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Breakdown

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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True crime investigations from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Veteran legal affairs journalist Bill Rankin takes you inside the courtroom to break down the story and the criminal justice system. This award-winning series investigates Georgia’s most important cases with fact-based reporting. Season 9 focuses on the historic special grand jury investigation of former President Donald Trump in Fulton County, Georgia, led by District Attorney Fani Willis. Learn more about our reporting at ajc.com/breakdown.
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Is there a criminal case to be brought against former President Donald Trump and his allies for what happened in Georgia following the 2020 presidential election?

The third episode of “The Trump Grand Jury,” the ninth season of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Breakdown podcast, explores that possibility. A Fulton County special purpose grand jury that is investigating the issue will ultimately recommend whether criminal charges should be brought.

In a letter to top state officials, District Attorney Fani Willis listed a half dozen laws the former president and others may have broken. They are: solicitation of election fraud, giving false statements, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and making threats related to the administration of the state’s elections.

In Breakdown’s third episode – “Is There A Criminal Case?” – legal experts discuss a number of incidents, including Trump’s Jan. 2, 2020, call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger; his lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s testimony before state legislative committees; and the slate of fake electors who met in secret at the state Capitol the same day Democrats cast Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes for Biden.

As to whether Trump broke the law, it depends on who you ask.

John Banzhaf, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, doesn’t think it’s a close call.

“Looking specifically at the Trump situation, when I read and then heard the actual tape recording of the conversation, it jumped out at me as being about as clear and specific and unambiguous evidence of a crime,” he said.

But Atlanta lawyer Randy Evans, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, doesn’t see it that way.

“If we narrow down to the particulars of what I understand the DA to be looking into, which is whether there’s any criminal or illegal conduct, I don’t even think it’s really close, to be fair,” he said.

You can download the Breakdown podcast from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcasting platform. You can also stream it on your computer from ajc.com.

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The second episode of “The Trump Grand Jury,” the ninth season of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Breakdown podcast, focuses on the woman who is overseeing the investigation of former President Donald Trump and his allies.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis grew up in courtrooms, tagging along with her father, an attorney. When Willis became a prosecutor, she rose through the ranks at the Fulton DA’s Office prosecuting homicide and sexual assault cases.

In 2014, Willis oversaw one of the most high-profile cases in state history: the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating scandal. Thirty-five educators were indicted under the state’s racketeering laws. Many pleaded guilty and of the 12 who went to trial, 11 were convicted.

“I’m still not totally sure how she did it, but she did it,” said Atlanta lawyer John Floyd, a racketeering law expert who assisted Willis in the test-cheating trial. “She was a bit of a force of nature in the sense that she was completely committed to the case.”

Episode 2 will also explain exactly how a special purpose grand jury operates and what it can and cannot do. It will also tell listeners how they will know if, after it adjourns, it is recommending criminal charges be brought.

You can download the Breakdown podcast from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcasting platform. You can also stream it on your computer in the player above.

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This is the murder case against Justin Ross Harris, who left his 22-month-old son Cooper to die in a hot car on June 18, 2014.

Harris, a Home Depot web developer, took Cooper that morning to Little Apron Academy, the in-house daycare center at work. They stopped at a Chick-fil-A for breakfast. But when they leave, Harris doesn’t make the turn to the daycare. Instead, he drives to work, parks his car and walks in to the office. Within hours, Cooper is dead of hypothermia.

The intense publicity of the case went worldwide when it was disclosed at a preliminary hearing that Harris was sending sexually explicit texts to other women shortly before and after he left Cooper in the parking lot. It would be disclosed he was having extramarital affairs, sleeping with prostitutes and exchanging graphic texts with underage girls.

Harris would be indicted for Cooper’s murder and other crimes. Because of intense pretrial publicity, the trial was moved from Cobb County to Glynn County in coastal Georgia. The jury in Brunswick would convict Harris of Cooper’s murder and he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Before and during the trial, Harris’ defense lawyers said what Harris did was a tragic mistake because he loved his son. They also tried to keep evidence of Harris’ deviant sexual behavior from being presented to the jury, arguing it was unfairly prejudicial. Prosecutors contended it showed Harris’ motive — to life a child-free life so he pursue sexual relations.

Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark sided with prosecutors and let it all in. The jury heard days of testimony about the affairs, the graphic texts and the prostitutes.

This became a major thrust of Harris’ appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court in his bid for a new trial. The case was argued this past January and the court released its decision on June 22.

Breakdown’s Episode 18 of “Death in a Hot Car; Mistake or Murder?” covers the court’s momentous ruling and the aftermath.

You can download the Breakdown podcast from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcasting platform. You can also stream it on your computer from ajc.com.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Breakdown podcast drops a special episode on Friday for Season 5: “The Tex McIver Case.”

McIver, an Atlanta lawyer, was convicted of murder during a trial in Fulton County for killing his wife on Sept. 25, 2016.

