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Hear what's in grand jury report released by Georgia judge on Trump and 2020 election
03:21 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The latest significant developments out of a special grand jury in Georgia probing Donald Trump’s election-stealing effort in the state are ramping up intrigue over a question the entire political world wants answered: Will the ex-president be indicted?

An excerpt of the special grand jury’s report released Thursday showed that it recommended the district attorney seek indictments of one or more unnamed witnesses that it believed lied during testimony. Details on whether anyone should face charges on the underlying question – an alleged attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s election win – were not released. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had previously told a judge that charging decisions were “imminent” in the case.

It is not clear whether any indictments for perjury or anything else would involve Trump or those close to him. The ex-president did not testify before the special grand jury. And Trump maintains he did nothing wrong.

Thursday’s developments are likely to lead to nervous moments for some of the 75 witnesses who testified to the investigation. The tantalizing glimpse into a few of the grand jury’s conclusions also left outsiders considering whether the potential exposure of Trump and those around him had worsened in light of the new information. Also up in the air is how it would weigh on the mind of Willis as she considers decisions that could have a huge impact given the involvement of a former president who is an already declared candidate in the 2024 White House race.

The new developments in Georgia added another sobering dimension to an already grave set of criminal investigations surrounding Trump. There are signs that a special counsel probe into his actions before and during the January 6 insurrection in 2021 and his hoarding of classified documents is picking up considerable pace under special counsel Jack Smith. Last week for instance, it emerged that Smith had taken the extraordinary step of subpoenaing the testimony of a former vice president in relation to the January 6 case. Mike Pence has vowed to contest the subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court.

Questions about Georgia are complicated by the fact that Thursday’s excerpts came from a grand jury report that was only partially released. Such a document is, by definition, one-sided since witnesses do not testify alongside counsel or have a chance to rebut any accusations. The rest of the report was not released to avoid prejudicing the rights of people who may or may not end up being charged in the case. Still, the recommendations of perjury prosecutions, although non-binding, represent a small step forward on the issue of whether there will criminal accountability for an attempt to subvert democracy – or to cover it up.

The grand jury heard from notable figures including Trump’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told CNN’s Manu Raju on Thursday that he had confidence in his testimony.

Some legal analysts have concluded that the atmospherics of the case and the signals being sent by Willis mean that some indictments are likely – though of course charges do not mean that someone will be convicted at trial.

“I am convinced there will be indictments, either for perjury or for other crimes,” Thomas Dupree, a former deputy assistant attorney general in ex-President George W. Bush’s administration, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday.

And CNN legal analyst Elie Honig pointed out the frank comments written by the grand jury on the potential question of perjury.

“The grand jury believes they witnessed serious wrongdoing. That is the tone. It’s unmistakable in the report,” Honig said.

Significant comments on the lack of election fraud

One of the potentially most significant excerpts of the report deals with the grand jury’s unanimous conclusion that there was no evidence of voter fraud in Georgia that could have altered the result of an election won by Biden by just under 12,000 votes.

“The Grand Jury heard extensive testimony on the subject of alleged election fraud from poll workers, investigators, technical experts, and State of Georgia employees and officials, as well as from persons still claiming that such fraud took place,” the special grand jury wrote in its report.

Norm Eisen, a former diplomat and legal and ethics expert, told CNN on Thursday that the conclusion was a possibly important building block in any case against Trump. The finding “goes right to the core of what Donald Trump has been claiming happened in Georgia. It repudiates him,” Eisen said on CNN “Newsroom”

“It also establishes a basis for bringing charges – you couldn’t bring charges without this kind of a conclusion – on solicitation of election fraud. This is another nail in the coffin that was already full of them.”

RELATED: Fox News stars and executives privately trashed Trump’s election fraud claims, court document reveals

One potential defense if Trump is charged is that the ex-president fully believed there was election fraud in Georgia and elsewhere, and that he was seeking to protect the integrity of an election. Still, an election audit in Georgia that confirmed Biden’s win and the actions of Republican election officials who also said there was insufficient fraud to overturn the result contribute to considerable reasonable doubt that Trump can genuinely have believed he won. The conclusions of the special grand jury further cement that impression.

Still, Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general in the Bush administration, cautioned that it would be wrong to get “terribly excited” by Thursday’s events in Georgia or to over-interpret them.

“We still have a ways to go to have a fuller picture of what the situation looks like in the mind of the prosecutors here,” Gonzales said.

Trump insisted in a statement that nothing that was revealed on Thursday had any bearing on his situation.

“The president participated in two perfect phone calls regarding election integrity in Georgia, which he is entitled to do – in fact, as president, it was President Trump’s Constitutional duty to ensure election safety, security, and integrity,” the ex-president said in his statement.

Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was far from perfect, of course, as he pressured the Republican official to change the vote counts for the election to allow him to overtake Biden in the key swing state.

“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the call that took place on January 2, 2021.

A Brookings Institution report into the Fulton County criminal investigation cites Georgia law in relation to election fraud, which says a felony has been committed if someone “solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or otherwise attempts to cause the other person to engage in such conduct.” The report’s authors consider that evidence suggests that Trump committed such acts several times between Election Day, 2020 and January 6, 2021, when Congress’ certification of the election was temporarily delayed by the Capitol insurrection.

Whether Willis concludes the same thing and if there is evidence sufficient to make indictments or to win a such a critical case is not yet clear. But the answer may be coming soon.