Grand jury testimony represents a new marker in an investigation that is offering increasing signs of the potential legal peril ahead for Donald Trump and some of his associates.
- Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is expected to make a Tuesday appearance in Atlanta.
- Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is scheduled to appear Aug. 23, but he’s challenging the demand.
- The demands for testimony from high-profile figures suggests the probe has found its focus.
All have emerged as key figures in Trump’s failed efforts to cling to power and each now face looming August dates to testify before a special grand jury in Atlanta as part of a fast-moving criminal investigation into interference in the 2020 election.
Giuliani, the former New York mayor and face of Trump’s failed legal campaign to overturn the 2020 election with false claims of election fraud, is set to appear Tuesday. Eastman, the pro-Trump lawyer who pushed efforts to assemble fake slates of Trump electors to subvert President Joe Biden’s victory in key battleground states, has been ordered to appear before the end of the month.
So far, Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina who called on Georgia officials to re-examine the state’s absentee ballots, has vowed a challenge to a string of subpoenas for some of the most high-profile figures in Trump’s camp.
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Yet the local court orders also represent new markers in an investigation that is offering increasing signs of the potential legal peril ahead for Trump and some of his associates. Unlike the largely shrouded criminal investigation pursued by the Justice Department, court filings in the Fulton County inquiry have revealed a preliminary list of targets and a roadmap of sorts for an investigation that was launched with Trump as its central focus.
“It’s serious as a heart attack,” said Robert Rubin, an Atlanta attorney who has represented a witness called before the panel, “They are pouring enormous resources into this investigation.”
Rubin declined to identify his client, except to indicate the appearance was related to the fake electors scheme – a theme that has pulled Giuliani, Eastman and other Trump allies into the sights of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who has been leading a far-reaching inquiry for the past year.
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The demands for testimony from such high-profile figures – described by Fulton County officials as “material witnesses” – suggests that the evolving investigation has found its focus.
“By the time you get to people like Giuliani and Eastman, you probably know where you are headed,” Rubin said.
At least for now, Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, said his client has no plans to delay a Tuesday appearance in Atlanta.
“They (Fulton County officials) are a rather inflexible bunch,” Costello told USA TODAY. “We will take it question by question.”
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In Giuliani’s case, Fulton County officials have outlined multiple areas of inquiry.
The former New York mayor, suspended from practicing law in New York and D.C. for his election fraud allegations, had made wide-ranging claims that voting systems altered Georgia ballots, while ignoring a hand-count audit that confirmed Biden’s victory in the state.
Giuliani also asserted that about 65,000 or 66,000 underage voters, more than 2,500 felons and 800 dead people voted in the state. All of those claims have been debunked by the Georgia secretary of state, which found no underage voters, only 74 potential felony voters, and two votes that may have been improperly cast in the name of dead voters.
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According to court documents seeking Giuliani’s grand jury appearance, Fulton County authorities are highlighting the Trump lawyer’s Dec. 3, 2020, appearance before the Georgia State Senate in which he offered a video recording of election workers at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, purporting to show “suitcases” of unlawful ballots from unknown sources, outside the view of election poll watchers.
Within 24 hours of the state Senate hearing the video had been discredited by the secretary of state’s office, concluding “no voter fraud of any kind had taken place.”
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“There is evidence that (Giuliani’s) appearance and testimony at the hearing was part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere,” according to the court documents.
While Costello said Giuliani is expected to appear Tuesday, he indicated that pressing his client on communications with Trump would likely be off limits, shielded by attorney-client privilege.
“It’s hard for me to figure out what they (Fulton County authorities) are doing,” Costello said.
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Fulton County officials, meanwhile, have referred to the same Dec. 3, 2020, Senate hearing in seeking Eastman’s grand jury testimony.
At that hearing, Eastman referred to the plan to assemble alternate slates of electors to support Trump. The Trump attorney, according to court documents, told lawmakers that they had a “duty” to replace the slate of Democratic Party electors citing unfounded claims of voter fraud in the state.
It was Eastman who also pushed the strategy for then-Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as Senate president, to reject electors from seven states including Georgia when Congress counted Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021. Pence refused to carry out the plan.
