ATLANTA — 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 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 his pugnacity, it looks like everything is moving forward,” 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.
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 could face criminal penalties if he failed to do so. .
But sources close to 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 into altering 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 questioned witnesses about efforts by Republican lawmakers in Georgia to name an alternate list of voters who would certify Trump as the winner of the state’s electoral votes. The team also interviewed 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. electoral fraud. This claim had previously been debunked by state officials and the FBI.
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, the remarks he made before lawmakers and his questioning of the 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 her comments during the hearing and a mocking tweet about Giuliani’s appearance that she later posted in the day.
parent had noted in a tweet from December 3, 2020 that Raffensperger’s office had previously explained how Joe Biden legitimately won the state’s electoral votes. “Now we are 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 Tuesday and Raffensperger himself beat a Trump-backed opponent, Representative Jody Hice, garnering 52% of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. As a result, Raffensperger will now be among the main witnesses next week as several Georgia state officials – including Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and others in Raffensperger’s office – prepare for ‘They were told to 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 tipped off about a rally of rogue Trump voters in the state Capitol, he tried to attend but was blocked 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 attorneys from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to challenge the subpoena.)
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.