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Willis Ups Trump Probe Anticipation    01/30 06:01

   Former President Donald Trump and his allies have been put on notice by a 
prosecutor, but the warning didn't come from anyone at the Justice Department.

   ATLANTA (AP) -- Former President Donald Trump and his allies have been put 
on notice by a prosecutor, but the warning didn't come from anyone at the 
Justice Department.

   It was from a Georgia prosecutor who indicated she was likely to seek 
criminal charges soon in a two-year election subversion probe. In trying to 
block the release of a special grand jury's report, Fulton County District 
Attorney Fani Willis argued in court last week that decisions in the case were 
"imminent" and that the report's publication could jeopardize the rights of 
"future defendants."

   Though Willis, a Democrat, didn't mention Trump by name, her comments marked 
the first time a prosecutor in any of several current investigations tied to 
the Republican former president has hinted that charges could be forthcoming. 
The remarks ratcheted anticipation that an investigation focused, in part, on 
Trump's call with Georgia's secretary of state could conclude before ongoing 
federal probes.

   "I expect to see indictments in Fulton County before I see any federal 
indictments," said Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University law professor.

   Besides the Georgia inquiry, a Justice Department special counsel is 
investigating Trump over his role in working with allies to overturn his loss 
in the 2020 presidential election and his alleged mishandling of classified 
documents.

   Trump had appeared to face the most pressing legal jeopardy from the probe 
into a cache of classified materials at his Florida resort, and that threat 
remains. But that case seems complicated, at least politically, by the recent 
discovery of classified records at President Joe Biden's Delaware home and at a 
Washington office. The Justice Department tapped a separate special counsel to 
investigate that matter.

   Willis opened her office's investigation shortly after the release of a 
recording of a Jan. 2, 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 votes needed to 
overturn Trump's narrow election loss in the state to Biden, a Democrat.

   "All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one 
more than we have," Trump said on the call.

   Since then, the investigation's scope has broadened considerably, 
encompassing among other things: a slate of Republican fake electors, phone 
calls by Trump and others to Georgia officials in the weeks after the 2020 
election, and unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud made to state 
lawmakers.

   In an interview, Trump insisted he did "absolutely nothing wrong" and that 
his phone call with Raffensperger was "perfect." He said he felt "very 
confident" that he would not be indicted.

   "She's supposed to be stopping violent crime, and that's her job," Trump 
said of Willis. "Not to go after people for political reasons, that did things 
absolutely perfectly."

   It is unclear how Willis' case will impact the Justice Department's probes 
or what contact her team has had with federal investigators. Justice Department 
prosecutors have been circumspect in discussing their investigations, offering 
little insight into how or when they might end.

   But Willis' comments indicate that the Georgia investigation is on a path 
toward resolution -- with charges or not -- on a timetable independent of what 
the Justice Department is planning to do, legal experts said.

   Cunningham, the Georgia State professor, said that Willis' comments implied 
that the special grand jury's report contained detail about people who the 
panel and Wills believe should, at minimum, be further investigated.

   "She wouldn't be talking about the release of the report creating prejudice 
to potential future defendants unless she saw in the report peoples' names who 
she saw as potential future defendants," he added.

   Attorney General Merrick Garland in November tapped Jack Smith, a former 
public corruption prosecutor, to act as special counsel overseeing 
investigations into Trump's actions leading up to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, 
Capitol riot and into his possession of hundreds of classified documents at the 
Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

   Though Smith and his team of prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas, 
he has not revealed when his investigation might conclude or who might be a 
target.

   Garland has declined to discuss the probes, saying only that "no person is 
above the law" and that there aren't separate rules for Democrats and 
Republicans.

   FBI agents recently searched Biden's Wilmington, Delaware, home, finding six 
items containing classified documents, the White House said. Further muddling 
the Justice Department's calculus: Classified records were found this month at 
the Indiana home of Trump's vice president, Mike Pence.

   Public disclosures about Willis' case are the result, to some degree, of the 
unusual nature of the Georgia proceedings.

   Willis in January of last year sought to convene a special grand jury to 
help her investigation, citing the need for its subpoena power to compel the 
testimony of witnesses who otherwise wouldn't talk to her. She said in a letter 
to Fulton County's chief judge that her office had received information 
indicating a "reasonable probability" that the 2020 election in Georgia "was 
subject to possible criminal disruptions."

   The county's superior court judges voted to grant the request, and the panel 
was seated in May. The grand jurors heard from 75 witnesses and reviewed 
evidence collected by prosecutors and investigators. Among the witnesses who 
testified were former New York mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. 
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and such Georgia state officials as 
Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp.

   The panel lacked the authority to issue an indictment, but its report is 
presumed to include recommendations for further action, possibly including 
potential criminal charges.

   The special grand jury was dissolved earlier this month after wrapping up 
its work and finalizing a report on its investigation. The grand jurors 
recommended the report be made public.

   News organizations, including The Associated Press, argued for the report to 
be released. At a hearing last week, Willis said that a decision was looming on 
whether to seek an indictment and that she opposed releasing the report because 
she wanted to ensure "that everyone is treated fairly and we think for future 
defendants to be treated fairly, it is not appropriate at this time to have 
this report released."

   Attorneys for witnesses and others identified as targets have insisted that 
Willis is driven by politics rather than by legitimate concerns that crimes 
were committed. Among other things, they pointed to her public statements and 
initial willingness to speak to print and television news outlets.

   Danny Porter, a Republican who served as district attorney in neighboring 
Gwinnett County for nearly three decades, said Willis has been navigating 
unfamiliar territory. Special grand juries are relatively rare in Georgia, and 
the law doesn't provide much guidance for prosecutors, he said.

   Even so, Porter said, it appeared Willis had not crossed any ethical or 
legal red lines that would call into question the integrity of the 
investigation.

   "Procedurally," he said, "I haven't seen anything that made me go, 'Oh, 
jeez, I wouldn't have done that.'"

 
 
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