Judge Allows Trump Co-defendants to Interview Fulton County Special Purpose Grand Jurors

Defense lawyers requested to interview the special purpose grand jurors to determine whether the prosecutors acted improperly.
Judge Allows Trump Co-defendants to Interview Fulton County Special Purpose Grand Jurors
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee presides over a hearing regarding media access in the case against former President Donald Trump and 18 others at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 31, 2023. (Arvin Temkar/Pool/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Catherine Yang

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee approved in part a request for members of the special purpose grand jury—which recommended charges be brought over then-President Donald Trump's challenge of the 2020 election—to be interviewed.

President Trump and 18 others were indicted by another, separate grand jury in August for violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and 40 other counts. Two of the defendants have since demanded a speedy trial, and so Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell will be tried together on Oct. 23.

Lawyers for Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell, both of whom served as legal counsel for President Trump during his challenge, albeit on separate matters, had requested in court that they be allowed access to interview the special purpose grand jury members as well as the transcripts for the 75 witness testimonies they heard.

Attorneys for both Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell have already filed separate motions to dismiss their charges. They argued that none of the acts they are named in are criminal acts, or "sufficiently allege" the charges they are connected to.

In a Tuesday order, Judge McAfee allowed the defense to interview the grand jurors, who must agree to be interviewed voluntarily. As per Georgia law, they would not be able to talk about the deliberations, which were conducted in secret.
Defense lawyers had argued that they are challenging the validity of the RICO case itself.
They requested to interview the special purpose grand jurors to determine whether the prosecutors, the Fulton County District Attorney's office, acted improperly and coached jurors towards their final recommendations. They referenced the accidental release of a 13-count indictment of President Trump the same day the grand jury that ultimately recommended the same charges had first heard testimonies and argued they had suspicions the jurors were improperly influenced.

“Defense counsel here are entitled, and would be expected, to conduct a thorough investigation in the zealous representation of their clients,” Judge McAfee wrote.

The court will contact each juror, asking whether they are willing to be interviewed on the record in the presence of the court, whether remotely or in person. The judge will oversee all such interviews to make sure the personal information of the grand jurors are kept privileged.

The defense lawyers will have three business days to submit their proposed questions, and the prosecutors will have three days to respond.

The judge also denied the request for the 75 witness testimonies, citing the Supreme Court. "All grand juries require secrecy and protection from certain disclosures,” he wrote. "These materials are the property of the District Attorney, not the Court, to do with as she sees fit."

However, he ordered that testimonies for any of the 75 witnesses called in any hearings to be shared with the defense "at the time the state, in good faith, decides to call that individual at any pretrial hearing, or at the time the State adds the individual to its list of witnesses."

The prosecution has already shared the testimony of Robert Cheeley with the defense because he is one of the 19 defendants indicted.

Special Purpose Grand Jury

On May 2, 2022, the special purpose grand jury was sworn in, and over the next half year heard testimony from 75 witnesses.

"The Grand Jury was impaneled to investigate a specific issue: the facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to possible attempts to disrupt the lawful administration of the 2020 presidential elections in the State of Georgia," the report read.

The panel allowed Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to subpoena witnesses who otherwise would not have testified in court.

It submitted its final report on Dec. 15, 2022, which was released in part at first. President Trump had filed a motion to quash the report, which was thrown out.

The full report was released in August only after the indictment, revealing the list of individuals the panel had recommended prosecuting. Some of these recommendations were regarding perjury, as the grand jurors believed some of the 75 witnesses had lied under oath in their testimonies. None of the testimonies were made public.

The special purpose grand jury had originally recommended charges be brought against 39 individuals, but the August indictment includes 19 defendants and 30 more "co-conspirators" who were not named or indicted. Many of those unindicted are individuals, such as the slate of alternate electors, on which several grand jurors had voted against indicting.

The prosecution has already shared a list of these individuals with the defense attorneys for Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell.

The panel wrote in its report that they recommended the charges independent of influence from the district attorney's office, or outside counsel.

“This Grand Jury contained no election law experts or criminal lawyers. The majority of this grand jury used their collective best efforts, however, to attend every session, listen to every witness, and attempt to understand the facts as presented and the laws as explained,” they wrote.