US Supreme Court allows Graham questioning in Georgia election investigation

WASHINGTON, Nov 1 (Reuters) – The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to bar Sen. Lindsey Graham from testifying before a grand jury in a criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, and handed a backlash to a prominent ally of the former president.

The judges denied Graham’s emergency motion to stay a judge’s order requiring him to testify before the Fulton County grand jury while the Republican senator’s appeal in the dispute proceeded. Graham, who represents South Carolina in the Senate, claims that as a member of Congress, he is protected from questioning in the investigation under the US Constitution.

There were no publicly noted dissenting opinions on the decision. The unsigned order said the lower courts considered that as an incumbent senator, Graham was immune from questioning under the constitution’s so-called speech or debate clause for any investigative effort in which he was involved, and that he held any disputes that arose can legally challenge from specific issues.

“Accordingly, a stay or injunction is not required to preserve the immunity of the senator’s speech or debate clause,” the order reads.

The order lifted a temporary hold on testimony issued Oct. 24 by Judge Clarence Thomas pending a full court decision on how to proceed. Graham had appealed to the Supreme Court after the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on October 20 dismissed his attempt to avoid testimony ordered by a judge while the litigation continues.

Graham is not a target of the investigation but has been subpoenaed to testify before a special grand jury hearing as part of the investigation led by the Fulton County District Attorney, a Democrat, into possible coordinated attempts to illegally interfere in the outcome of the 2020 election , was formed. In Georgia, a special grand jury cannot answer indictments but recommend prosecution.


Prosecutors sought Graham’s testimony about phone calls he made with election officials in Georgia in the weeks after Trump, a Republican, lost the election to Democrat Joe Biden. During the calls, Graham questioned officials — including Republicans — “about re-examining certain mail-in ballots to investigate the possibility of a more favorable outcome for former President Donald Trump,” prosecutors said in court documents.

Graham has “unique expertise” regarding the communications “involved in coordinated efforts by multiple states to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere,” prosecutors added.

Graham has said he is constitutionally immune from questioning because his calls to state officials were “in the performance of his duties” as a senator and aimed at establishing facts “to inform his vote to confirm the election.”

Congress voted to confirm the election results hours after pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol and attacked police to stop the process. Trump continues to appear at rallies, repeating his false claims that widespread voter fraud stole his election.

Graham was a rival of Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential bid and a fierce critic, but later became a defender, close ally, and occasional golf pal.

US District Judge Leigh Martin May on September 1 denied Graham’s request to have the subpoena vacated, but limited the scope of the questioning and ruled that the senator was protected from discussing “pre-trial investigations.” May said Graham could be questioned about alleged efforts to encourage officials to discard ballots or alleged communications with the Trump campaign.

The investigation was launched after Trump was recorded in a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which he pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the state’s election results due to unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. During the call, Trump urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn his Georgia loss to Biden.

The transcript of the call quotes Trump telling Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” which is the number Trump needed to win Georgia. Trump denied wrongdoing in the call.

Legal experts have said Trump’s phone calls may have violated at least three Georgia election laws: conspiracy to commit voter fraud, criminal solicitation of voter fraud, and willful interference with voting duties.

Reporting by Andrew Chung in Washington and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham

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