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Politics

Inside the Trump Grand Jury That Probed Election Meddling

February 21, 2023

ATLANTA — They were led down a staircase into a garage beneath a downtown Atlanta courthouse, where officers with big guns were waiting. From there, they were ushered into vans with heavily tinted windows and driven to their cars under police escort.

For Emily Kohrs, these were the moments last May when she realized she wasn’t participating in just any grand jury.

“That was the first indication that this was a big freaking deal,” Kohrs told The Associated Press.

The 30-year-old Fulton County resident who was between jobs suddenly found herself at the center of one of the nation’s most significant legal proceedings. She would become foreperson of the special grand jury selected to investigate whether then-President Donald Trump and his Republican associates illegally meddled in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. The case has emerged as one of Trump’s most glaring legal vulnerabilities as he mounts a third presidential campaign, in part because he was recorded asking state election officials to “find 11,780 votes” for him.

For the next eight months, Kohrs and her fellow jurors would hear testimony from 75 witnesses, ranging from some of Trump’s most prominent allies to local election workers. Portions of the panel’s final report released last Thursday said jurors believed that “one or more witnesses” committed perjury and urged local prosecutors to bring charges. The report’s recommendations for charges on other issues, including potential attempts to influence the election, remain secret for now.

The AP identified Kohrs after her name was included on subpoenas obtained through open records requests. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney advised Kohrs and other jurors on what they could and could not share publicly, including in interviews with the news media.

During a lengthy recent interview, Kohrs complied with the judge’s instructions not to discuss details related to the jury’s deliberations. She also declined to talk about unpublished portions of the panel’s final report.

But her general characterizations provided unusual insight into a process that is typically cloaked in secrecy.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was on the receiving end of Trump’s pressure campaign, was “a really geeky kind of funny,” she said. State House Speaker David Ralston, who died in November, was hilarious and had the room in stitches. And Gov. Brian Kemp, who succeeded in delaying his appearance until after his reelection in November, seemed unhappy to be there.

Kohrs was fascinated by an explainer on Georgia’s voting machines offered by a former Dominion Voting Systems executive. She also enjoyed learning about the inner workings of the White House from Cassidy Hutchinson, who Kohrs said was much more forthcoming than her old boss, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Kohrs sketched witnesses in her notebook as they spoke and was tickled when Bobby Christine, the former U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Southern District, complimented her “remarkable talent.” When the jurors’ notes were taken for shredding after their work was done, she managed to salvage two sketches — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Marc Short, who served as chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence — because there were no notes on those pages.

After Graham tried so hard to avoid testifying — taking his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — Kohrs was surprised when he politely answered questions and even joked with jurors.

Former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was funny and invoked privilege to avoid answering many questions but “genuinely seemed to consider” whether it was merited before declining to answer, she said.

When witnesses refused to answer almost every question, the lawyers would engage in what Kohrs came to think of as “show and tell.” The lawyers would show video of the person appearing on television or testifying before the U.S. House committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, periodically asking the witness to confirm certain things. Then the scratching of pens on paper could be heard as jurors tallied how many times the person invoked the Fifth Amendment.

At least one person who resisted answering questions became much more cooperative when prosecutors offered him immunity in front of the jurors, Kohrs said. Other witnesses came in with immunity deals already in place.

Trump’s attorneys have said he was never asked to testify. Kohrs said the grand jury wanted to hear from the former president but didn’t have any real expectation that he would offer meaningful testimony.

“Trump was not a battle we picked to fight,” she said.

Kohrs didn’t vote in 2020 and was only vaguely aware of controversy swirling in the wake of the election. She didn’t know the specifics of Trump’s allegations of widespread election fraud or his efforts to reverse his loss. When prosecutors played the then-president’s phone call with Raffensperger on the first day the jurors met to consider evidence, it was the first time Kohrs had heard it.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said on the call.

Though Kohrs said she tends to agree more with Democrats, Kohrs said she doesn’t identify with any political party and prefers to listen to all opinions.

“If I chose a political party, it would be the not-crazy party,” she said.

Kohrs called herself a “geek about the justice system” and noted the challenges some jurors faced balancing their responsibilities on the panel with outside duties. When she eagerly volunteered to be foreperson, she met no resistance from her fellow jurors, who were less enthusiastic about the time-consuming obligation stretching before them, she said.

One of her first duties as foreperson was to sign a big stack of subpoenas.

As the proceedings played out, one of her fellow jurors brought the newspaper every day and pointed out stories about the investigation. Prosecutors, Kohrs said, told jurors they could consume news coverage related to the case but urged them to keep an open mind.

Kohrs said she mostly avoided stories related to the proceedings to avoid forming an opinion.

“I didn’t want to characterize anyone before they walked in the room,” she said. “I felt they all deserved an impartial listener.”

Of the 26 people on the panel — 23 jurors and three alternates — 16 had to be present for a quorum. There was a core group of between 12 and 16 who showed up almost every day they were in session, Kohrs said, and she could recall only one day when they couldn’t proceed because not enough seats were filled. The most they ever had in the room was 22 — on the day Giuliani testified.

As the months passed, the grand jurors grew more comfortable with each other and with the four lawyers on Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ team who led the proceedings. But they’re not all best friends now that it’s over.

“We are not meeting up now. We don’t have a group chat,” Kohrs said.

While the jurors asked to hear from certain witnesses, most witnesses were decided upon by the district attorney’s office. But Kohrs said she didn’t feel as though prosecutors were trying to influence the jurors’ final report.

“I fully stand by our report as our decision and our conclusion,” she said.

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