ATLANTA — A judge on Monday rejected an attempt by former President Donald Trump to keep a Georgia district attorney from prosecuting him and from using certain evidence gathered in her investigation into potential illegal meddling in the 2020 election in the state.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney didn’t mince words in his nine-page ruling, which said Trump lacked the legal grounds to bring the challenge before any indictment has been filed in the case. Any harm alleged by Trump and by Cathy Latham, a Republican fake elector from Georgia who had joined his motion, is “either insufficient or else speculative and unrealized,” the judge wrote.
The alleged harms “are insufficient because, while being the subject (or even target) of a highly publicized criminal investigation is likely an unwelcome and unpleasant experience, no court ever has held that that status alone provides a basis for the courts to interfere with or halt the investigation,” McBurney wrote.
In a caustic footnote, seemingly nodding to Trump’s status as the dominant frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination for president despite having been indicted twice already, the judge added: “And for some, being the subject of a criminal investigation can, à la Rumpelstiltskin, be turned into golden political capital, making it seem more providential than problematic.”
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, an elected Democrat, has strongly suggested that she is likely to seek charges in the case in the coming weeks. While she has not directly said she plans to seek charges against the Republican former president, she has repeatedly said no one is above the law.
Monday’s ruling came in response to a motion filed in March by Trump’s Georgia-based legal team that said a special grand jury seated to help Willis investigate “involved a constant lack of clarity as to the law, inconsistent applications of basic constitutional protections for individuals being brought before it, and a prosecutor’s office that was found to have an actual conflict, yet continued to pursue the investigation.”
The special grand jury did not have the power to indict, but it did issue subpoenas and heard from some 75 witnesses while meeting from May to December last year and issued a final report with recommendations for Willis.
Trump attorney Drew Findling did not immediately respond Monday to text and voicemail messages seeking comment.
Latham was one of 16 Georgia Republicans who met at the state Capitol in December 2020 and signed a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won the presidential election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors. Willis last year informed them that they were targets of her investigation, though some have since reached immunity deals with her team.
McBurney said there are no grounds to disqualify Willis from pursuing her investigation and likely prosecution, saying she had not acted improperly.
“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, no doubt referring to Trump.
Trump’s attorneys several weeks ago took another stab at barring Willis from prosecuting him and getting the special grand jury’s report tossed out with twin filings against Willis and McBurney in Fulton County Superior Court and the Georgia Supreme Court. Explaining this extraordinary action, they cited the fact that McBurney had yet to rule on their earlier motion and Willis’ indication that she would soon seek charges in the case.
The state Supreme Court unanimously declined to intervene, dismissing the petition.
A judge from neighboring Cobb County was assigned to consider the other petition after the chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court recused himself and the other judges on that bench from hearing the matter involving McBurney. He has set a hearing for Aug. 10.
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