The year 2023 in Atlanta will be forever remembered as the year a Fulton County grand jury indicted a former U.S. president. Formal charges of racketeering and 12 other felonies were brought against Donald Trump for allegedly overseeing a conspiracy that sought to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.
The indictment was major news across the globe. The events leading up to the charges and those that have played out afterwards have produced a steady supply of major developments in the case.
Here are some of the more notable ones.
'It's not a short list'
In early January, a brief court order reveals that the Fulton County special purpose grand jury investigating the election interference case has completed its work and finished its final report. The panel met in secret for eight months and heard testimony from about 75 witnesses.
After a few pages of the report are unsealed in February, jury foreperson Emily Kohrs grants interviews to the local and national media. "It's not a short list," she famously tells The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when asked how many people the special grand jury recommended be indicted.
Later, five members of the panel, in an exclusive interview with the AJC, somberly recount their work. "One of the most important things we'll be a part of in our life was this eight-month process that we did," one juror says, adding that it was "incredibly important to get it right."
The special grand jury could not obtain indictments, only recommend them.
A grand jury is convened
In July, two Fulton County grand juries are assembled, one of which is certain to be presented the criminal case against Trump and others. Coincidentally, Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury, is the judge who presides over the selection of these grand jurors.
The build up
In early August, security begins to ramp up around the Fulton Count courthouse. Streets are closed. Barricades are installed. No parking is allowed around the perimeter of the court complex. Reporters from major TV news organizations begin setting up tents and cameras across the street from the courthouse. And there is an increased law enforcement presence in the area.
On Aug. 15, a Fulton County grand jury hands up an indictment accusing Trump and 18 others of being part of a criminal racketeering enterprise that tried to overthrow the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Details of the indictment, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, do not come until after 10 p.m. Among the others charged: onetime New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Trump's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; former U.S. Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark; state Sen. Shawn Still; former state GOP chair David Shafer; and attorneys Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis, John Eastman, Bob Cheeley and Ray Smith.
District Attorney Fani Willis announces the blockbuster 41-count, 97-page indictment at a press conference held shortly after 11:30 p.m. She says the 19 defendants were indicted for trying "to accomplish the illegal goal of allowing Donald J. Trump to seize the presidential term of office beginning on Jan. 20, 2021."
Willis gives Trump and his 18 co-defendants until noon on Aug. 25 to surrender at the Fulton County jail.
Amid intense security, Trump surrenders on the evening of Aug. 24 at the Fulton jail on Rice Street. He is booked in, processed and released on a $200,000 bond. His mugshot, taken with a scowl on his face and his eyes glaring at the camera, is the first ever of a former U.S. president and is soon published by media around the world.
On the day of his surrender, Trump dumps Atlanta lawyers Drew Findling and Marissa Goldberg, who'd been representing him for months, and pairs prominent Atlanta lawyer Steve Sadow with Jennifer Little to defend him.
A newbie judge gets the case
One of the most consequential and closely watched cases in Georgia history is randomly assigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, a former federal prosecutor and state inspector general who had assumed the bench just six months earlier. In the ensuing months, the level-headed, patient jurist would preside over a series of hearings and promptly issue clearly written opinions resolving a number of contentious matters.
The push for federal court
Meadows quickly moves to transfer the case to U.S. District Court, saying that a federal law allows it because his alleged conduct was part of his official duties. Four other defendants — ex DOJ official Clark and three of the GOP officials who cast electoral college votes for Trump — file similar motions.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama, presides over three hearings and rejects the defendants' bids to move the case to federal court where they would presumably get a more favorable jury pool.
All four defendants appeal the ruling. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expedites the cases and on Dec. 18, just three days after hearing arguments, a three-judge panel summarily rejects Meadows' bid to transfer his case to federal court. The other cases are still pending, and Meadows is expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The special grand jury goes big
The bulk of the special grand jury's final, kept under seal since February, is finally released on Sept. 8. The report discloses that the panel recommended a whopping 39 people be indicted. In addition to Trump and others who Willis charged, they had recommended indictments for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, ex-Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and former Georgia U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
The guilty pleas
On Sept. 29, Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall becomes the first of the 19 defendants to plead guilty. He pleads to five misdemeanors for his role in connection with the breach of sensitive voting data in Coffee County. Three weeks later, lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, who had demanded speedy trials, enter their own guilty pleas. Chesebro, an architect of using GOP presidential electors to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's victory in Georgia, pleads guilty to a single felony, and Powell, for playing a role in the Coffee County breach, pleads guilty to six misdemeanors.
A few days later, attorney Jenna Ellis tearfully disavows Trump as she pleads guilty to a single felony for aiding and abetting false statements made to the state Legislature. Of the four defendants, only Ellis agrees to cooperate with Fulton prosecutors as the case moves forward; the other three simply agree to testify truthfully if called as witnesses. All get sentences of probation.
Fiery Fani Willis appears in court
On Nov. 21, McAfee convenes a hearing to consider Fulton prosecutors' motion to revoke the bond of defendant Harrison Floyd for making social media posts about witnesses or others charged in the election interference case. DA Willis makes her first court appearance since the indictment in August and it's a notable one. Combative and impassioned, the prosecutor argues Floyd should be jailed pending trial. But McAfee rules that while Floyd may have technically violated his bond, his actions don't warrant revocation. Before the hearing is adjourned, lawyers for both sides work out a new, more restrictive bond order that Floyd must adhere to.
An August 2024 trial?
In November, Fulton prosecutors file a motion asking McAfee to set an Aug. 5 trial date, which means the trial would likely still be ongoing three months later on Election Day. At a hearing in early December, Sadow opposes the proposed trial date. "That would be the most effective election interference in the history of the United States," he tells McAfee.
Fulton prosecutors, denying they want to interfere with the election, say they were simply being mindful of the already-scheduled criminal trials for Trump in Washington, New York and South Florida. McAfee has yet to set a date for the trial.