By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -A Georgia prosecutor investigating Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his defeat in the state's 2020 presidential election told a judge on Tuesday that decisions on whether to bring criminal charges are "imminent."
Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, spoke at a hearing on whether to publicly release the final report from a special grand jury that spent months examining the Trump campaign's actions. She urged county Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney to keep the report secret for now, warning that future defendants could argue that unsealing the document hurt their right to a fair trial, among other concerns.
"We are asking that the report not be released, because - you having seen that report - decisions are imminent," Willis said, though she did not specify a time frame.
The special grand jury, convened last year at Willis' request to aid her investigation, was empowered to subpoena witness testimony and evidence but did not have the authority to issue indictments. Willis, an elected Democrat, will ultimately decide whether to pursue charges against Trump or anyone else.
Criminal charges would make Trump the first former U.S. president to face prosecution and upend the 2024 presidential campaign, months after Trump announced his latest White House bid.
Members of the special grand jury voted in favor of releasing the report, the contents of which remain unknown. Lawyers for a coalition of media organizations, including news networks and major newspapers, argued that the report should be published in part due to the overwhelming public interest in the case.
McBurney did not immediately rule at the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing and assured all parties that he would give advance notice if he determines the report should be released, presumably to give the district attorney's office time to file an appeal.
Trump's lawyers did not attend the hearing. In a statement on Monday, his Georgia-based legal team said the grand jury never subpoenaed Trump or asked him to appear voluntarily.
"We can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump," attorneys Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little said.
Georgia has become a critical swing state, helping to deliver Biden to the White House and control of the Senate to Democrats after years of Republican dominance.
The investigation has centered in part on a January 2021 phone call that Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking him to "find" enough votes to overturn the Republican's loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the November 2020 election. Days later, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse Biden's victory.
In addition to Trump's January 2021 phone call, the investigation has examined a scheme to appoint an alternate slate of presidential electors in an effort to award Georgia's electoral votes to Trump, rather than Biden, ahead of Congress' certification of the results on Jan. 6, 2021.
The special grand jury heard testimony from 75 witnesses, including state officials such as Governor Brian Kemp and Raffensperger as well as Trump advisers such as U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and attorney Rudy Giuliani. Many witnesses unsuccessfully sought to quash their subpoenas.
In a series of posts on his social media site Truth Social on Tuesday, Trump defended the phone call as "perfect" and repeated his false claim that the Georgia election was stolen.
The Georgia investigation is among several civil and criminal probes threatening Trump, his family and his associates.
A special counsel is overseeing U.S. Justice Department investigations into Trump's actions to alter the outcome of the 2020 election and his retention of classified materials after leaving the White House in 2021.
Trump's real estate business, the Trump Organization, was convicted in New York court in December of tax fraud. The state's Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, has sued Trump, his company and his children, accusing them of lying to banks and insurers about the value of their assets. The Manhattan district attorney's office is pursuing its own criminal investigation into Trump's business.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)