Georgia court dismisses Trump attempt to scuttle election probe

Former US President Donald Trump had requested prosecutor Fani Willis be blocked from filing charges against him.

A man in a blue suit and red tie points from the stage. A screen can be seen behind him.
Former US President Donald Trump, a candidate for the 2024 election, takes the stage for the Turning Point Action Conference on July 15 [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]

The Georgia Supreme Court has voted unanimously to dismiss a petition from former United States President Donald Trump seeking to halt an inquiry into potential election interference during the 2020 race.

In a five-page opinion released on Monday, the state court rejected Trump’s allegation that his constitutional rights had been trampled.

It was a notably quick decision, arriving three days after Trump’s legal team had issued its petition on Friday to bar Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from filing charges against him.

Since 2021, Willis has investigated Trump over accusations that he sought to overturn Georgia’s presidential election results, which showed the Republican incumbent narrowly losing to Democrat Joe Biden in the state.

In addition to limiting Willis’s ability to prosecute, Friday’s petition also sought to quash a special grand jury report from the investigation that has yet to be released in full.

That request was also denied in Monday’s decision.

The “petitioner has not shown that he would be entitled to the relief he seeks,” the nine-member panel wrote.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks at a news conference in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., May 11, 2021.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has led Georgia’s investigation into alleged election interference since 2021 [File: Linda So/Reuters]

The court noted that Trump had not presented “either or the facts of the law necessary” to mandate Willis’s disqualification.

It also found that “no violation of defendant’s constitutional rights and no structural defect in the grand jury process occurred”, leaving no basis to suppress the grand jury’s report.

The rapid nature of the proceedings comes as Trump’s legal team attempts to stave off legal proceedings expected in the state.

Willis has previously noted in a letter to the sheriff of Fulton County that she would announce any charges between July 11 and September 1 of this year.

That disclosure was made so the sheriff could have time to prepare for the security needs of a high-profile trial.

Trump’s legal team said the letter made its petition particularly “urgent”. But it also acknowledged that requesting Georgia high court’s intervention was a long shot.

“In the 40 years that this court has had original jurisdiction over petitions for extraordinary relief, not once in that time has it found any case to have been sufficiently extraordinary to warrant an exercise of that jurisdiction,” the Trump team’s petition said.

“If the Petitioner’s case is not sufficiently extraordinary for this Court to exercise jurisdiction, no case should be,” it added.

A man in glasses, in a black suit and red tie, speaks a day after midterm elections, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. November 9, 2022
A recorded phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger led to scrutiny over alleged election interference in the state [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

Trump came under heightened scrutiny in the state after he made a phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, urging him to “find” votes to ensure his presidential victory.

Trump lost the coveted swing state by approximately 11,779 votes, allowing Biden to scoop up all 16 of Georgia’s Electoral College votes. The Electoral College tally is used to determine which candidate wins the presidential election.

Trump’s call to Raffensperger — which took place on January 2, 2021 — was recorded and ultimately released to the public. It showed the president attempting to convince Raffensperger that the vote count was wrong and that he should announce different results.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump said at one point. At another point, he rejects the notion that the results were accurate: “You’re off by hundreds of thousands of votes.”

Critics have characterised certain parts of the conversation as threatening, particularly when Trump called the ballots “corrupt” and warned Raffensperger of possible criminal penalties.

“That’s a criminal offence,” Trump said at that point in the recording. “And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.”

A grand jury convened in May 2022 to investigate whether Trump attempted to exert undue influence over the Georgia vote tally, in one of several probes the ex-president and current presidential candidate has faced over recent years.

It disbanded in January and its report remains largely sealed. Some of the state’s highest officials testified in the investigation, which involved 75 witnesses.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing. He faces 34 state-level counts of falsifying business records in New York and in June, he was charged with 37 criminal counts on the federal level for his handling and alleged concealing of classified documents.

He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies