“At this time, in the interest of justice and the rights of not the state, but others, we are asking that the report not be released,” she said.
The DA’s remarks were Willis’ most detailed in months. The Democrat, who is up for re-election next year, has avoided publicly commenting on the probe since before the midterm elections.
The DA’s position was opposed on Tuesday by a coalition of more than a dozen media organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. AJC counsel Tom Clyde, arguing on behalf of the outlets, said it was in the public interest for McBurney to release the report as soon as possible and in its entirety.
“The judicial system time and time again has said when matters are brought to the court system, we are going to require them to be made public because the faith of the public and the court system is much improved by operating in a public way,” he said.
Clyde also noted that the grand jurors themselves had asked for the report to be published.
“There’s enormous public interest in what they have said. And that exists in this state. It exists across the nation. It exists beyond the nation. And we believe the statutory law supports its public release right now,” he said.
McBurney noted that there is little legal precedent guiding him, since special grand juries are so rare. Pressing the DA’s office, he said the congressional Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol examined many of the same topics as the Fulton special grand jury — and did so in public.
“The January 6th commission seemed to do what it did and DOJ didn’t have to shut down after those referrals came,” he said, referring to the Justice Department, which is conducting its own probe.
At the end of the hearing, McBurney said he had yet to make up his mind about sealing the report. He could alternately decide to redact portions of the document and then release it.
“There will be no rash decisions,” he said, adding that he would post notice about any upcoming decision. “No one’s going to wake up with the court having disclosed the report on the front page of a newspaper.”
McBurney acknowledged that his final decision is likely to be appealed.
The special grand jury investigated whether Trump or his allies broke any state laws as they sought to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia more than two years ago.
The panel was convened in May to help Willis subpoena hostile witnesses and compile evidence. Its 23 members heard from scores of people behind closed doors — Willis clarified that a total of 75 people had testified — and the jury was dissolved on Jan. 9 by a majority vote of the county’s 19 Superior Court judges.
Among the topics jurors probed were phone calls Trump and his colleagues placed to Georgia officials, the appointment of a slate of “alternate” Republican electors and efforts to pressure a Fulton poll worker to falsely claim she committed election fraud.
Donald Wakeford, chief senior district attorney, said Tuesday that the DA’s office is not opposed to the report being released at some point, but that to do so now would be “premature.” Unsealing the report should come only after Willis has made a decision on whether to indict anyone — and potentially once she secures a bill of indictment from a regular grand jury.
“At that point, the relative status of everyone involved will be much clearer and we will have a much better roadmap for how to handle secrecy or publication,” he said.
Wakeford added that so far the DA’s office has not had “a meaningful enough amount of time to assess” the grand jury’s recommendations.
At one point during his argument, Wakeford asked for and received permission to confer with Willis who was seated behind him. As the two huddled together, Willis whispered, not realizing what she was saying was captured by the court’s microphone: “The future of defendants trump,” presumably about to say their future trumps the need to release the report at this time. But then she told Wakeford not to use the word “trump.”
During the hearing, McBurney noted that the special grand jurors are only prohibited from discussing their deliberations.
Since that is the case, “what would prevent a special purpose grand juror from reaching out to the media saying: ‘I’ll tell you what’s in the report?’” the judge asked. “I’m not going to tell you our deliberations. I’m gonna tell you how we came up with what we came up with, why we did. I’m gonna tell you what several witnesses said because I didn’t like what they said or I really liked what they said.
“Under what basis could I forbid a special grand juror from doing that?” McBurney asked.
When Wakeford responded that the report is the result of the grand jurors’ deliberations, McBurney did not appear to be satisfied with the prosecutor’s answer.
Aside from the DA’s office and the media intervenors, no other parties weighed in at the hearing, including counsel representing named or potential investigation targets.
The day before the hearing, Trump’s Georgia attorneys said they would not be stepping in, noting that their client had not been subpoenaed or asked to voluntarily answer questions by Fulton prosecutors.
“Therefore, we can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump,” Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little said in a statement.
Trump defended his post-election conduct in Georgia with a pair of falsehood-filled posts on his social media platform, Truth Social, early Tuesday.
“I was protesting a RIGGED & STOLEN Election, which evidence proves it was,” Trump said. “I won Georgia by a lot, but only needed a small number of votes from that total number. They cheated in many ways including STUFFING Ballots, ALL CAUGHT LIVE ON TAPE.”