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Why it matters (and doesn't) if the Georgia special grand jury recommended Trump charges

“It’s not rocket science,” the foreperson reportedly told The New York Times. That’s the point.


The Georgia special grand jury recommended indictments of multiple people on a range of charges in its report, much of which remains sealed, the jury foreperson told The New York Times on Tuesday.

Asked whether Donald Trump was among those recommendations, the foreperson, Emily Kohrs, reportedly said, "You’re not going to be shocked. It’s not rocket science." She added, "You won't be too surprised," according to the Times.

The Times’ report suggests that Trump, arguably the ringleader of the plot to overturn the 2020 election that he lost, may be on the special grand jury's list of recommended people to charge. So if he is, let’s talk about what that means — and what it doesn’t.

First, recall that the special grand jury doesn’t have the power to return indictments. Instead, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has to do that through a regular grand jury. It's unclear what progress she has made on that front, despite her telling a court (and the world) last month that decisions from her office were “imminent.” The bottom line is that there’s no direct legal significance to the special grand jury recommending charges.

Yet, whenever Willis considers or has considered what charges to bring, she’s thinking about how those charges will fare at a potential trial, where she’d have to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump and/or whomever she accuses is guilty. So while there isn’t a direct legal significance to the special grand jury’s recommendations, it’s useful to have had a dry run, of sorts, in the special grand jury, albeit one at which the prosecution controls the flow of information. That the foreperson — who, as a lead grand juror, takes on an administrative role — reportedly said its recommendations won't be too surprising could suggest an obviousness to the alleged criminality at play that reassures Fulton County prosecutors.

On that note, consider as well a story from The Associated Press on Tuesday that interviewed Kohrs. The AP report reinforces that any trial, while based on the admissible evidence, will ultimately come down to jurors’ and witnesses’ personalities and common sense. For example, Kohrs reportedly said that Cassidy Hutchinson, who memorably offered damning congressional testimony about Trump's actions on Jan. 6, was more forthcoming than her former boss, Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Kohrs also reportedly said that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another pivotal witness who was pressured by Trump to “find” Republican votes, was “a really geeky kind of funny.”

Though perhaps seemingly insignificant observations, trial lawyers know that these sorts of personal connections and assessments can be critical. That’s all the more important because, at the end of the day, all of this legal wrangling is done in the shadow of a jury trial, where the human element and narrative come to the fore. If there is a trial over Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, a good prosecutor will likewise argue to a jury that "it's not rocket science."