ATLANTA — A special grand jury was selected Monday for the investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the 2020 election in Georgia.
The investigation has been underway since early last year, and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis took this unusual step of requesting the special grand jury to help it along. She noted in a letter to the chief judge that the special grand jury would be able to issue subpoenas to people who have refused to cooperate otherwise.
The chief judge ordered the special grand jury to be seated for a period of up to a year, beginning Monday. Of the pool of about 200 people called from the county master jury list, 26 were chosen to serve — 23 grand jurors and three alternates. Special grand juries focus on investigating a single topic and making recommendations to the district attorney, who then decides whether to seek an indictment from a regular grand jury.
Because of the intense public interest in this case, the court made arrangements for parts of Monday's selection process to be broadcast live. Now that the special grand jury has been selected, however, everything it does will happen in secret.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who's been tasked with overseeing the special grand jury, told the people summoned to the jury pool that they would not be hearing a trial, but would instead be serving on an investigative special grand jury looking into actions surrounding the 2020 general election.
"Now it's time for 26 members of our community to participate in that investigation," McBurney said.
Willis has confirmed that her team is looking into a January 2021 phone call in which Trump pushed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" the votes needed for him to win the state. She has also said they are looking at a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.
It's unclear what charges prosecutors will pursue
It's not clear exactly what charges Willis could choose to pursue against Trump or anyone else. In a letter she sent to top-ranking state officials last year, she said she was looking into "potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election's administration."
McBurney said the grand jurors won't begin meeting until June and won't meet every week. They will be notified in advance of when they need to be there, and there's some wiggle room if they can't make it to every session as only 16 are needed for a quorum, he said.
McBurney then led the 200 potential grand jurors in swearing an oath to give truthful answers about their qualifications.
He explained that grand jurors must be at least 18, must be U.S. citizens and must have lived in Fulton County for the past six months. Anyone who's an elected official or has been for the last two years, anyone convicted of a felony or anyone who's served on a Fulton County jury or grand jury in the last year is not qualified to serve, McBurney said.
The investigation involves actions surrounding the 2020 general election, and it is important that grand jurors "bring an open mind to the process," the judge said. Anyone who is already convinced that a crime did or did not happen should say they have a conflict when asked, McBurney said.
After identifying other potential conflicts — for example, plans to be out of the country for an extended time, having to care for someone after a major surgery — McBurney went through the first 100 potential jurors and asked them individually — addressing them only by number — to say whether they have a conflict. A quarter of the grand jurors said they had a conflict and the judge and prosecutors began questioning them privately to determine whether they could be excused. Then he closed the courtroom so he and prosecutors could speak privately with those selected.
While the district attorney's office will generally be steering the investigation, grand jurors will be able to question witnesses who appear before them. If they believe there are other witnesses they would like to hear from or documents they would like to see, they have the power to issue subpoenas.