The killing happened when Tex and Diane McIver returned home to Atlanta from their 84-acre ranch in Putnam County. Diane McIver’s best friend, Dani Jo Carter, was driving the Ford Expedition. Diane McIver was sitting in the front passenger seat, her husband sitting behind her in the back seat.

After they exited the downtown connector on Edgewood Avenue, Tex McIver asks for his .38-caliber handgun that’s in the center console. He later says he thought they had come upon a Black Lives Matter protest.

They leave the area without incident and drive along Piedmont Avenue toward Buckhead, with McIver still holding the revolver in his lap. When they get to an intersection, McIver fires a bullet through the backseat. It hits his wife in the back and she later dies during surgery at Emory University Hospital.

McIver tells police that it was a tragic accident, that the gun went off after he had fallen asleep and was suddenly awakened. But he is eventually indicted for murder and convicted of it during a 2018 trial.

Returning to Breakdown’s fifth season, Episode 12 follows the McIver case through its appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court which issued its opinion on June 30. Just eight days before, the state high court had reversed another high-profile murder case against Justin Ross Harris who had left his 22-month-old son Cooper in his hot car to die.

This time, the court overturns McIver’s conviction in another momentous decision.

You can download the Breakdown podcast from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcasting platform. You can also stream it on your computer from ajc.com.

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The fourth episode of “The Trump Grand Jury,” the ninth season of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Breakdown podcast, focuses on criminal intent as part of the podcast’s continuing coverage of the Fulton County special purpose grand jury that is investigating what Donald Trump and his allies did in Georgia following the 2020 president election.

If a criminal indictment is ultimately brought, prosecutors must show criminal intent – that Trump and others knew what they were doing was illegal and that they meant to break Georgia law.

During a phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, Trump said he needed to “find 11,780 votes.” That was exactly how many he needed to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia.

Trump also told Raffensperger “there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated” the vote totals.

But Raffensperger held firm, saying he believed in the official vote count, which showed Trump had lost in Georgia.

This phone call is at the heart of the special purpose grand jury’s investigation and legal experts are divided on whether it shows Trump had criminal intent. And, somewhat surprisingly, it is not a matter that falls neatly along party lines – even some of Trump’s harshest critics say they don’t see a crime.

Breakdown’s fourth episode also looks at the possible defenses the president could raise if an indictment is returned. No president or former president has ever been indicted. So if this happens the prosecution, the defense and the courts will be breaking new ground.

“There are all kinds of hurdles the prosecution would have to overcome with prosecuting an ex-president,” Atlanta criminal defense attorney Don Samuel says on the podcast. “It wouldn’t surprise me if that ends up in the U.S. Supreme Court before it ever ends up in a courtroom.”

You can download the Breakdown podcast from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcasting platform. You can also stream it on your computer from ajc.com.

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Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was sitting in his kitchen on the afternoon of Jan. 2, 2021, when he received a phone call from the White House.

President Donald Trump, his chief of staff and some of his lawyers were on the line. During the conversation, Trump told Raffensperger to “find” him 11,780 votes to overturn the election results. That was one more than the 11,779-vote margin that gave Georgia’s 16 electoral college votes to President Joe Biden and turned Georgia Democratic for the first time since 1992.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s award-winning Breakdown podcast returns for its ninth season — The Trump Grand Jury — to cover an investigation into that hourlong phone call as well as other events in Georgia that happened in the weeks following Election Day.

Episode One explores what happened during the phone call between Trump and Raffensperger as well as another call made to Frances Watson, the Secretary of State’s lead elections investigator. Both conversations were recorded.

The AJC’s legal affairs reporter, Bill Rankin, returns as the host of Season 9 of the Breakdown podcast. He is joined by senior reporter Tamar Hallerman, who covered the Trump White House when she was the newspaper’s Washington correspondent.

You can download the Breakdown podcast from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcasting platform. You can also stream it on your computer in the player above.

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AJC journalists Bill Rankin and Tamar Hallerman focus on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's grand jury appearance and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham's attempts to avoid his testimony by the Fulton County special purpose grand jury of former President Donald Trump and his allies for what happened in Georgia after the 2020 presidential election.

Giuliani, who has been Trump's personal lawyer, showed up at the Fulton courthouse to testify before the grand jury after his lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to postpone it.

Graham, who placed two phone calls to the Secretary of State's office in the weeks after the election, was scheduled to testify before the special grand jury on Tuesday. But the federal appeals court in Atlanta - the fifth court so far to be involved in Graham's case - stepped in two days before the South Carolina senator was to appear and delayed his appearance.

Rankin and Hallerman also cover the dustup between Gov. Brian Kemp and the Fulton District Attorney's Office and decisions by judges in Colorado and New Mexico ordering two other lawyers who represented the Trump campaign to come to Atlanta and testify before the grand jury.

You can download the Breakdown podcast from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite podcasting platform. You can also stream it on your computer from ajc.com.

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