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Eastman and his attorneys did not respond to inquiries about whether they intended to resist the Fulton County subpoena, though the former law professor fought demands for testimony and records from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered Eastman to provide his emails to the committee as part of a stunning ruling, concluding “it is more likely than not that President Trump and Dr. Eastman dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
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Graham had been scheduled to appear before the Atlanta grand jury Aug. 23, but the South Carolina senator and Trump confidante is challenging the demand, arguing that a legislative privilege shields him from such scrutiny.
In a motion to quash the Fulton County summons, Graham is asserting that he was engaging in legitimate inquiries as a lawmaker when he contacted Georgia officials following the 2020 election.
The staunch Trump ally placed at least two telephone calls to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and members of his staff in the weeks following the November 2020 election, seeking additional scrutiny of the absentee ballots, according to court documents filed in support of the subpoena request.
“The Witness also made reference to allegations of widespread voter fraud in the November 2020 election in Georgia, consistent with public statements made by known affiliates of the Trump Campaign,” the court documents state.
Graham has previously denied claims that he was pressuring officials to exclude ballots, saying he was attempting to understand the method for which different states examine ballots.
“This is all politics,” Graham’s lawyers Bart Daniel and Matt Austin said last month. “Fulton County is engaged in a fishing expedition and working in concert with the January 6 Committee in Washington.”
No blanket protection for witnesses
Graham’s challenge comes after a federal judge in Georgia rejected a similar bid by Georgia Rep. Jody Hice, who has echoed Trump’s election fraud claims. Hice also argued that the Constitution’s speech and debate clause shielded him from law enforcement scrutiny related to his work as a legislator.
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May denied a blanket protection, but she left open the prospect that the privilege could apply to some questions posed by prosecutors working with the grand jury.
“The work of the grand jury seems to be quite active at this point,” said Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University law professor. “The district attorney (Willis) seems to be having very considerable success in bringing people in front of the grand jury who don’t want to be there.
“They (Fulton County prosecutors) seem very serious about getting Sen. Graham’s testimony,” he said.
Cunningham said the grand jury subpoenas for Giuliani, Eastman and other Trump lawyers, including Jenna Ellis and Kenneth Chesbro, signal an investigative “convergence around the scheme to install fake slates of electors” to overturn the 2020 election.
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“The district attorney seems very focused on that,” Cunningham said, adding that interest appears to be shared by the special House committee investigating the Capitol attack and the Justice Department’s separate criminal investigation, which has issued its own demands for information from Eastman and others who were designated as Trump electors in key swing states, including Georgia.
Indeed, Willis offered a window into the investigative strategy when she designated the 16 Trump electors in Georgia to be potential targets of the Fulton County inquiry, according to court documents filed last month.
An attorney for 11 of the electors called the district attorney’s action a publicity stunt.
“This public mis-branding of the nominee electors is an improper abuse of the investigatory process,” attorney Holly Pierson argued in court documents. “The attempt to force the nominee electors to be publicly marched into the Grand Jury only to invoke their rights is political theater and gamesmanship, not a good faith use of the Grand Jury.”
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The district attorney’s investigation did encounter some trouble last month when she was barred from pursuing a Republican state senator, one of the 16 Trump electors, after a local judge declared a conflict of interest in the prosecutor’s public support for the senator’s opponent in an upcoming race for lieutenant governor.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney concluded that Willis’ support for Democrat Charlie Bailey disqualified her from calling Georgia state Sen. Burt Jones before the grand jury as a potential target.
Willis had co-hosted a June fundraiser for Bailey and donated to his primary campaign.
“She (Willis) has bestowed her office’s imprimatur upon Senator Jones’s opponent. And since then, she has publicly (in her pleadings) labeled Senator Jones ‘target’ of the grand jury’s investigation,” McBurney said in his ruling. “This scenario creates plain – and actual and untenable conflict,” the judge found.
Rubin said he was “surprised” that the district attorney had opened herself to such criticism, but the defense attorney said the episode did not diminish the overall gravity of the investigation.
“It’s a serious enterprise; it’s not a joke,” he said.