Georgia Grand Jury threatens Trump investigation

While the House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6th Capitol riot struggles to obtain testimony and White House documents from Donald Trump, an Atlanta attorney is about to hold a special grand jury in her criminal investigation into electoral interference the former president and his allies. for a person with direct knowledge of the deliberations.

Fulton County Attorney Fani Willis opened her investigation in February, and her office has consulted with the House Committee, whose evidence could be of significant value to her investigation. However, their progress has been slowed in part by delays in the panel’s fact-gathering. By convening a grand jury dedicated exclusively to allegations of election rigging, Willis, a Democrat, would indicate that her own investigation is being carried out.

Their investigation is viewed by legal experts as potentially dangerous for the former president, given the myriad interactions he and his allies have had with officials in Georgia, most notably Trump’s call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January asking him to “11,780 votes to find ”- enough to reverse the country’s election result. The Georgia case is one of two active criminal investigations known to affect the former president and his circle; the other is the Manhattan District Attorney’s examination of his financial affairs.

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Willis’ investigation is taking place in a state that is at the center of a nationwide partisan war for votes.

The Biden Justice Department has sued Georgia over an extremely restrictive electoral law passed by the Republican-led legislature, arguing that it discriminates against black voters. At the same time, Trump is aggressively trying to reshape the state’s political landscape by ousting Republicans who he believes are unwilling to go along with his wishes or adopt his false claims of electoral fraud. He supports a challenger from Raffensperger in the primary next year and solicits possible candidates for a candidacy against Republican Governor Brian Kemp. A Trump ally, former Senator David Perdue, is considering such a run; another, former soccer star Herschel Walker, eyes a Senate offer. (A new governor would not have a direct pardon that is delegated to a state committee in Georgia.)

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Rather than convene a special grand jury, Willis could submit evidence to one of two grand juries currently sitting in Fulton County, a longtime Democratic stronghold that encompasses much of Atlanta. But the county has a huge backlog of more than 10,000 potential criminal cases yet to be considered by a grand jury – a result of the logistical complications posed by the coronavirus pandemic and, as Willis has argued, the inaction of her predecessor, Paul Howard, whom she January replaced.

In contrast, a special grand jury, which under Georgia’s statute would include 16-23 members, could focus solely on the potential trial against Trump and his allies. Willis is likely to take the step soon, according to a person with direct knowledge of the deliberations who speaks on condition of anonymity as the decision is not final. Although such a jury could issue subpoenas, Willis would have to return to a regular grand jury to bring criminal charges.

Willis’ office declined to comment; In an interview with the New York Times earlier this year, she said, “Anything relevant to attempts to disrupt the Georgia elections will be reviewed.”

Trump advisers did not respond to requests for comment; In February, a spokesman called the Fulton County investigation “the Democrats’ most recent attempt to gain political points by continuing their witch hunt against President Trump.”

Raffensperger made his opinion on Trump’s interference in the elections clear in a book published this month on election day: “If the office of foreign minister were to ‘recalculate’, we would have to falsify the numbers somehow. The president asked me to do something that I knew was wrong and I wouldn’t, ”he wrote.

Raffensperger wrote about Trump’s call: “I felt then – and still believe today – that this was a threat.”

A 114-page analysis of potential problems in the case was published by the Brookings Institution last month, with authors including Donald Ayer, an assistant attorney general in the administration of George HW Bush, and Norman Eisen, a special investigator for President Barack Obama. The report concluded that Trump’s post-election behavior in Georgia put him at “significant risk of potential government charges” including extortion, electoral fraud, willful interference in the exercise of electoral duties and conspiracy to commit electoral fraud.

Trump’s ongoing commentary on what happened in Georgia may not help his cause. In September, he hosted a rally in Perry, Georgia, attended by thousands of supporters, as well as Walker and Rep. Jody Hice, who competes against Raffensperger.

At the rally, Trump remembered calling Kemp, who declined his requests to intervene.

“Brian, listen,” Trump told the governor. “You have a big problem with the integrity of the elections in Georgia. I hope you can help us and call a special election and let’s get to the bottom of the matter for the good of the country. “

The Brookings writers claimed that these comments could help prosecutors establish an “intent” to induce legislature to commit election fraud – a key hurdle in proving a lawsuit against Trump.

“I think he worsened his notoriety with these comments,” said Eisen. “The mere fact of his interview with Kemp is evidence of a call to fraud because Trump’s claim was based on falsehood. By further commenting on this at the rally, he offered the prosecutor free entry to the content of this exchange. “

Willis said there was an extortion charge on the table. Such cases are often linked to the prosecution of mob bosses who enforce the state law on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations known as RICO, and Georgia has its own state version of the law.

“I always tell people when they hear the word blackmail they think of ‘The Godfather,'” Willis said earlier this year, explaining that the concept could extend to otherwise legitimate organizations that are used to enforce the law to break. “If you have various overt acts for an illegal purpose, you can – you can – get there.”

One of her most famous charges came in 2014 when she was serving as assistant district attorney on extortion proceedings against a group of educators involved in an Atlanta public school fraud scandal.

“Fani’s personal experience with RICO cases will be a tremendous asset,” said Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, author of the Brookings Report and former district attorney for neighboring DeKalb County.

Building an extortionate prosecutor in the election case would require prosecutors to detail the organized efforts of Trump and his allies. One of them, Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., called Raffensperger last November and asked if counties with many questionable ballot signatures could have all postal votes rejected. On December 3, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani appeared before a subcommittee of the state Senate, reiterating conspiracy theories and pushing for an alternative, Trump-friendly electoral list to be nominated. He later made similar motions to a US state committee and said the Atlanta election officials looked like they were handing out “dope, not just ballots.”

In late December, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, with intelligence agents in tow, paid an unannounced visit to Cobb County to see an ongoing election test. (“It smelled of desperation,” said a top Raffensperger advisor, Gabriel Sterling. “It felt like a stunt.”)

Around the same time, Trump called Raffensperger’s chief investigator and asked her to find “dishonesty” in the election. He also called Chris Carr, the state attorney general, asking him not to oppose a Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit challenging election results in Georgia and other states.

Some testimony in the Congressional process has already been of interest to state investigators, including that of Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, who told the committee that he resigned in January after learning that Trump was planning for his refusal to fire him, spreading falsehoods about rampant electoral fraud in Georgia.

Graham’s office declined to comment. Giuliani’s attorney Robert Costello said he didn’t have time to discuss the case.

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