Saturday, September 23, 2023

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) -The judge presiding over a Georgia grand jury investigation into Donald Trump on Monday rejected the former U.S. president’s bid to disqualify the lead prosecutor and block any indictments stemming from the probe, which is expected to yield charges in the coming weeks.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney also denied Trump’s request to quash a special grand jury report that included recommendations on whom to charge in connection with a campaign to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results, when Democrat Joe Biden narrowly carried the state.

The report has remained sealed pending charges in the case.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has indicated she intends to ask a grand jury to approve charges sometime in the next three weeks, telling judges that her staff will mostly work remotely as a safety precaution.

Security barricades were erected outside the county courthouse last week.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and accused Willis, an elected Democrat, of political motives. A spokesperson and his Georgia-based legal team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Willis declined to comment.

Trump’s lawyers have filed a separate long-shot bid to disqualify Willis that will be heard by another judge next week. That motion was assigned to a judge from another county because it names McBurney in addition to Willis; as a result, all Fulton County judges were recused from hearing it.

Willis has been investigating Trump’s attempt to reverse the 2020 election outcome since January 2021, shortly after Trump was recorded on a phone call asking the state’s top election official to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory.

The wide-ranging probe has also examined the conduct of Trump’s attorneys, including Rudy Giuliani, and a group of individuals who served as alternate electors in an unsuccessful effort to have the state’s electoral votes awarded to Trump rather than Biden.

The special grand jury was convened at Willis’s request to aid in her investigation. The jury, which had subpoena power but not the authority to issue charges, heard testimony from dozens of witnesses.

Trump has falsely claimed the election in Georgia and elsewhere was marred by widespread fraud, despite dozens of court rulings finding no evidence to support it.

In his nine-page decision, McBurney said Trump’s bid to block the probe was premature, given that no charges had yet been filed, and that he would have ample opportunity to challenge the propriety of the investigation if and when he faces an indictment.

McBurney also said Trump had not shown Willis had acted in a biased fashion, despite granting press interviews and tweeting about the case.

“The drumbeat from the district attorney has been neither partisan (in the political sense) nor personal, in marked and refreshing contrast to the stream of personal invective flowing from one of the movants,” he wrote.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Howard Goller and Lisa Shumaker)


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