Former President Donald Trump has experienced a minor success in his legal battle with Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, as the judge overseeing the case has allowed defense attorneys for two of his co-defendants to voluntarily interview members of the grand jury.
This ruling may have caused some apprehension and dissatisfaction among those on Willis’ team of prosecutors.
The purpose of such interviews would be to investigate whether any wrongdoing took place during the grand jury proceedings and to uncover any information that could weaken the prosecution’s case – findings which may benefit President Trump and other individuals implicated by Willis in an alleged plan to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.
On Tuesday, Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee issued a ruling on a motion from the attorneys of Chesebro and Powell that requested access to interview members of the regular grand jury in addition to being granted permission to view sealed transcripts and materials from the special purpose grand jury.
“Citing concerns for the length and complexity of the indictment, Defendants request interviews with any willing former jurors to determine whether the indictment was ‘properly returned,’ specifically whether the indictment was read entirely or merely summarized to the grand jury,” McAfee wrote. “The State objects, characterizing Defendants’ motion as an attempt to improperly pierce the secrecy of deliberations and “perform an illegal investigation.”
Noting that “The proper course appears somewhere in the middle,” the judge acknowledged the “well-settled principle” of preserving grand jury secrecy but likewise admitted that not every aspect of grand jury proceedings was subject to that principle of secrecy.
Judge McAfee has found a way to balance the competing claims of the defense and prosecution, allowing for voluntary interviews with regular grand jury members while partially denying the request to unseal all materials generated or used by the special purpose grand jury.
The judge will oversee these voluntary interviews and only permit pre-approved questions that pass objections from the prosecution who will also be allowed to be present at said interviews.
Defense attorneys have been granted permission to file future motions based on any information obtained from these voluntary interviews.
The request for all recordings, transcripts, and interim reports produced by the special purpose grand jury has been rendered moot following the release of the final report. However, exceptions have been made for materials related to any witnesses who may be re-interviewed by prosecutors after an indictment or called to testify during trial as well as any materials that could clear the defendants of wrongdoing.
MSNBC’s legal analysis observed, “Needless to say, if there was impropriety in the grand jury or anywhere else in the case, it should be rooted out and dealt with accordingly. And of course, it’s hard to know whether anything improper happened without checking somehow.”
“Still, even if prosecutors don’t have a specific concern about such interviews, the general idea is probably not one they’re happy about. In the meantime, the defense lawyers’ forthcoming proposed questions may show more specifically what they’re looking for — and how they intend to find it,” the analysis concluded.
During a hearing last week, Judge McAfee appeared to presage the ruling, as lawyers for both sides exchanged heated words. Scott Grubman, an attorney for Chesebro, accused one of the prosecutors, Dasha Young, of having “lied to the court” in their request to speak with grand jurors. Sources allege that these grand jurors were pressured into issuing indictments against Chesebro.
“I cannot take Ms. Young’s word for it that it was done properly,” Grubman told the judge with regard to the grand jury proceedings. “Ms. Young is trying to send my client to prison, and we have the right to know if it was done properly.”
At the hearing, McAfee did not make a definitive decision but indicated that he was likely to allow voluntary interviews to proceed. However, he was more hesitant to release all of the special purpose grand jury materials.