“If Every Person in America Knew What We Knew, This Country Would Not Be Divided As It Is Now”

I’m grateful that renowned legal scholar Laurence Tribe linked on Twitter to the article I discuss below–though now that I’ve completed this post, I see it’s all over the news! The piece is fascinating; its account of the jurors is also a shot in the arm for democracy and the rule of law at a time when we sorely need one.

Tribe prefaced his link by noting:

“I dare anyone to read this without coming away with great respect for the Fulton County grand jury—23 ordinary citizens who did their duty with care and without fear or favor. The make me proud of the grand just system. I admire how Willis used it.”

Imagine serving on the Fulton County, Georgia, special grand jury called by District Attorney Fani Willis to decide whether to prosecute Donald Trump and others for election fraud in the 2020 election. (“Just find me 11,780 votes,” Trump pleaded with the Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, in that infamous phone call.)

You may have seen one—or more—of the blitz of media interviews with the jury foreperson, Emily Kohrs, immediately following the release of the jury’s report. Kohrs, who clearly enjoyed her day of fame, did not cross the line in violation of the judge’s instructions, but she seemed to come close.

Kohrs probably caused Willis some angst when she told members of the media that she’d sworn in one witness (part of her responsibilities as foreperson) while holding a Ninja Turtle ice pop from the District Attorney’s ice cream party. Not a good look in terms of both seriousness and fraternizing with the prosecutors.

Harshly criticized for her happy tale-telling—which included a broad suggestion that the report recommended Trump’s indictment (“no big plot twists here,” she said)—she quickly removed herself from public view.

Apparently, five of the other jurors were concerned that Kohrs had sullied their earnest eight-months-long effort: they agreed to speak to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters about their experiences—anonymously, to protect both their safety and privacy.

This is the reporters’ opening:

“The bomb-sniffing dog was new. The special grand jurors investigating interference in Georgia’s 2020 elections hadn’t before seen that level of security on the third floor of the Fulton County courthouse where they had been meeting in secret for nearly eight months.

“’Oh, God, I hope it doesn’t find anything,’ one juror recalled thinking as the German Shepherd inspected the room. ‘It was unexpected. We were not warned of that,’ she said.”

“The reason for the heightened surveillance was the day’s star witness: Michael Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser. An election denier who suggested martial law should be imposed to seize voting machines in Georgia and other swing states where Trump lost, Flynn had only agreed to appear after being compelled to by two courts in his home state of Florida.

“Fulton law enforcement was taking no chances on that unseasonably warm December day, concerned about who might turn up to protect Flynn, a prominent figure among far-right, conspiracy theorist and Christian nationalist groups. Outside, on the courthouse steps, sheriffs’ deputies and marshals carrying automatic weapons kept watch.”

There was no bomb. Flynn asserted his Fifth Amendment rights, and that was that.

“But, the experience brought home to some jurors just how important and consequential their work could be.”

One of them called the eight-month process “one of the most important things we’ll be a part of in our life;” thus, it was “incredibly important to get it right.”

The 23 jurors and three alternates were chosen from a group of 200 that the judge rapidly reduced, asking only if the individuals had an open mind and whether they had any conflicts. They were diverse in terms of race, economic status, and politics.

Though the day Flynn came was surely frightening, the jurors had to know from Day One that this experience was potentially dangerous. There were huge traffic jams due to the closed streets surrounding the courthouse.

“The Fulton Sheriff’s Office had blocked off vehicle traffic on the surrounding streets and stationed deputies with assault rifles at the building’s main entrance. The emptiness inside created an eerie feeling.”

Leaving at the end of the first day, they were guided through tunnels to the basement of the courthouse, where they passed a SWAT team in the hallways. Armored vans drove them to their cars, parked off-site. They could have withdrawn then. They did not.

It wasn’t that harrowing every day, however. Often they’d walk past the cameras set up to view the “A-list” witnesses, carrying their lunch in bags, unrecognized by the press and others—just hoping no one would figure out who they were and why they were there.

Several of the interviewees said they’d decided to talk with the reporters because of criticisms that arose after jury foreperson Emily Kohrs had appeared so ubiquitously. Though they were careful to say they weren’t condemning Kohrs, they wanted to make clear their own appreciation for the critical nature of their effort and their active roles in fulfilling their responsibilities in an investigation that was “somber and thorough.”

I find it valuable to think about what the process was like for those who lived through it. They often met three times a week. The jurors talked about those days in court as sometimes “fascinating,” at other times “tedious,” even emotionally exhausting.

How difficult it must have been to keep quiet about all this sensational stuff spewing forth, never mentioning it to family, friends, or coworkers.

Their work involved asking questions of 75 witnesses. After the prosecutors questioned the witnesses and suggested those who should be subpoenaed, the jurors asked their questions. One juror classified three buckets of witnesses: The earliest group were fairly open; the second had had to be subpoenaed but did talk and cooperate.

