Georgia investigation into Trump’s efforts to cancel 2020 election intensifies

ATLANTA, Georgia — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is stepping up the pace of her investigation into Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, interviewing a wide range of witnesses and preparing a series of subpoenas to appear before senior Georgia state officials, state legislators and a prominent local journalist for testimony beginning next week.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who won a shock victory over a Trump-backed opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary, is expected to be one of Willis’ key witnesses when he appears before the grand jury next Wednesday, sources confirmed to Yahoo News.

“Based on her pugnacity, it looks like she’s going full steam ahead,” said an attorney representing a client who was contacted by Willis’ team of investigators and prosecutors. “She is much more aggressive and determined than I expected.”

The Willis investigation now appears to pose the biggest legal threat to Trump, given that there are no clear signs that prosecutors from the US Department of Justice or the New York District Attorney’s Office are actively preparing. to bring criminal charges against the former president. She assembled a team of about 10 prosecutors and agents for the Trump investigation. Earlier this month, a group of them flew to Washington to meet with investigators from the Jan. 6 committee, who shared details of confidential testimony and other documents relevant to Trump’s efforts to overthrow the Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, said a source familiar with the investigation. .

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks at the Wayne Dashers Pond House in Glennville, Ga. on Thursday, April 14, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Initially, Willis was to focus on Trump’s January 3, 2021, hour-long phone call to Raffensperger in which the then-president repeatedly implored him to “find” just enough votes to alter the results. elections and suggested he might face criminal penalties. if he didn’t.

But sources familiar with the investigation say Willis’ agents and prosecutors are casting a much wider net in an apparent effort to establish that Trump’s phone call was just one part of a larger conspiracy – potentially liable to prosecution under a sweeping state racketeering law — to pressure or intimidate state officials and lawmakers to alter the results of the 2020 election by promoting false allegations of voter fraud .

“The witness hearing process begins June 1,” said Willis spokesman Jeff DiSantis. He declined to comment further.

Over the past few weeks, Willis’ team, including an outside special counsel and at least four prosecutors and investigators, has interviewed witnesses about efforts by Republican lawmakers in Georgia to name an alternative list of voters who would certify Trump as the winner of the state’s electoral votes. They also questioned lawmakers who witnessed a series of contentious hearings in which Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani made patently false statements about a video he said showed evidence of fraud. electoral. This claim had previously been debunked by state officials and the FBI.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally hosted by the former president at the Delaware County Fairgrounds April 23, 2022 in Delaware, Ohio.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally hosted by the former president at the Delaware County Fairgrounds April 23, 2022 in Delaware, Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Elena Parent, a Democratic senator who attended the hearings, told Yahoo News that she was interviewed by Willis’ team a few weeks ago and then received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury on June 22. (Parent shared a copy of the subpoena with Yahoo News.)

Parent said the Willis team — led by Nathan Wade, a private attorney and friend of Willis who was hired as a special counsel by her office — questioned her about the circumstances under which Giuliani came to appear before two legislative committees on December 3. , 2020, his remarks to lawmakers and his questioning of witnesses he brought with him that day. They wanted to know “everything that happened with the hearings,” Parent said. But she said they also “focused” on the vile death threats she received after she tweeted a mocking message about Giuliani’s appearance.

Parent noted that Raffensperger’s office previously explained how Biden legitimately won statewide electoral votes, “Now we’re forced to listen to the crazy conspiracy theories of Rudy Giuliani’s team,” she wrote. . “What a disservice to the public.”

Willis had publicly promised not to call witnesses before the Georgia primary so as not to be accused of seeking to interfere in the election. But the state’s primary vote ended on Tuesday and Raffensperger himself beat a Trump-backed opponent, U.S. Representative Jody Hice, garnering 52% of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. As a result, Raffensperger will now be among the key witnesses next week as several Georgia state officials — including Gov. Brian Kemp, state Attorney General Chris Carr and others in Raffensperger’s office — stand are preparing for what they have been told will be a wave of subpoenas.

“There will probably be a flurry of people brought [before the grand jury] in the next few weeks,” said a witness who was contacted by Willis’ team and told to expect a subpoena.

But there are already signs that Willis will face considerable legal challenges. Republican lawmakers have refused requests to appear for voluntary interviews and have hired an outside attorney who is expected to challenge any subpoenas on the grounds that lawmakers enjoy statutory immunity preventing them from being questioned about their official actions.

In another move that could produce a legal skirmish, Willis’ office also contacted Greg Bluestein, the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s senior political reporter and told him to expect a subpoena. Bluestein witnessed the events surrounding the Dec. 14, 2020, effort led by Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer to name another slate of voters promised to Trump despite Biden’s victory in the state. Bluestein wrote that after being notified of a rally by rogue Trump voters in the state capitol, he tried to attend but was blocked from doing so after learning it was an “education” meeting, a scenario that could be used by Willis’ prosecutors to show that Trump voters were hiding what they were doing. (Bluestein declined to comment, but legal experts expect Atlanta Journal-Constitution attorneys to challenge the subpoena.)

Georgia Sen. Elena Parent, D - Atlanta, debates legislation allowing concealed handguns on public college campuses at the Capitol in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (David Goldman/AP Photo)

Georgia Sen. Elena Parent debates legislation allowing concealed handguns on public college campuses at the Capitol in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (David Goldman/AP Photo)

But Raffensperger remains the star witness with his phone call from Trump most likely at the heart of the case. Although he sought during his re-election campaign to woo conservative Trump voters by pledging to fight for a constitutional amendment that would ban noncitizens from voting, he never wavered from his position. which there was no evidence of fraud that would change the results. of the 2020 election. And he reaffirmed that with strong, pointed words about the inappropriate pressure he came under from Trump in remarks he made in a brief victory speech to a group of supporters.

“We investigated everything and it wouldn’t have overturned the results of the race,” he said. “I thought the vast majority of Georgians were looking for honest people for elections. Standing up for the truth, and not giving in to pressure, that’s what people want.