Georgia judge orders partial release of grand jury report showing Trump allies 'may have lied under oath'

Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney issued an 8-page order directing that several portions of a recently completed report by the grand jurors be released on Thursday.

Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney
Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. (Ben Gray/AP)
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A Georgia judge's ruling Monday raised the prospect that allies of Donald Trump may have lied under oath when giving testimony to a grand jury about their efforts to flip the results of the 2020 election, opening the door for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to broaden a potential conspiracy indictment to include perjury charges.

Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw a seven-months-long special grand jury investigation into the conduct of Trump and his allies in Georgia, issued an eight-page order directing that several portions of a recently completed report by the grand jurors be released on Thursday.

But in perhaps the most unexpected part of the ruling, McBurney said that one of those portions to be released “discusses concerns that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony to the grand jury.” The grand jurors did not, however, identify those witnesses, the judge wrote.

Still, that statement “appears to be potentially quite significant and may expand the number of potential defendants who may be indicted,” Clark Cunningham, a professor of law at Georgia State University, told Yahoo News.

“We know from past experience that sometimes the coverup is worse than the crime,” he said. “So, it’s possible that people may become defendants in a subsequent indictment not because of their direct involvement in an alleged illegal conspiracy to overthrow the election but because they lied to a special purpose grand jury in an attempt to cover up what they knew.”

Three weeks ago, Willis had urged McBurney not to release any of the report until she had completed her own investigation into the conduct at issue so as not to jeopardize the rights of “future defendants” — comments widely seen as signaling she is actively preparing indictments.

Fani Willis
Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., at her office in Atlanta. (David Walter Banks/Getty Images)

McBurney apparently addressed those concerns by directing that the identity of any person the grand jury might recommend for criminal charges be kept secret until such time as Willis decides what actions she plans to take. And Willis, who has closely been overseeing the probe and personally reviewing the evidence with a small team of prosecutors, immediately accepted McBurney’s hair-splitting.

“I believe Judge McBurney’s order is legally sound and consistent with my request,” she said in a statement on Monday after the judge’s ruling was released. “I have no plans to appeal today’s order.”

Anticipation about the contents of the report — and what charges Willis might bring — has been building for months, in part because the special grand jury and Willis’s prosecutors were able to question some witnesses who never testified before the House Jan. 6 select committee, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Willis’s investigation is not the only potential criminal probe confronting the former president. Just this week, special counsel Jack Smith — appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November — was reported to have subpoenaed former Vice President Mike Pence, a sign that his investigation into Trump’s role in the events of Jan. 6, 2021, is still very much alive and active.

Meanwhile, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, has reportedly begun presenting evidence to a New York grand jury about Trump’s payments of alleged hush money to former porn star Stormy Daniels under a theory that it might have violated state law.

The House Jan. 6 select committee presents evidence pertaining to Donald Trump's Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger
The House Jan. 6 select committee presents evidence pertaining to Donald Trump's Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

But Willis’s investigation has long been viewed by many as the most serious threat to Trump because it began with a powerful piece of evidence: a tape of Trump’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, in which he repeatedly urged the state’s top election official to “find” the necessary votes to flip the election results in that state and seemed to threaten him with the prospect of criminal prosecution if he did not.

A recent report by the Brookings Institution asserted that Trump’s phone call alone could subject him to prosecution under a Georgia statute for criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, a felony that carries a penalty of one to three years in prison. (Trump recently claimed on his Truth Social platform that his phone call with Raffensperger was “perfect” and he has repeatedly denounced Willis as a “radical leftist” prosecutor out to get him.)

But as Yahoo News and other outlets have reported, Willis is also exploring bringing broader conspiracy charges under Georgia’s expansive Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act that would encompass other conduct during Trump’s two-month long pressure campaign to alter the Georgia election results. Among those actions: potential false statements by Trump’s chief lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to Georgia legislative committees and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer’s secret designation of so-called “fake electors” pledged to Trump that were then presented to Congress and the National Archives.

The special grand jury’s concerns about possible perjury could broaden any RICO claims, said Gwen Keyes Fleming, a former district attorney in neighboring DeKalb County and one of the authors of the Brookings report. She noted that perjury is specifically spelled out as a “predicate act” under Georgia’s expansive RICO law. “It could be included in an indictment as part of the racketeering case,” she said.