Trump Prosecutor Defends Probe of 2020 Election in Georgia

(Bloomberg) -- Atlanta-area prosecutor Fani Willis urged a judge to reject former President Donald Trump’s demands that her office be disqualified from investigating his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The judge should also refuse Trump’s bid to suppress all evidence gathered last year by a special purpose grand jury and expunge its report on the election, Willis’s lawyers argued Monday in a court filing. Among other arguments, they said Trump was too late to request Willis’s removal.

“Far from raising this issue promptly, Mr. Trump has waited years” to seek her disqualification, despite several other public milestones dating back to February 2021, Willis’s lawyers wrote.

“After all of these events occurred without action by Mr. Trump, he now seeks to prevent” Willis’s office from further investigation. “His request for disqualification should therefore be dismissed as untimely.”

Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, responded to a March 20 filing by Trump’s lawyers attacking the special purpose grand jury, which heard 75 witnesses but lacked the authority to charge anyone. Trump’s filing called that process “confusing, flawed and, at-times, blatantly unconstitutional.”

The Willis response came as she’s preparing to decide this summer whether to present the case to another grand jury that can bring criminal charges. She’s probing matters including Trump’s phone call on Jan. 2, 2021, asking Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find 11,780 votes” — just what he needed to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.

A consortium of media organizations, including Bloomberg News, also filed a motion Monday asking that Trump’s request be dismissed.

In his filing, Trump argued that Willis’s entire office should be disqualified from the probe. He cited a ruling by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney that removed Republican Burt Jones, a former state senator and current lieutenant governor, from the investigation because Willis headlined a fundraiser for a Democrat seeking to run against him.

Willis urged McBurney to reject most of Trump’s arguments on the grounds that they rehash matters he had already decided in the past two years.

Trump’s lawyers also claimed Willis’s entire office should be disqualified, in part because of her public comments on the case that amounted to “forensic misconduct.”

However, such a finding only applies to remarks that “speak directly to the prosecutor’s opinion of a defendant’s guilt and which are part of a calculated plan designed to prejudice a jury against that defendant,” Willis’s lawyers wrote.

“Such remarks must be egregious,” they wrote. “Even if a jury existed in this case, there is absolutely no indication of any such comments, or any such plan, in the present matter.”

The former president also seeks the removal of McBurney, who oversaw the special purpose grand jury, claiming the judge made improper remarks to grand jurors about witnesses invoking their constitutional right against self-incrimination. That request seems unlikely, given that McBurney will decide Trump’s motion. Still, Trump wants a different judge to consider the matter.

Trump’s lawyers had complained about media interviews that the special grand jury foreperson, Emily Kohrs, gave about the panel’s charging recommendations, which remain secret. Kohrs suggested they include indicting more than a dozen people, even hinting strongly that one of the targets would be Trump.

Kohrs said that when witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, prosecutors would play videos of speeches, TV interviews or testimony they gave elsewhere. In his filing, Trump argued Kohrs showed the “lack of respect” by prosecutors for the Fifth Amendment when she said: “I don’t know if it was like cruelty, but they’re like, if you’re going to take the Fifth, we’re going to watch you.”

Trump’s lawyers wrote: “The fact that the juror had to question whether the prosecutor was acting cruelly speaks for itself.”

Willis’s lawyers responded that Trump failed to show how the handling of Fifth Amendment concerns involving witnesses affected the due process rights of the former president.

Trump was indicted in New York in late March by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who accused the former president of falsifying business records to hide hush money paid to bury his extramarital sexual encounters and boost his electoral prospects in 2016. Trump pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.

(Updates with details of filing.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.