But the third group consisted of “people who clearly did not want to be there and had fought their summons. They were the last witnesses jurors heard from, and many had at least at one point been close to Trump.”

“It was like night and day when that second group finished and we got to the third,” the juror said. “The tone in the room completely changed, like overnight.”

I wasn’t surprised to learn whom several of the jurors considered two of the most compelling witnesses: Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss, the poll workers whose riveting testimony before the January 6th Committee described how their lives were ruined by the death threats they received after Trump and Giuliani falsely accused them of fraud.

Jurors were also moved by the testimony of Eric Coomer, who had been the chief executive of Dominion Voting Systems and had left his position because he was so mercilessly attacked. And they singled out Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger’s wife, who wept in describing the threats and attacks she had received.

“’I was pretty emotional throughout the whole thing,’” a juror said. “’I wouldn’t cry in front of any of the witnesses, but when I would get in my car, I was like, I just left that and I have to just go do my job now?…. I just know things that are hard to know now.'”

The jurors provided one huge bit of new news: yet another incriminating phone call Trump made. This one involved the Georgia Speaker of the House, a Republican named David Ralston who died in November.

According to the reporters:

One juror said Ralston proved to be ‘an amazing politician.’

“The speaker ‘basically cut the president off. He said, ‘I will do everything in my power that I think is appropriate.’ … He just basically took the wind out of the sails,’ the juror said. ‘Well, thank you,’ you know, is all the president could say.’”

Ralston did not accede to Trump’s request.

Two other interesting “reveals”: First, after certain witnesses took the Fifth, the prosecution played tapes of these witnesses saying publicly what they’d declined to say in court.

Second, one juror expressed dismay about the witnesses who acknowledged in court–under oath–that there had been no voter fraud in the Georgia election, but then left the courtroom and, hours later, publicly continued to claim that widespread fraud took place.

The jurors interviewed said they don’t know how DA Willis will handle their recommendations. They described “an increased regard for the elections system and the people who run it.”

One juror said: “I care more about there being more respect in the system for the work that people do to make sure elections are free and fair.”

Another told his wife:

“…if every person in America knew every single word of information we knew, this country would not be divided as it is right now.”

And one said:

A lots gonna come out sooner or later. And it’s gonna be massive. It’s gonna be massive.”

I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury but never had the chance. Marc Elias’s oft-used phrase “Democracy is on the docket” seems as strongly relevant here as it is in discussions of voting rights.

I like to think if I’d been called for such momentous grand jury service, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Obviously, in this instance, I would have had to acknowledge that I could not have an open mind. But wow: signing on to what could turn out to be an eight-month commitment in which anonymity is essential to keep jurors safe from violence…that’s heavy lifting.

What do you think of these jurors? If called to serve on a grand jury, would you do what they did?


19 thoughts on ““If Every Person in America Knew What We Knew, This Country Would Not Be Divided As It Is Now”

  1. One little tweak dear lady. Ordinary people do not serve on a grand jury. My best friend (he gave me a sailboat) served a six month term while running a small. literal mom and pop, business. I can assure you that he, and from all I’m reading and hearing, these jurors are extraordinary people. They often look normal but that is often because they believe they are just normal. They hold the line and drag society forward.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Brilliant too, he taught me how to read and write in machine code. That’s what’s running across the video screens in the matrix movies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jill. We do, indeed! I think it’s interesting that Trump’s lawyer in the NY case said he’ll surrender voluntarily. Couldn’t rely on his pal Ron D not to extradite him from Florida, it seems.
      But this is sure to be a bumpy ride for us all.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I thought that was interesting as well, especially knowing Trump’s temperament, his history, and reading of his recent rant — a rant that was eerily reminiscent of his tweets prior to January 6, 2021. Yep, it will be a bumpy ride, but my hope is that at the end of the ride, Trump will no longer be eligible to run for ANY public office. I don’t think he’ll ever spend a day in prison, but if he’s denied the right to be on the ballot in 2024, I’ll settle for that.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that one juror is mistaken. I once thought that Richard Nixon’s well publicized crimes would sink his party into obscurity; I was wrong about that. Trump’s first term should have made him a pariah, but it didn’t Speaker McCarthy defends Trump today: Here we go again — an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My original response to you, which went awry: I think your skepticism is fully justified, William. The Republicans repeatedly demonstrate shamelessness that knows no bottom. However, there’s some evidence that the army of extremists he’s counting on won’t be as massive as he believes and many of us fear. You may have read that Ali Alexander, the far right guy who was a “Stop the Steal” organizer, said he’s retired, but will pray for Trump.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, would happily sit on a grand jury . . . but they don’t want me. I’d be excused immediately if in fact I even got as far as the courtroom. As for their effort here, deep respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure why you don’t think they’d want you, Denise. One interesting aspect about the special grand jury was that the deputy foreperson is a lawyer. Apparently, some of the jurors wanted him at the helm, but he graciously said that since Emily Kohrs was so eager for the position, he’d be there to back her up.


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