Georgia grand jury subpoenas top Trump allies, including Giuliani and Eastman
A special grand jury in Georgia has issued subpoenas to some of the key figures associated with former President Donald Trump's failed efforts to reverse his narrow defeat, as a wide-ranging investigation into possible criminal interference ratchets up.
Those summoned by the seven subpoenas approved Tuesday include Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney; John Eastman, the former Trump lawyer who told Georgia lawmakers they had a "duty" to submit alternate electors; Cleta Mitchell, who was on the infamous 2021 call with Georgia's Secretary of State where Trump wanted to "find" votes; and others who guided attempts to subvert election results.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has also been subpoenaed in relation to phone calls he made with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger regarding absentee ballot rejections, according to the filings.
A 23-person special grand jury has been meeting since May to determine what, if any, state laws were broken in the months-long attempt to undo President Joe Biden's roughly 12,000-vote victory over then-President Trump, including potential crimes like "the solicitation of election fraud, making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office" and other disruptions to the election.
Recent witness testimony includes Raffensperger, Democratic attorney general nominee and state Sen. Jen Jordan and Democratic secretary of state nominee Rep. Bee Nguyen.
Tuesday's court filings shed light on the potential direction of the investigation into crimes related to Trump's obsession with Georgia in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. That interest was fueled by a variety of figures who provided dubious legal justifications for undoing his defeat, including Giuliani and Eastman.
Giuliani's lawyer says he has 'no current comment'
The court documents note Giuliani's presentation to state lawmakers in an unofficial hearing in December 2020 that included numerous false claims about Georgia's elections, even after several claims had been debunked by state and local officials.
"Despite this, the Witness made additional statements, both to the public and in subsequent legislative hearings, claiming widespread voter fraud in Georgia," the summons reads.
In a statement to NPR, Giuliani's lawyer Robert Costello said "we have not been served with any subpoena, so we have no current comment."
Eastman, who pushed a theory that then-Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the 2020 election results and according to the House Jan. 6 committee also asked for a presidential pardon, told state lawmakers in a hearing that they could ignore Georgia's election results and appoint an alternate slate of electors.
Other figures named Tuesday include Jenna Ellis, who the district attorney says authored memos citing disputed legal theories to justify the plan to have Pence reject electors from Georgia and other swing states, and Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer who allegedly worked with the chair of the Georgia GOP to have 16 people secretly meet in the state capitol building to serve as fake electors.
The court documents say Chesebro drafted two documents in support of the plan, provided a Microsoft Word document template for the fake elector plot and told the state party he was working with Giuliani to implement the plan.
Georgia has played an outsized role in the fallout from the last presidential election, including the leadup to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection. Hearings held by the House committee investigating the attack have featured several Georgia witnesses in recent weeks as they try to outline how Trump's refusal to accept defeat contributed to the violent attempt to stop the Electoral College certification.
Raffensperger, his top deputy and a former Fulton County poll worker testified about the negative impact of false claims made about the election from individuals like Giuliani, including death threats and disruptions.
Georgia's special grand jury cannot indict individuals but will make recommendations to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis about how to proceed.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A Georgia special grand jury investigating potential crimes relating to Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election has issued several subpoenas today, including to Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and two other top allies to the former president. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler joins us now to explain more about these court documents. Welcome, Stephen.
STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So can you just remind us why this special grand jury was formed in the first place? Like, what are they looking at in regards to the 2020 election?
FOWLER: Well, they were impaneled in May. They can issue subpoenas like these. They can't issue indictments to people, but they'll issue a recommendation to the Fulton County District Attorney, Fani Willis, about potential charges. Now, the DA believes there's evidence of potential state crimes with election interference that's associated with Trump and other top Republicans seeking to undue his roughly 12,000-vote defeat here. This includes everything from the infamous call to Georgia's secretary of state to, quote, "find votes" to unofficial hearings with state lawmakers filled with false claims about Georgia's election.
CHANG: And in these court filings, I see the Fulton County district attorney seems to be zeroing in on several lawyers in Trump's inner circle. What do you think these subpoenas tell us about the direction the investigation is taking?
FOWLER: Well, I think you can glean a lot from there. People like Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Jacki Pick Deason and John Eastman all tie in to those unofficial hearings I just mentioned. We've also heard about the role of some of these figures, especially Giuliani and Eastman, they played during that time from the January 6 committee hearings. Now, during Georgia's hearings, Giuliani and others hyped up a video of vote counting at State Farm Arena they said showed massive voter fraud. Even though elections officials quickly knocked those claims down and said they weren't true. Giuliani in particular continued to spread those falsehoods. Georgia is also one of several states where several Republicans met, often in secret, to sign phony documents claiming to be electors for the state. A subpoena to Kenneth Chesbro, another Trump-aligned lawyer, says he played a vital role in coordinating with the chair of Georgia's Republican Party to implement that plan.
CHANG: And what about Senator Lindsey Graham? Why does a special grand jury want to hear from him specifically?
FOWLER: Well, he had a couple of calls with Georgia's secretary of state about absentee ballots, particularly looking at ways you could maybe toss out some of those ballots to make the results more favorable for Republicans. It's important to note here Graham and others are not being accused of wrongdoing or breaking the law. But these documents are being used to compel the people to testify behind closed doors to this special grand jury so they can get more insight and info into how these things went down. Now, that's not the only important phone call. Cleta Mitchell is a Trump lawyer on that call with Raffensperger where Trump asked him to, quote, "find votes." And then there's another call to Georgia's top election investigator asking to find fraudulent ballots. All of this is in play under this investigation.
CHANG: Right. OK. Well, as the House Select Committee investigating January 6 is weighing potential criminal referrals of Trump to the Department of Justice, this parallel investigation could bring state-level charges to people within his circle, right? So what could come next in the Fulton County probe, you think?
FOWLER: It's hard to exactly know because most of this is done in secret. But when the request for a special grand jury was made, DA Fani Willis said everything from racketeering to making false statements to government officials was potentially on the table based on preliminary investigations. These court filings do paint a pretty good picture of where we might be headed, particularly those off-book state legislative hearings.
CHANG: That is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Thank you so much, Stephen.
FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.