By Sara Murray and Jason Morris, CNN
The Georgia prosecutor leading an investigation into efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election is aiming to quickly wrap up the grand jury’s work after the midterm elections and could begin issuing indictments as early as December, sources familiar with the situation tell CNN.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said that her investigation into attempts to subvert the 2020 election will go quiet beginning later this week to avoid any appearance of influencing the upcoming election. But while her investigation will not make any overt moves in the next few weeks, her team is gearing up for a flurry of activity after Election Day.
“I think her hands are tied, certainly, until after the midterms,” said Michael J. Moore, former US attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “She wants to pull some of the politics out of it, so to ensure that the investigation is not forgotten, instead of sort of rattling the sabers and subpoenaing other witnesses you would just say you know we’re going to take this time to reflect on the investigation.”
The Georgia probe — set off by an hour-long January 2021 phone call from Trump to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to “find” the votes necessary for Trump to win the Peach State — has steadily expanded. It now covers presentations on unfounded election fraud claims to state lawmakers, the fake elector scheme, efforts by unauthorized individuals to access voting machines in one Georgia county and a campaign of threats and harassment against lower-level election workers.
“It has moved from just the idea of the phone call to the Secretary of State to a much broader investigation of tampering with the election,” said Danny Porter, former district attorney for Georgia’s Gwinnett County.
For the past five months, the special grand jury has been scrutinizing those events to determine whether any of them may have been illegal. When the panel, which does not have the power to issue indictments, completes its work, it is expected to issue a report with recommendations, including whether anyone should face criminal charges.
Legal experts noted that special grand juries are rarely used in Georgia, so there’s sparse precedent. But they said it’s possible Willis could seek indictments from regularly empaneled grand juries in the county before the special grand jury completes its work.
“She has the power to bring a case before a grand jury basically anytime she feels like she has enough evidence to show that the crime has been committed, not beyond a reasonable doubt but by probable cause,” said Porter. “If she gathers that information, she doesn’t have to wait for the report.”
It remains unclear who could face indictment. Prosecutors previously informed 16 pro-Trump electors who falsely claimed Trump won Georgia in a certificate sent to the National Archives that they could be targets in the probe. Former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was also told that he was a possible target. None have been charged with crimes.
Pursuing RICO charges
Willis has said she could pursue RICO — Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations — charges as part of her investigation. Racketeering charges, sometimes used in gang-related activity, allow prosecutors to bring charges against multiple defendants. Willis could use the law to try to make the case that Trump and his allies were part of a criminal enterprise in their various efforts to pressure state officials, put forth fake electors and otherwise try to influence the election.
While some legal experts have questioned whether such an approach would be successful in the case of election interference, Willis has made clear her affection for the RICO statute.
“The reason that I am a fan of RICO is, I think jurors are very, very intelligent,” Willis said at a news conference about a broad gang-related indictment over the summer. “They want to know what happened. They want to make an accurate decision about someone’s life. And so, RICO is a tool that allows a prosecutor’s office and law enforcement to tell the whole story.”
Willis recently fired off a public warning to potential targets of her election investigation: “The allegations are very serious. If indicted and convicted, people are facing prison sentences,” she told The Washington Post.
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office declined to comment for this story.
Subpoenaing as to new witnesses
Ahead of the quiet period, the grand jury has pressed forward with its investigative work. It has continued issuing subpoenas to new witnesses, albeit with the expectation that those witnesses will appear before the grand jury after the election, sources familiar with the probe told CNN. The grand jury recently heard from former Trump White House aide and current lawyer Boris Epshteyn. And prosecutors have said they plan to seek search warrants for unidentified targets, though a judge noted those would be sealed to deter witness intimidation or evidence tampering, according to a recent court filing.
Still, several investigative leads remain unresolved.
Willis still has not secured testimony from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was among the participants on the January 2021 call between Trump and Raffensperger. Meadows also made a surprise visit to a Cobb County location in December 2020, where officials were conducting an absentee ballot signature audit.
Meadows has an October hearing scheduled in South Carolina where he could raise objections to a potential grand jury appearance. Former South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is fighting to quash a subpoena for grand jury testimony, as prosecutors seek more information about calls he made to Georgia officials in the wake of the 2020 election.
And Willis still faces a decision about whether she wants to try to summon the former President to appear before the grand jury.
“I would be surprised if she tried a stunt like that,” Moore, the former US attorney said of attempting to subpoena Trump, “and I would expect you would probably have litigation that would last months.”
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. The former President has previously denounced the Georgia probe as “A strictly political Witch Hunt!”
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