Trump asks top Georgia court to disqualify election probe prosecutor and toss grand jury report

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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney speak in the Fulton county courthouse, Tuesday, July 11, 2023, in Atlanta. A grand jury being seated Tuesday in Atlanta will likely consider whether criminal charges are appropriate for former President Donald Trump or his Republican allies for their efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA – Lawyers for former President Donald Trump are asking Georgia's highest court to prevent the district attorney who has been investigating his actions in the wake of the 2020 election from prosecuting him and to throw out a special grand jury report that is part of the inquiry.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating since early 2021 whether Trump and his allies broke any laws as they tried to overturn his narrow election loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden. She has suggested that she is likely to seek charges in the case from a grand jury next month.

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Trump's Georgia legal team on Friday filed similar petitions in the Georgia Supreme Court and Fulton County Superior Court naming Willis and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury, as respondents. A spokesperson for Willis declined to comment. McBurney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Trump’s legal team — Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg — acknowledged that the filings are unusual but necessary given the tight time frame. Willis has indicated she will use the special grand jury report to seek an indictment “within weeks, if not days.” Two new regular grand juries were seated this week, and one is likely to hear the case.

“Even in an extraordinarily novel case of national significance, one would expect matters to take their normal procedural course within a reasonable time,” the filings say. “But nothing about these processes have been normal or reasonable. And the all-but-unavoidable conclusion is that the anomalies below are because Petitioner is President Donald J. Trump.”

The petitions seek to bar Willis and her office from continuing to prosecute the case. It also asks that the report produced by the special grand jury that had ben seated in the case be tossed out and that prosecutors be prevented from presenting any evidence from the panel's investigation to a regular grand jury.

The filings ask that the courts stop “all proceedings related to and flowing from the special purpose grand jury’s investigation until this matter can be resolved.”

In a previous filing in March, Trump's lawyers made similar requests and asked that a judge other than McBurney hear their claims. Willis rejected the arguments as being without merit. McBurney kept the case and has yet to rule on the Trump team's requests.

That has left Trump “stranded between the Supervising Judge's protracted passivity and the District Attorney's looming indictment" with no choice other than to seek action from the Supreme Court, his lawyers wrote.

Willis opened her investigation shortly after Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January 2021 and suggested the state’s top elections official could help him “find” the votes needed to overturn his election loss in the state. Last year, she requested a special grand jury, saying the panel's subpoena power would allow her to compel the testimony of witnesses who might otherwise be unwilling to talk to her team.

The special grand jury, which did not have the power to issue indictments, was seated last May and dissolved in January after hearing from 75 witnesses and submitting a report with recommendations for Willis. Though most of that report remains under wraps for now according to a judge’s order, the panel’s foreperson has said without naming names that the special grand jury recommended charging multiple people.

Trump's lawyers, in their March filing, argued the special grand jury proceedings “involved a constant lack of clarity as to the law, inconsistent applications of basic constitutional protections for individuals being brought before it, and a prosecutor’s office that was found to have an actual conflict, yet continued to pursue the investigation.”

Willis argued in a response in May that those arguments failed to meet the “exacting standards” for disqualifying a prosecutor and failed to prove that due process rights had been violated or that the grand jury process was “tainted” or the law governing it unconstitutional.

In Friday's filings, Trump's attorneys said that Willis and McBurney had “trampled the procedural safeguards” for the rights of Trump and others who may be targeted by the investigation.

“The whole of the process is now incurably infected,” they wrote. “And nothing that follows could be legally sound or publicly respectable.”