Trump voters targeted by criminal probe in Georgia

Atlanta prosecutors have told 16 Trump supporters who formed an alternate list of 2020 Georgia presidential voters that they could face charges in an ongoing criminal investigation into election interference, highlighting the risk of criminal charges that Donald J. Trump and many of his allies could face in the state.

The revelations were included in court documents released Tuesday as part of an investigation led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis. They showed that while much attention has been focused on the House hearings in Washington on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the extent to which the Justice Department will investigate, it is a local prosecutor to Atlanta that can put Mr. Trump and his circle of allies in the most immediate legal peril.

“It’s a sign of a dramatic acceleration in his work,” said Norman Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment. He added that prosecutors typically move “up the food chain, so usually the first wave of targeted letters isn’t the last.”

A special grand jury is considering a range of potential issues, including the creation of a slate of 16 pro-Trump voters in the weeks following the election in an effort to circumvent President Biden’s victory in the state. The district attorney is seeking testimony from a number of lawyers and allies of Mr. Trump, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has become a central figure in the case, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina , whose lawyers agreed on Tuesday to have their objections heard in a court in Georgia instead of South Carolina or Washington.

Some legal observers have argued that Mr. Trump’s actions put him at risk of being indicted for violating relatively simple Georgian criminal laws, including criminal solicitation to commit voter fraud – including his post-election phone calls to officials. Georgians like Brad Raffensperger, the secretary. of state, that he lobbied “to find 11,780 votes,” enough to reverse the election results. A 114-page Brookings Institution analysis of the case, co-authored by Mr. Eisen, found that Mr. Trump “presented a substantial risk of possible state charges based on multiple crimes.”

Ms Willis, in court papers, said a number of other charges were being considered, including racketeering and conspiracy, which could encompass a wide list of Trump associates inside and outside of Trump. Georgia. Ms Willis is also questioning whether to subpoena Mr Trump himself and seek his testimony, according to a person familiar with the investigation, as she recently requested testimony from seven of his allies and advisers before the special grand jury.

Lawyers for 11 of the voters reacted strongly to the naming of their clients as targets, saying a local prosecutor had no jurisdiction to determine which federal voters were fake and which were real. The attorneys, Holly A. Pierson and Kimberly Bourroughs Debrow, accused Ms. Willis of “abusing the grand jury process to harass, embarrass and attempt to intimidate candidate voters, not to investigate their conduct”.

Ms. Willis’ office did not immediately comment, but she said “anything relevant to trying to interfere with Georgia’s election will be reviewed.”

President Biden won Georgia and its 16 electoral votes. But after the election, some of Mr. Trump’s outside advisers hatched a plan to create alternate voter rolls in swing states like Georgia, falsely claiming that widespread fraud had disrupted elections in those states. Many of Mr Trump’s White House advisers rejected the plan – and efforts to get Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of electoral votes on January 6 – and saw it as dangerous and illegal, as the evidence showed during the House hearings.

Two of the Georgia voters had previously been identified as targets of Ms. Willis’ probe: David Shafer, a Trump ally who chairs the state’s Republican Party, and Burt Jones, a Georgia state lawmaker who is running as lieutenant governor.

Lawyers for 11 of the voters, including Mr. Shafer, accused Ms. Willis of politicizing the investigation and said many “of the nominated voters are prominent Georgia GOP figures.” Voters include Mark Amick, who sits on the board of the Georgia Republican Foundation, a group of major party donors; Vikki Consiglio, deputy treasurer of the party; Shawn Still, who won a primary for a state Senate seat earlier this year; Brad Carver, an Atlanta attorney; and Kay Godwin, the co-founder of a group called Georgia Conservatives in Action.

Most voters were due to testify before the special grand jury next week. But in late June, Ms Pierson and Ms Debrow wrote in their case file that a special prosecutor had told them their 11 clients were being considered targets – not just witnesses – in the investigation, after new evidence came to light.

“There is no legal or factual basis to label the named voters as targets of this grand jury or any grand jury,” the attorneys said. “Nevertheless, the DA recklessly elevated them from witness to targets, and the designated voters informed her of their intent to follow our legal counsel in asserting their state and federal constitutional and statutory rights not to provide material testimony.”

“It’s weird,” said Clark D. Cunningham, a law professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “They are pleading their case now, even though none of their clients have been charged. The purpose of this motion seems to be to ask a judge to decide before a grand jury decision that a grand jury can’t even indict them.

But the attorneys asserted that “states (and their local governments) have no authority to interfere (by attempted criminalization or otherwise) in the process of sending lists of potential voters to Congress for he speaks”. They also pointed to the 1960 presidential election in Hawaii, where the Nixon and Kennedy campaigns submitted voters, saying there was precedent for more than one list of voters.

Mr Jones, in a motion earlier this week, called on Ms Willis to recuse herself, as she headlined fundraisers for Charlie Bailey, a Democrat who is running against Mr Jones.

Ms. Willis rejected that idea in a filing on Tuesday.

“The subject of the grand jury investigation that ensnared Jones has no factual connection to the ongoing campaign for lieutenant governor,” she wrote, adding that “support for a political opponent” is “not among the extremely rare cases where a prosecutor is shown to have a personal interest in a prosecution.

The filing also said that Mr. Jones had “been treated the same as each of the other 15 unofficial ‘voters’ who presented themselves as properly certified voters for the 2020 presidential election and received notification of status. similar target”.

Potential legal exposure for Republican officials could complicate Georgia’s November election, starting with the race for lieutenant governor. Mr Bailey last week accused Mr Jones of being ‘un-American and unpatriotic’ for taking part in a ‘failed attempt to overthrow the US government’.

The survey also highlighted divisions within Republican ranks. Mr. Shafer has been a strong supporter of Mr. Trump and his baseless claims of a stolen election, which have put him at odds with Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, as well as Mr. Raffensperger. Mr. Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger have easily defeated major Trump-backed challengers this year.

Representative Jody Hice, who lost in a May primary to Mr Raffensperger, revealed this week that he had been subpoenaed as part of the investigation. A loyal ally of Trump, he led a challenge in January 2021 in the House of Representatives for the certification of Georgian voters. He is seeking to challenge the subpoena in federal court.

The biggest question hanging over the investigation, of course, is the potential exposure of Mr. Trump himself.

“She made it clear that she had her eye on Trump,” Mr. Eisen said of Ms. Willis, adding that there were indications “that this first salvo of target letters will be followed by other possible targets. , culminating with the former president himself”. .”

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