Indictment returned in Georgia as grand jury wraps up Trump election probe
Aug 14, 2023, 7:57 PM
(AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)
ATLANTA (AP) — A grand jury in Georgia that has been investigating former President Donald Trump over his efforts to undo the 2020 election results in that state returned at least one indictment Monday, though it was not immediately clear against whom.
There was no immediate confirmation from Fulton County prosecutors about who was charged and for what, but the existence of indictments became apparent around 9 p.m. when the judge who for months has been presiding over the grand jury investigation was presented by clerk’s office officials with a set of papers in a courtroom packed with reporters anticipating news.
Inside the courthouse, cameras offered live feeds of the movements of the judge and other county officials, but no one offered clarity as to when an indictment might be released.
The grand jury heard from witnesses into the evening Monday in the election subversion investigation into Donald Trump, a long day of testimony punctuated by the mysterious and brief appearance on a county website of a list of criminal charges against the former president that prosecutors later disavowed.
Prosecutors in Fulton County presented evidence to the grand jury as they pushed toward a likely indictment, summoning multiple former state officials including the ex-lieutenant governor as witnesses.
But the process hit an unexpected snag in the middle of the day, when Reuters reported on a document listing criminal charges to be brought against Trump, including state racketeering counts, conspiracy to commit false statements and solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer.
Reuters, which later published a copy of the document, said the filing was taken down quickly. A spokesperson for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said the report of charges being filed was “inaccurate,” but declined to comment further on a kerfuffle that the Trump legal team rapidly jumped on to attack the integrity of the investigation.
The office of the Fulton County courts clerk later released a statement that seemed to only raise more questions, calling the posted document “fictitious,” but failing to explain how it got on the court’s website. The clerk’s office said documents without official case numbers “are not considered official filings and should not be treated as such.” But the document that appeared online did have a case number on it.
Asked about the “fictitious” document Monday evening, the courts clerk, Che Alexander, said: “I mean, I don’t know what else to say, like, grace … I don’t know, I haven’t seen an indictment, right, so I don’t have anything.” On the question of whether the website had been hacked, she said, “I can’t speak to that.”
Trump and his allies, who have characterized the investigation as politically motivated, immediately seized on the apparent error to claim that the process was rigged. Trump’s campaign aimed to fundraise off it, sending out an email with the since-deleted document embedded.
“The Grand Jury testimony has not even FINISHED – but it’s clear the District Attorney has already decided how this case will end,” Trump wrote in the email, which included links to give money to his campaign. “This is an absolute DISGRACE.”
Trump’s legal team said it was not a “simple administrative mistake.” Rather it was “emblematic of the pervasive and glaring constitutional violations which have plagued this case from its very inception,” said lawyers Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg.
It was unclear why the list was posted while grand jurors were still hearing from witnesses in the sprawling investigation into actions taken by Trump and others in their efforts to overturn his narrow loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden. It was also unclear whether grand jurors were aware that the filing was posted online. They still would need to vote on charges, so the counts listed in the posting may or may not ultimately be brought against Trump.
Legal experts said it was likely a clerical error listing charges prosecutors were planning to ask the grand jury to vote on. Prosecutors draft indictments and present them to the grand jury, which ultimately decides whether to hand charges down.
“I think this tells us what they are planning to present to the grand jury, and the grand jury could say no,” said Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University law professor. He said while the error will give Trump’s legal team fodder to complain, “it will not scuttle the case.”
“Will his lawyers make a lot of noise about it? Yes, they will. Will Mr. Trump make a lot of noise about it? Yes, he will. I’m sure there will have to be an explanation for it,” Cunningham said.
One person who said he’d been called to testify to the grand jury suggested on Monday that the process may be moving more quickly than anticipated. George Chidi, an independent journalist, had tweeted previously that he was asked to testify on Tuesday, but later posted he was going to court on Monday, adding: “They’re moving faster than they thought.”
Chidi wrote in The Intercept last month that he barged “into a semi-clandestine meeting of Republicans pretending to be Georgia’s official electors in December 2020.” He described being thrown out of the room just after entering, told that it was an “education meeting.”
Former lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan, who over the weekend said he’d also been asked to testify Tuesday, instead appeared before the grand jury Monday. He told reporters outside the courthouse that the 2020 election had been “fair and legal” and said now was the “opportunity to get the real story out.”
The document listing criminal charges filed midday Monday listed more than a dozen felony counts, including Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO. Willis has long been expected to levy that charge against Trump and his associates, accusing them of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.
Two counts — including solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer — listed the date of offense as Jan. 2, 2021, which was when Trump during a phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he wanted to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss in the state. Other counts list the date of offense as Sept. 17, 2021, which is the same day Trump sent Raffensperger a message urging him to investigate “large scale voter fraud,” decertify the election and “announce the true winner” if the investigation found the fraud.
Former Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, who had been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, said as she left the Fulton County courthouse late Monday morning that she had been questioned for about 40 minutes. Former Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen also confirmed that she testified. News outlets reported that Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the secretary of state’s office, was seen arriving at the courthouse earlier Monday.
“No individual is above the law, and I will continue to fully cooperate with any legal proceedings seeking the truth and protecting our democracy,” Nguyen said in a statement.
Nguyen and Jordan both attended legislative hearings in December 2020 during which former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others made false claims of widespread election fraud in Georgia. Trump lawyer John Eastman also appeared during at least one of those hearings and said the election had not been held in compliance with Georgia law and that lawmakers should appoint a new slate of electors.
Sterling and his boss, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — both Republicans — forcefully pushed back against allegations of widespread problems with Georgia’s election.
Trump famously called Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, and suggested the state’s top elections official could help “find” the votes Trump needed to beat Biden. It was the release of a recording of that phone call that prompted Willis to open her investigation about a month later.
Associated Press reporter Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.