Another Judge Smacks Down Another Frivolous Trump Case
For Team Trump, the legal fees are mounting—and so is the desperation.
DONALD TRUMP SEEMS never to tire of playing losing hands in court. Maybe that’s because these days, he can afford the litigation costs since he’s spending only other people’s money—that of his small donors.
But bringing frivolous cases can also exact other kinds of costs—including a future price in credibility. A boy crying wolf in the courts may find no judge left to believe him when it counts.
On Monday, Trump suffered another loss, this one in state court in Fulton County, Georgia: He failed in a ridiculous action to keep the February 2023 report of the county’s special grand jury about his alleged interference in the 2020 Georgia election from being used in a future prosecution against him. (A special grand jury in Georgia can investigate but cannot indict.)
Trump had also sought an order barring Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, and her office from prosecuting him. She just pronounced her years-long effort to bring charges “ready to go.”
Trump’s latest courthouse flop was another misguided effort reflecting his approach of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.
Answer in this case: nothing.
In Monday’s decision, Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney gave Trump’s allegations the back of his hand. The judge’s scorching tone betrayed an impatience that more and more courts are expressing about Trump’s frivolous claims.
Technically, Judge McBurney ruled that the former president—along with Cathleen Latham, who joined Trump in the lawsuit and who was one of Georgia’s 2020 “fake electors”—had no standing to challenge the investigation and potential prosecution. McBurney held that because Trump has not yet been charged in Georgia, he lacked the existing concrete injury needed to support a legal action.
In fact, as McBurney wrote in an unsubtle dig at Trump, being targeted by prosecutors can have its financial rewards: “For some, being the subject of a criminal investigation can, à la Rumpelstiltskin, be turned into golden political capital, making it seem more providential than problematic.”
The best way to keep up with all of the The Bulwark’s coverage of the Trump investigations and prosecutions? Sign up for a free or paid subscription today.
Other signs of the judge’s displeasure with Trump are dropped like breadcrumbs throughout the opinion.
Note, for example, the words Judge McBurney used to reject Trump’s allegation that D.A. Willis has a conflict of interest because her investigation of him has brought in campaign contributions. Observing that the donations were not solicited by her, McBurney says he finds nothing “remarkable” about solicitations from third parties finding a favorable response from “private citizens who take a dim view of the former President.”
After Trump reads that, there may be ketchup, fries, and Coke on the Bedminster dining-room walls.
Unflattering words from the judge might be expected after Trump attempted to go over McBurney’s head to the Georgia Supreme Court on this very matter. On July 17, that effort, too, proved to be an epic fail when the state’s high court quickly tossed his claims like a Frisbee.
Judge McBurney’s exasperation is also apparent in his rejection of Trump’s attempt to disqualify D.A. Willis for misconduct in making public statements about the case. McBurney writes that her statements about “pursuing the evidence where it leads us” and “holding everyone accountable” were “standard fare” and “in refreshing contrast to the stream of personal invective flowing from” Trump, as when he called Willis’s investigation a “political witch hunt” and called her the “racist D.A. from Atlanta.”
Finally, if that weren’t enough, this little zinger: McBurney—whom Georgia State law professor Anthony Michael Kreis tweeted is ordinarily “unflappable and exceedingly careful” with his orders—writes in a footnote that “movants’ rather overwrought allegations of prosecutorial overreach and judicial error do not suffice to show that there is a significant risk of a ‘wrongful’ indictment (or even a blot on an escutcheon).”
Now guess which one of the moving parties, Donald Trump or Catherine Latham, has an escutcheon—a coat of arms? (You get bonus points if you also guessed that he plagiarized it.)
Here’s what matters going forward. Judges watch other cases. They take notice when a newsworthy litigant abuses the judicial system with meritless claims and lawsuits.
Trump almost certainly has two new indictments coming down the pike. When he seeks to delay them, he may well have lost the benefit of the doubt with judges alert to his behavior in other cases.
If his brain had an ounce of filtering capacity, he would be more careful, not only in how he spends other people’s capital, but in how he risks his own.