Georgia judge orders prosecutors to reply to Trump challenge

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney in January released sections of a special grand jury report on alleged efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

A Georgia judge on Monday ordered the Fulton County district attorney’s office to respond to a motion by former President Donald Trump to throw out a report by a special grand jury that investigated attempts to interfere in the state’s 2020 presidential election.

The motion by Trump’s legal team also seeks to toss out all testimony from the inquiry and to bar Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from continuing to investigate or prosecute Trump.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ordered Willis to respond by May 1 and to let him know whether an in-person hearing is needed to resolve any issues. A spokesperson for Willis said her office would reply through its court filings.

The filing is an effort by Trump to escape one of the multiple legal challenges he faces, including a state inquiry in New York into hush money payments to women who alleged sexual encounters with the former president as well as a pair of U.S. Justice Department criminal investigations. One examines his efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 election. The other examines Trump’s possession of hundreds of classified documents at his Florida estate.

Willis began her investigation shortly after the release of a recording of a January 2021 phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In that conversation, the then-president suggested that Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, could “find” the exact number of votes needed to overturn Trump’s narrow election loss in the state to Democrat Joe Biden.

The special grand jury heard from about 75 witnesses and considered other evidence before issuing a report that includes recommendations for Willis on criminal charges. McBurney released the report’s introduction and conclusion, as well as a section in which the grand jurors expressed concerns that some witnesses may have lied under oath, but the rest of the report has remained under wraps so far.

Willis said in a January hearing that decisions on indictments were “imminent.”

The challenge by Trump’s legal team, filed last Monday, also contended that McBurney misinterpreted Georgia law and erred by not disqualifying Willis from the entire probe when he ruled in July that Willis could not pursue charges against Burt Jones, now Georgia’s lieutenant governor.

Trump’s lawyers asked for another judge besides McBurney to hear the challenge. He did not acknowledge that push in Monday’s brief order.

The lawyers also faulted Willis for granting repeated news interviews, citing a list of 39 media appearances and saying her comments cast “a shadow of bias over her office and the entire investigation.”

Trump’s lawyers similarly argued that interviews that the foreperson and other grand jurors have given should disqualify the case.