Lately, many of the legal experts who intone a lot on television have echoed Judge Scott McAfee’s skepticism about the decision by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to try 19 people, including Donald Trump, in the Georgia election interference case.
Imagine how heads would be exploding on the tube if Willis had followed the special grand jury’s recommendation that 39 people be indicted in connection with their activities around the 2020 election, including three current or former U.S. senators and a Georgia state senator.
The release of the report spelling out the special grand jury’s recommendations last week gave us a lot of information about the deliberations leading up to the indictments in this case, without telling us anything, precisely, about why some were indicted and others weren’t.
We know that a single juror voted against all the recommendations to charge Trump or Rudolph Giuliani, resulting in a long string of 19-1, 20-1 and 18-1 votes on charges related to Trump’s call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Trump and Giuliani’s communications with other Georgia officials. We don’t even know for sure if the same juror was voting no each time. But that lone no vote has focused attention on the importance of jury selection in any future trial.
The votes on the three senators were more divided. The grand jury voted 13-7 to charge Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, 17-4 to charge former Sen. Kelly Loeffler and 14-6 to charge former Sen. David Perdue.
That’s not something you’d want to put on a campaign ad, but it was enough difference of opinion to make it less likely any of the three would be charged.
Grand jury votes aren’t elections, however, and factors other than the votes of the jurors played into deciding who to indict. The jurors voted 21-0 to indict Dallas attorney and podcaster Jacki Pick Deason for making false statements about the mishandling of ballots in Fulton County. That’s even worse than Giuliani, who drew 19 votes to indict and two abstentions. But Deason wasn’t charged either.
There are a lot of moving parts in this case, and some of those not on the indicted list may already have cooperated with prosecutors or be expected to do so.
Another factor in the decision of who to include in this sprawling indictment had to be deciding how much the Fulton County District Attorney’s office could handle on a practical level. The judge’s dubious comments last week underscored that it has taken on plenty with its 19-defendant case.
Whether her decision to include Trump in this sprawling indictment is a smart legal move or not, it has brought scrutiny to bear on a critical aspect of the 2020 election and its aftermath: Trump was part of something larger than himself. If there was a deliberate effort to reverse the outcome of a free and fair election in 2020, it involved a broad network, much larger than the 19 who were indicted in Georgia and the 20 who weren’t.
So far at least, the DA’s office is holding its complicated case together. A federal judge ruled Friday that the former White House chief of staff couldn’t move his case from the county to federal court in Atlanta. Earlier in the week, Judge McAfee denied a motion by two of the defendants, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, who petitioned to be tried separately from each other.
There’s time and lawyers enough for a good bit more of this, but so far this big, unmanageable case is moving forward at a steady pace.
Last week, Willis also filed a motion with Judge McAfee asking him to restrict the publication of information about the 23 people who served on the special grand jury. She said a Russian website has released personal information about the jurors, as well as herself and other members of the DA’s office.
That’s part of a corrosive trend that threatens our system of justice and a good deal more urgent than the DA’s eviscerating nine-page to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan’s demand for information about the grand jury investigation. But you can see how Willis’ comeuppance of the Ohio Republican would get a lot of headlines.