ATLANTA — The prosecutor’s office investigating efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to contest Georgia’s 2020 election results said this week that their team has heard credible allegations of serious crimes and believes some individuals could see a prison sentence.
“The allegations are very serious. If charged and convicted, people face prison terms,” Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis told The Washington Post.
For months, no decision was made as to whether charges would be brought – and above all whether Trump himself would be charged. At least 17 people have been notified that they are targets of the criminal investigation, meaning they could potentially be charged. And more targets will be added to the list soon, Willis said in an interview Tuesday at her Atlanta office.
Willis did not want to name any of the targets and has not said if she is ready to impeach the former president. Trump could be called as a witness before the special jury convened this spring as part of the investigation, Willis said on Tuesday.
“A decision has to be made,” she said, on whether to seek Trump’s testimony, “and I expect it will be made by the end of this fall.”
The Georgia criminal investigation into Trump and his allies, explained
So far, the group of known targets includes former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and the state’s 16 potential Trump electors, who produced unofficial documents proclaiming Trump the winner of the Georgia electoral vote despite losing the state. Lawyers for Giuliani and constituents have denied any wrongdoing. Attorneys for the electoral colleges say their clients have obeyed the law and made it clear they met as an emergency measure while waiting for a court to rule on a Georgia vote challenge.
Trump said during an interview with Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Thursday that he has received “no target letters at all” in ongoing criminal investigations. He denied Republicans’ involvement in the multistate plan to send Trump voters’ names to Washington, but said such alternative lists are “very common.”
The Fulton County investigation is far from the only investigation into Trump’s conduct in the 2020 election. The House Elections Committee investigating Jan. 6 has delved extensively into the election manifesto and other matters. The Justice Department is investigating Trump’s actions related to the election as part of a federal grand jury investigation.
In addition to investigating the actions of Trump electors, Willis is also investigating possible criminal misconduct involving calls by Trump and his allies to Georgia officials, false testimony to lawmakers, harassment of election officials, and manipulation of electoral systems in a South Georgia precinct.
Willis said she expects to complete the investigative phase of the investigation before the end of the year, even as it continues to expand its reach. She said the inquiry would halt public activities such as calling witnesses for the month leading up to the general election. When the special grand jury has completed hearing witnesses, it is expected to present Willis with a report that could include recommendations for indictments. It then decides which individuals, if any, will be charged.
Willis’s candid assessment is unusual for a prosecutor, since such high-profile investigations are often shrouded in secrecy. Her approach in this investigation has been criticized by some in the legal community, but she said such transparency is a requirement of her work.
Her latest comments come as Republicans in Georgia — including the state’s governor — have complained that their investigations are politically motivated, a claim Willis, a Democrat, denies.
She noted that there was no grand jury activity during this spring’s state primary and that she plans to have a similar quiet period beginning Oct. 7 before the midterms in November.
“I didn’t want people to claim that this was a political ploy that we did to influence the election,” she said.
Willis said the special grand jury interviewed about 65 percent of the dozens of witnesses whose testimony was sought by prosecutors.
“I’m happy with where it is. I think we’re moving forward at a really good pace,” Willis said, adding she wasn’t concerned that some witnesses, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.), have refused to testify before the grand jury to appear.
“By the end of this year we will be finished with the witness interview. point,” she said.
The inquest has already seen appearances from many high-profile witnesses, including Giuliani, who was informed last month that he is a target.
Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, declined to comment on Willis’s latest remarks.
In addition to Giuliani, Willis has informed 16 potential Trump electors from Georgia that they are also targets of the probe. In the past, some constituents’ attorneys have suggested that their clients would have cooperated with the investigation had not Willis identified them as a target. The attorneys declined to comment on Willis’ recent statements.
In the interview, Willis said she fleetingly hopes she doesn’t have to open the 2020 election inquiry at all. She was only a few days in office in early January 2021 when news reports from The Post and others reported Trump’s call to Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger (R), urging him to “find” additional votes to support Joe Biden’s leadership in Georgia to overcome .
‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump urges Georgia Secretary of State to recalculate voting in his favour
Willis said she quickly realized she needed to investigate the alleged election interference. “I understand that if this happened in Fulton County, it’s serious enough that it needs to be investigated,” she said.
Since then, the Willis investigation has grown and — along with an intensified federal investigation — poses a serious threat that criminal charges could be brought against Trump and his allies.
Trump has slammed Willis on social media as “a young, ambitious, radical left-wing Democrat… who runs one of the most criminal and corrupt places in America.”
Willis says she is undeterred by such criticism and the regular threats against her.
The status of important investigations related to Donald Trump
Court filings and interviews show her team continues to investigate several key issues. First, they track whether there have been any violations of Georgia’s law, which prohibits making false statements to government officials. Those statutes could apply to Giuliani and other Trump campaign advisers who have presented evidence — later debunked — of widespread voter fraud when speaking to Georgia legislative committees.
Second, Willis is investigating the calls Trump and others made to Georgia officials after the election. In court filings, Willis has cited a Georgia law prohibiting solicitation of voter fraud.
Third, prosecutors have continued efforts to send the names of potential Trump electors from Georgia to Washington. Prosecutors are interested in whether sending official Trump electors from battleground states was part of an organized effort to give Vice President Mike Pence reason to state that the outcome of the election was in doubt when he died on June 11, 2021.
Pence’s January 6 balancing act: taking on his role while wooing Trump voters
Two weeks ago, Willis filed a petition to solicit testimony from Boris Epshteyn, a lawyer who worked closely with Giuliani in the post-election era. The petition said Epshteyn “possesses unique knowledge” of “Trump campaign efforts to provide false voting certificates to former Vice President Michael Pence and others.”
Last week, Epshteyn and Giuliani were among those asked in a federal subpoena for information about the plan to file lists of potential Trump electors from Georgia and other states.
Willis has added new items to her investigative agenda in recent weeks, including seeking detailed information about threats against a campaign worker.
In December 2020, according to their court filings, Trump allies pressured and threatened Ruby Freeman, a Fulton County election worker. Willis declined to comment on recent filings related to the pressure on Freeman other than to say, “I hate a bully. Of course, I think we would find it offensive to harass an election official to influence an election.”
Finally, Willis has expanded her investigation to look into whether voting systems in Coffee County, Georgia, have been abusively violated. That interest was originally disclosed in documents requesting testimony from Sidney Powell, a lawyer who worked for the Trump campaign after the 2020 election.
The Post was the first to report on efforts by Powell and other Trump allies to copy data from Coffee County’s restricted voting system. The effort came as Trump allies publicly focused on voting machines, arguing they were part of a conspiracy to rig the Biden election.
Willis’ petition for Powell’s appearance noted that there is evidence, in addition to Coffee County, that Powell “was involved in similar efforts in Michigan and Nevada” while allegedly violating Coffee County’s electoral systems. Powell did not respond to a request for comment.
Michigan’s conspiracy to breach voting machines points to a national pattern
Willis has suggested that this complex of activities — from organizing Trump electors to making false statements to pressuring local election officials — could be prosecuted under Georgia’s conspiracy and anti-extortion laws.
State anti-extortion laws, known as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, were enacted decades ago as a legal tool to combat organized crime. Georgia’s RICO statute was used by Willis and others to prosecute a number of high-profile cases. In 2014, Willis was one of the lead prosecutors who secured convictions and guilty pleas from 30 Atlanta public school teachers and administrators involved in a student test-cheating scandal.
“The RICO statute allows you to tell the jury the full story of a complex conspiracy,” Willis said Tuesday, noting that Georgian law permits the investigation of seemingly irreconcilable acts, even if they happen outside of a prosecutor’s home district. “It’s a great statute for prosecutors,” she said.
Alice Crites, Jon Swain and Emma Brown contributed to this report.