Donald Trump is at the greatest risk of facing criminal charges as a special grand jury in Georgia begins hearing testimony from dozens of subpoenaed witnesses about his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state, experts have said.
Prosecutors, led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, have been examining whether the former president’s infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes to tilt the results in Trump’s favor amounted to a criminal offense.As part of the long-running investigation, a special grand jury will now start hearing testimony from around 50 subpoenaed witnesses from Wednesday, June 1. The jury will then hand over a report to Willis, who will decide whether to indict Trump and his allies with a criminal offense.
Clark D. Cunningham, a professor of law at Georgia State University, said that while Trump faces other legal and civil investigations, the one in Georgia is “potentially the most significant” of them all.
“The phone call to Raffensperger certainly seems like the clearest evidence we have of criminal wrongdoing by Trump,” Cunningham told Newsweek.
“It’s a recording, he acknowledges that it’s him, it’s his voice. There’s no question of authenticity,” Cunningham added. “It seems to me that it’s very clear evidence of a violation of Georgia law called the criminal solicitation of election fraud.
Josh Ritter, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, also said the Fulton County probe is the “closest to a criminal indictment that we’ve seen for the former president” so far.
“It’s pretty historically significant, especially given the fact that it’s a state investigation rather than a federal investigation,” Ritter told Newsweek.
Trump has frequently dismissed suggestions that his phone call with Raffensperger amounted to a crime, insisting it was a “perfect” call. The former president—who has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that the 2020 election was rigged—also maintains that the Georgia investigation is a political “witch hunt” against him.
Newsweek has contacted Trump’s office for comment.
This is not the first time that Trump has risked becoming the first current or former president to be charged with a crime.
The Department of Justice could yet charge him in connection with allegations he incited his supporters to attack the Capitol on January 6 to stop the certification of the electoral votes in favor of Joe Biden. The House Select Committee investigating the insurrection is due to submit its recommendations and evidence to the agency.
Trump also remains under investigation for alleged tax fraud by the Trump Organization despite reports Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was bringing the inquiry to a halt.n March, a damning resignation letter from prosecutor Mark Pomerantz was made public stating the D.A.’s office was in “no doubt” that Trump had committed “numerous” felonies related to tax fraud and false financial statements and that failing to prosecute the former president would be “a grave failure of justice.”
Pomerantz quit as special assistant district attorney in February amid reports Bragg had doubts about pushing forward with prosecuting Trump.
However, the Manhattan and the Georgia investigations are two separate probes looking into completely different allegations.
Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, suggested that as Willis is “one of the most aggressive prosecutors in the country” there is a greater chance of her office securing an indictment against Trump.
“This investigation is the most likely to result in criminal charges for the former President, especially because we’ve seen so little from the New York District Attorney and the Department of Justice,” Rahmani told Newsweek.
“But ultimately potential charges require a prosecutor who is willing to go the whole way, and Willis may be that woman.”
Willis, who made her team wear bulletproof vests due to the constant attacks from Trump and his supporters, has insisted her decision on whether to charge the former president will not be a personal one and will be purely based on the facts.
However, Ritter suggested that it is hard to believe there will not be a “political motivation somewhere at play” with regards to Willis’ decision, which may not arrive for several months.
“It’s a kind of lip service towards trying to be objective about the whole thing, but in the end, there’s no getting around that this has incredible political significance to it,” Ritter said.
Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, said that while Willis is “certainly under a lot of pressure” to bring an indictment against the former president, charges are only as good as the underlying evidence to support them.
“This special grand jury will inform her on what is the best option given the body of evidence the investigation uncovers,” Kreis told Newsweek.
“The only thing worse for her political future than failing to bring charges where the facts would support an indictment might be failing to get a conviction if charges are filed.”
It is not just Trump who could face charges connected to the Fulton County investigation. Willis has also confirmed that her office has expanded the probe and is looking into the fake election officials who tried to falsely declare Trump the winner of Georgia in 2020.
Cunningham believes that if a number of Republican officials were actively involved in the production of fake election certificates declaring Trump the winner in Georgia and other states, then securing their convictions would be “more important” than that of the former president.
“That really is a conspiracy of historic proportions,” Cunningham said. “It’s hard for me not to believe that they knew what they were doing was absolutely wrong and illegal. And they did it anyway.
“Their defense was ‘we’re loyal to Donald Trump.’ And that there has to be consequences for that.”