviction there,” Kreis said.

Of the 19 people ultimately indicted, only one was not included in the special grand jury’s recommendations. A former White House aide who served as the director of Trump’s Election Day operations, Michael Roman, was involved in efforts to put forth a set of fake electors after the 2020 election.

The special grand jury accused Graham and others of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law — a statute most commonly associated with mobsters — saying they tried to overturn the state’s 2020 election, which Trump, the incumbent Republican, lost to Democrat Joe Biden. The South Carolina senator, who was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger shortly after the November election, and Raffensperger has said Graham asked him whether he had the power to reject certain absentee ballots.

Perdue and Loeffler were sitting U.S. senators who had failed to win enough votes in the November 2020 general election and were forced into a January 2021 runoff, which they ultimately lost to Democratic challengers. In the weeks after Trump lost and they were pushed into runoffs, they cast doubt on the validity of the election results.

In an interview on a right-wing cable news channel in mid-December 2020, Flynn said Trump “could take military capabilities” and place them in swing states and “basically rerun an election in each of those states.” He also traveled in November 2020 to the South Carolina home of conservative lawyer Lin Wood, where Wood has said meetings were held to discuss possible ways to influence the election results in Georgia and elsewhere. The special grand jury also recommended charges for Wood.

Trump, the early front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, blasted the report on his Truth Social site, saying, “They wanted to indict anybody who happened to be breathing at the time.”

Graham, who has denied wrongdoing, said, “It should never be a crime for a federal elected official, particularly the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who will have to vote to certify a presidential election, to question and ensure the integrity of that election.”

Loeffler, who has stayed involved in politics by founding and funding a Republican-aligned group called Greater Georgia, said she was speaking up for people who felt disenfranchised in the 2020 election. “Trying to jail your party’s leading political opponent ahead of 2024 is election interference. Speaking out in defense of election integrity is not,” she said on X, formerly Twitter.

Flynn pointed to his lawyer Jesse Binnall’s post on X: “General Michael Flynn will continue to fight for the truth, for America First principles, and for Donald Trump’s return to The White House in 2024.”

Wood, who testified to the special grand jury, said, “It seems unfair to me that I get smeared as someone that is recommended for indictment when the people with the power to look at the evidence and indict did not indict me.”

Representatives for Perdue didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The special grand jury foreperson, Emily Kohrs, spoke of her experience in an interview with The Associated Press in February that was followed by interviews with other news outlets. She said she appreciated the weightiness of the responsibility but also enjoyed moments of levity, like joking with Graham. She said the grand jury recommended charges against multiple people and that there would be few surprises.

While Kohrs’ whirlwind media tour was attacked by Trump’s lawyers at the time and raised fears among some Trump critics that it could jeopardize the investigation, the judge overseeing the special grand jury made clear that grand jurors are free to talk about anything but their deliberations.

The panel heard testimony from some 75 witnesses before completing a report in December with recommendations for Willis on charges. She had no obligation to follow their recommendations, and she ultimately decided to go to a regular grand jury to obtain indictments.

The release of the identities of people recommended for indictment is a departure from ordinary grand jury protocol, which dictates that prosecutors do not disclose the names of individuals investigated but not charged so as to prevent potentially innocent subjects from being unduly maligned.

Special grand juries in Georgia are relatively uncommon and are essentially an investigative tool. They can subpoena witnesses and evidence but do not have the power to bring an indictment. Instead, they can produce a report with nonbinding recommendations.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ordered the partial release of the report in February but declined to immediately release the panel’s recommendations on who should or should not be prosecuted. The judge said at the time that he wanted to protect people’s due process rights.

McBurney said in a new order filed Aug. 28 that the due process concerns were moot since a regular grand jury had indicted Trump and 18 other people under the state’s anti-racketeering law. All have pleaded not guilty.

Many of those indicted — including former New York Mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — are known to have testified before the special grand jury. Trump was never called. Late Friday, a judge in Atlanta denied Meadows’ request to move his case to federal court.

The parts of the report previously released in February included its conclusions, as well as a section with the grand jurors expressing concerns that one or more witnesses may have lied under oath and urging prosecutors to seek charges for perjury.

___

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, Jill Colvin in New York, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., Michelle R. Smith in Providence, R.I, and Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Georgia special grand jury recommended charges against 39 people, including Sen. Lindsey Graham