Tuesday, March 28, 2023|
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Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event Saturday at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
ATLANTA — 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.
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 “future defendants.”
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 federal probes.
“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 documents.
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 lawmakers.
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 absolutely perfectly.”
It is unclear how Willis’ case will impact the Justice Department’s probes or what contact her team has had with federal investigators.
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