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Wheels of justice slow the pace of the case called Trump’s biggest worry

Image via Unsplash.

By Tom Baxter

With the conclusion for the summer of the Jan. 6 Committee hearings in Washington and a flurry of activity in Fulton County, national attention turned last week to Georgia as Donald Trump’s biggest headache.

Legal scholar Lawrence Tribe predicted on CBS that Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis would indict the former president before the Justice Department, which is currently figuring out what to do with a mountain of evidence from the Jan. 6 hearings. The New York Times led its Sunday edition with a story about Willis’ broadening investigation and the wide range of characters, from a United States senator to a publicist for Kanye West, which it has ensnared.

Any expectation that the grand jury investigation in Georgia would proceed at the cinematic pace of the Jan. 6 hearings should already have been dashed, when on Monday Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney granted a motion separating state Sen. Burt Jones from the rest of Willis’ investigation. That means he’ll have to be interviewed by investigators from another county, inevitably slowing the process.

If you dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s twice, the explanation for how Willis had no conflict of interest in co-hosting a fundraiser during the primary campaign for Charlie Bailey, Jones’ Republican opponent might be sufficient. But as McBurney very rightly pointed out, “the optics are terrible.” This isn’t going to upend the entire grand jury investigation, but after so much national praise it’s an embarrassment for Willis.

Even before McBurney’s decision Monday, he assured Jones’ attorneys last week that there would not be an “October surprise” release of court findings near the date of this year’s election. Given the number of witnesses Willis has called to testify before the grand jury, it’s hard to see this investigation wrapping up this summer.

While he may have tapped a foot on the brakes, the judge overseeing the grand jury investigation into the Trump campaign’s activities in Georgia after the 2020 election declined to quash the subpoenas for 11 other Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate representing themselves as the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.

All this seems to foreshadow a long process — most of it behind closed doors — before the special grand jury is able to pass along its recommendations to another grand jury which would hand down any indictments that might be called for.

Meanwhile the political calendar marches along. The Wyoming primary, in which U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney trails by a wide margin, is Aug. 16. The congressional elections in November could change the House majority and bring the Jan. 6 committee to an end. The only question about Trump’s 2024 plans seems to be whether he’ll announce he’s running before the midterm elections or after.

Against that changing backdrop, the special grand jury will be moving, very deliberately, toward its final recommendations. And yet, the special grand jury will be focusing on what many consider to be the most conclusive proof that Trump illegally attempted to tamper with the election: the tape of Trump’s telephone conversation with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

“Even now the proof is there, for example, with respect to strong-arming Raffensperger to steal the votes of Georgia, that’s already there,” Tribe said last week. “That’s why I expect an indictment from Fani Willis in Fulton County, Georgia, even before an indictment from the Department of Justice.”

There’s a dissonance between the patient, no-surprises approach being outlined by the presiding judge in this case and the impatience of those who find the smoking gun of their case against Trump already evident in this case. Somehow that’s going to be resolved, with a lot of national implications.

The Georgia Republicans who signed the bogus election document can look forward to a lot of legal bills and long periods of being left in the dark — and that’s if the grand jury doesn’t decide to recommend criminal charges against all of them. It’s a pattern that’s becoming familiar. We don’t really know if Trump will pay any price for what this grand jury does, but we can be sure the price tag for those who followed him will be hefty.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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1 Comment

  1. Bruce Kay July 26, 2022 11:55 am

    Let’s hope the price tag for treason is very hefty!Report

    Reply

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