Trump has been arraigned in New York. What's next for the investigation in Georgia?

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears in a courtroom on Jan. 24, 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

All eyes have been on a courthouse in lower Manhattan this week, where former president Donald Trump was arraigned Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to 34 criminal counts.

But inside another courthouse here in Fulton County, a separate investigation into Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election is still underway.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been weighing whether to ask a grand jury to indict Trump and others for their actions after the 2020 election, including pressuring election officials to find him votes.

Prosecutors in New York are zeroing in on a hush money payment made during the 2016 campaign to conceal a fling between Trump and an adult film actress.

“I think that Fani Willis’s investigation speaks a little bit more directly to the threat to our democracy when it comes to election interference,” says reporter Anna Bower, who has been covering the Fulton County investigation for Lawfare.

The following excerpts have been condensed. Listen to hear the full conversation.

What else makes these two cases different?

It’s really unclear if these payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, if those were made public before the 2016 election, would it influence the election? I’m not sure. 

There’s just a much clearer story to be told about the interference that happened in Georgia as opposed to what was going on in New York.

Another big difference as well is that the Georgia case is just a much more sprawling investigation into a number of different crimes as opposed to just one discrete crime of falsifying business records.

So what we’re all waiting for now is to learn whether Willis has taken a case to a grand jury and asked them to bring criminal charges against Trump or anyone else. You’re a lawyer. Can you just explain a little bit about how grand juries actually operate in Fulton County?

So Fulton County typically has these two-month terms of court. It’s a group of ordinary citizens of Fulton County who are called in for grand jury duty. Usually it’ll be dozens of cases each day that they’ll hear evidence for and prosecutors will ask them to return an indictment in those cases. And so then at the end of the day, they’ll go into a deliberation room. They sign the bill of indictment if most of them vote to indict. 

I have been tracking the Fulton County Grand jury indictments that have been issued during the term. I don’t see how Fani Willis would have had time to present a sprawling case. So I think that what we’re looking at is maybe a little bit later in the grand jury term or at the beginning of the next one which starts in May.

So Anna, you know, three months ago, the special grand jury finished its work. Why haven’t we heard more in these last couple of months?

Well, first Sam, I’ll note that Fani Willis said charging decisions are imminent, not indictments are imminent. And so that could be a decision that actually was made that very week and we just don’t know about it yet. 

Second, the January 6th committee had a trove of evidence that is related to this case, but that evidence wasn’t released until after the special purpose grand jury dissolved in December.

And then third, people need to realize that this is a state prosecutor’s office. They have a massive RICO case that is being pursued right now in the Young Thug case. They have a massive COVID backlog of cases. So I think that it makes sense that maybe they want to spend a little bit more time on this to make sure that you know, that they’re prepared for any of the spaghetti that Trump’s legal team is gonna throw at the wall.

Anna, when you watched Trump’s arraignment in New York this week, I’m wondering if there’s anything you took away that can help us understand what’s to come in Georgia?

One is that how you tell the story of your case in the indictment is extremely important. It is your first opportunity to justify the prosecution of a former president to the public.

There’s a lot that Fani Willis could learn from the indictment that Alvin Bragg’s office put out because there were many things that remained unclear in that indictment.

The second thing is just that the security situation is going to be a circus. I watched the motorcade of Trump’s, you know, black SUVs driving to the Manhattan courthouse. And the only thing that I could think about is how bad Atlanta traffic is going to be if it happens in Georgia.

In the Georgia case, if it is a multi-defendant RICO case that involves John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, then it’s gonna be an even more intense experience for Atlantans and for Georgia than it was in New York.