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A judge blocks the release of most of a grand jury report in Georgia election probe

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney swears in potential jurors on May 2, 2022, as he seats a special grand jury to look into the actions of former President Donald Trump and his allies who tried to overturn the 2020 election.
Ben Gray
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney swears in potential jurors on May 2, 2022, as he seats a special grand jury to look into the actions of former President Donald Trump and his allies who tried to overturn the 2020 election.

Updated February 13, 2023 at 10:47 AM ET

The final recommendations of a special grand jury investigating attempts to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election will largely be kept under wraps, a judge has ruled.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney wrote in an eight-page order released Monday that there are due process concerns for people that the report names as likely violators of state laws, but he found that three sections that do not mention specifics can be released later this week, on Thursday.

"These three portions include the introduction and conclusion to the final report, as well as Section VIII, in which the special purpose grand jury discusses its concern that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony to the grand jury," McBurney wrote. "Because the grand jury does not identify those witnesses, that conclusion may be publicly disclosed at this time."

The decision Monday comes after a Jan. 24 hearing where District Attorney Fani Willis' office argued against publishing the report and a consortium of media outlets said it should be published with no redactions.

McBurney's order is a slight compromise, writing that certain parts of the report should be shared with the public while others merit secrecy until further action by prosecutors.

"Having reviewed the final report, the undersigned concludes that the special purpose grand jury did not exceed the scope of its prescribed mission," the order reads. "Indeed, it provided the District Attorney with exactly what she requested: a roster of who should (or should not) be indicted, and for what, in relation to the conduct (and aftermath) of the 2020 general election in Georgia."

A special purpose grand jury was empaneled last year to investigate potential crimes stemming from former President Donald Trump and his allies' failed efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.

Unlike regular grand juries, which meet for a much more limited time and consider multiple cases, this rarely used body spent roughly eight months interviewing more than 70 witnesses and gathering evidence, though it did not have the power to issue indictments.

Instead, the special grand jury wrote a final report with recommendations for the district attorney's office about how to proceed, including potential violations of state law — though Willis does not have to follow those suggestions if she decides to seek indictments from a regular grand jury.

Jurors voted to have that report made public, but the judge had questions about the applicability of prior precedents that have generally barred such reports from outlining alleged crimes without an indictment.

McBurney found that the uniqueness of the special purpose grand jury left him with a decision that "is not that simple," calling the investigation "entirely appropriately a one-sided exploration" that means it would not be fair to have that exploration made public outside of a court setting if and when indictments are issued.

In the Jan. 24 hearing, Willis and her staff argued against releasing the report at this time to protect the rights of those who might be indicted later.

"We have to be mindful of protecting future defendants' rights," Willis said. "We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, and we think for future defendants to be treated fairly, it's not appropriate at this time to have this report released."

Though the work of the special grand jury was largely conducted behind closed doors, relevant public court filings have given clues as to potential targets of the investigation who might have broken laws. Those details include:

  • Several phone calls to top Georgia officials, including Trump's infamous call to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger seeking to "find" votes to change the results.
  • A pair of unofficial legislative hearings where members of Trump's campaign legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani, told Georgia lawmakers they could select an "alternate" slate of presidential electors by highlighting numerous false claims of election fraud.
  • Efforts to recruit and execute an "alternate" slate of Republican presidential electors who met in the state capitol and sent documents falsely claiming to be official electors to Washington, D.C., including the role of Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer.
  • Willis so far has remained tight-lipped about potential indictments, other than telling the court that "decisions are imminent." At least 17 people were notified they may be considered targets of the investigation, including Giuliani, Shafer and the rest of the fake electors, though the DA was disqualified from investigating new Lt. Gov. Burt Jones by Judge McBurney because of a conflict of interest.

    It is not clear what role, if any, Trump himself will play in the report or in potential indictments. The former president was not asked to voluntarily testify before the special purpose grand jury nor issued a subpoena, and his Georgia-based attorneys issued a statement before the hearing suggesting that the lack of those requests made them assume the grand jury found no wrongdoing.

    Even if the special grand jury did not weigh in on any potential legal violations by the former president, and even if Willis declines to pursue charges, there are still multiple other inquiries Trump is facing as he begins his third run for the White House, including federal probes into mishandling of classified documents, investigations into the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot and a pair of New York probes into his business empire.

    Copyright 2023 Georgia Public Broadcasting

    Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.