Georgia Juror Unsettles Trump Investigation with Revealing Interviews

REUTERS/Linda So/File Photo
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks at a news conference in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., May 11, 2021. Picture taken May 11, 2021.

The forewoman of a special grand jury in Georgia may have complicated an investigation into efforts by former president Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election by speaking bluntly about its findings in interviews this week, several legal experts said.

Emily Kohrs, the 30-year-old Atlanta-area resident who served for eight months as forewoman of the special grand jury, said in media interviews this week that the panel recommended multiple indictments in its report, the details of which a Fulton County judge had ordered sealed.

Kohrs said that the list of recommended indictments “is not short,” that there would be no “plot twist” when the public finally gets to see the contents of the report and that regarding “the big name that everyone keeps asking me about” – presumably Trump himself – “I don’t think you will be shocked.”

Several legal experts said they were surprised and concerned by Kohrs’s unusually candid commentary, which included evaluation of witnesses, tidbits about jurors socializing with prosecutors and a stated hope that the investigation yields charges because of how much time she and others invested in the case.

The remarks could cause additional challenges for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, whose investigation has come under scrutiny for what some have described as legal and ethical missteps. Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney effectively barred Willis from investigating Lt. Gov. Burt Jones (R), who served as one of Trump’s false electors in Georgia, after Willis hosted a fundraiser for his opponent.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly criticized Willis for her outspoken characterization of the investigation and frequent media appearances. She told The Washington Post in September that her team had heard credible allegations that serious crimes had been committed and that she believed some would see jail time.

If Willis does indict Trump – becoming the first prosecutor to bring charges against a former president – Trump could use Kohrs’s remarks to advance the argument he’s made all along: that Willis’s probe has amounted to a political prosecution and not a serious investigative inquiry.

Trump weighed in on Kohrs’s comments on Wednesday, calling the case “ridiculous” and criticizing her for “going around and doing a Media Tour revealing, incredibly, the Grand Jury’s inner workings & thoughts. This is not JUSTICE, this is an illegal Kangaroo Court.”

Willis’s office declined to comment on Kohrs’s interviews.

Kohrs told CNN that former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and other witnesses refused to answer questions by invoking their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. She also described an ice cream social she attended hosted by Willis’s office.

“If what [Kohrs] says is true, then if I were Fani Willis, I would be dressing down my prosecutors and saying ‘because it creates all kinds of potential problems,’ including the appearance of compromise of their independence,” said Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former federal prosecutor.

Kohrs also told CNN that she would be deeply disappointed if no charges resulted from the grand jury’s eight months of work – a comment that drew criticism from some quarters, since the length of an investigation should not determine whether indictments follow.

“This was too much – too much information, too much of my time, too much of everyone’s time, too much of their time, too much argument in court about getting people to appear before us,” Kohrs said. “There was just too much for this to just be, ‘Oh, okay, we’re good. Bye!'”

Some scholars familiar with Georgia criminal procedure said Kohrs did not appear to violate any state laws by divulging details of the case.

“At bottom, the juror hasn’t in any way violated her obligation to keep the deliberative process secret,” said Anthony Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University. “And she hasn’t released information in the public domain that already hasn’t been either known or widely speculated. So, the idea that she has, in any way, tainted the case or caused Fani Willis headaches is misguided.”

The special grand jury completed its work last week, concluding that some witnesses may have lied under oath in testimony and recommending that charges be filed if the district attorney could prove any witnesses lied. Those witnesses were not identified in the five-page excerpt of the report made public, nor were any other charging recommendations.

Kohrs, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Post, told other outlets that she was following McBurney’s instructions on what she was permitted to discuss publicly about the grand jury’s work.

It was unclear Wednesday if Trump or any of his allies who were called as witnesses planned to use Kohrs’s statements to attempt to block or toss indictments. Two lawyers for witnesses reached Wednesday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about a pending investigation, said they had no such plans and were aware of no such conversations.

One of them, however, said the forewoman’s remarks were unfair to people who had not yet been charged with a crime and illustrated problems with the Georgia investigation.

“What that juror is doing is very abusive of the due process of rights of people who haven’t been accused of a thing,” said the lawyer, who represents a witness who testified before the panel and spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about a pending investigation. “It bespeaks that the whole thing has been an exercise designed to achieve a predetermined result and was anything but an objective search for the truth.”

Kohrs’s remarks were first reported by the Associated Press. She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she swore in one witness, the late Georgia House speaker David Ralston, while holding in one hand a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ice pop, which she’d obtained at a social event hosted by Willis’s office.

She also told the Atlanta newspaper that the special grand jury heard recordings of previously disclosed phone conversations, including Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021, call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which the president asked the fellow Republican to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat. But she also heard other recordings that have not yet been publicized.

Willis launched the investigation just days after the Raffensperger call.

“We heard a lot of recordings of President Trump on the phone,” Kohrs told the Atlanta paper, declining to give details. “It is amazing how many hours of footage you can find of that man on the phone. . . . Some of these that were privately recorded by people or recorded by a staffer.”

The grand jury report excerpts, released a week ago, offered no major clues about the grand jury’s other findings. The panel pointedly noted that it unanimously agreed that Georgia’s 2020 presidential vote had not been marred by “widespread fraud,” contrary to what Trump and many of his allies have claimed.

The rest of the panel’s findings remained private – including what McBurney has described as “a roster of who should (or should not) be indicted, and for what, in relation to the conduct (and aftermath) of the 2020 general election in Georgia.”

McBurney said releasing the full report at this time would violate due process of “potential future defendants” because what was presented to the grand jury was a “one-sided exploration” of what happened. He noted that there were no lawyers “advocating for the targets of the investigation” and that those who testified were not allowed to “present evidence” or “rebut” other testimony.

Kohrs’s public remarks come against the backdrop of other investigations into alleged efforts by Trump and his supporters to subvert the 2020 election results in key battleground states.

In recent weeks, a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland issued subpoenas to election officials in states including Georgia, as well as to Trump campaign associates, as part of a Justice Department inquiry into the efforts Trump and his allies undertook to reverse his 2020 defeat.

In Fulton County, Willis will decide whether to criminally charge Trump or his allies. Her decision will probably be influenced by the findings of the Atlanta-area residents selected in May to serve on the special grand jury.

The investigative body of 23 jurors and three alternates picked from a pool of residents of Atlanta and its suburbs was given full subpoena power for documents and the ability to call witnesses. The jurors’ identities have not been made public and some may never be.

From June to December, the panel heard from a parade of prominent Republicans including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, along with dozens of other witnesses – among them some who have not previously given p8ublic testimony on what they knew about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. The grand jury spoke to 75 witnesses.

At least 18 people have been notified that they are targets of Willis’s election interference investigation, according to court documents and statements from their attorneys. That list includes Giuliani, who was serving as Trump’s personal lawyer at the time.

Willis’s office has not said whether Trump is a target of the investigation.

It remains unclear how quickly Willis can move to file charges – if that is what she plans to do. To charge someone, Willis would have to present her case to a regular grand jury that has the power to issue criminal indictments.