Georgia secretary of state to testify to grand jury investigating Trump effort to overturn election
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was on the receiving end of an infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which then-President Donald Trump pleaded with him "to find 11,780 votes," will testify under oath Thursday before a special grand jury investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Raffensperger, whose office oversees Georgia's elections, is among at least half a dozen people working in his office who have been subpoenaed to testify in June before the special grand jury in Fulton County. The subpoenas, which were first obtained by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, provide the earliest glimpses into an unprecedented criminal probe of a president's interactions with state elections officials.
The secretary of state received a separate subpoena for documents, including "writing or medium that memorializes the events surrounding the January 2, 2021 telephone call with President Donald Trump," and "any writing or medium that explains" Trump's conduct during the call.
Those requests could help the special grand jury get a better sense of Trump's intent, according to Melissa Redmon, a University of Georgia law professor and former Fulton County prosecutor. Redmon said Raffensperger will likely be asked questions that "get into the intent of the president."
"What was his state of mind? Did he just not know how elections work? Was he asking you to commit fraud?" said Redmon, who was previously the director of the Fulton County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit. "When you walked away, did you believe you had been given a directive?"
The special grand jury also demanded Raffensperger's office turn over documents related to a forensic audit of Georgia voting machines and information related to independent oversight of the election. Redmon said that information could be crucial to prosecutors crafting a case against Trump.
"If the attempt was to falsely claim that Donald Trump won Georgia, but in fact he did not, then part of the overarching case is to show he did not," Redmon said.
The special grand jury investigating Trump is composed of 23 Fulton County residents, plus three alternates, selected on May 2. Special grand juries are rare. They're devoted to just one investigation, which concludes when they produce a report for prosecutors, who ultimately decide whether to file charges. The judge overseeing the special grand jury said May 2 that this one may end up serving for as long as a year.
That amount of time is needed for an investigation in which the stakes are historically high, according to Clinton Rucker, a former Fulton County prosecutor who has worked with District Attorney Fani Willis on complex, high-profile cases.
"What you have to appreciate is never in the history of our country has a president been investigated in this way for interfering with an election. So it's a case of first impression in many respects," Rucker said. "So in my view, from the very beginning, all bets are off. There's no precedent."
Willis was voted into office the same day Trump was voted out in 2020, and was inaugurated just one day before the phone call that is central to her investigation. But she previously spent 17 years working for the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, prosecuting many of its most significant cases.
Five weeks after the Jan. 2 call, Willis notified several state officials of her investigation, including Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Kemp and his office have not received subpoenas from the special grand jury, according to a records request, but in February 2021 he was instructed in a letter from Willis to preserve documents and records related to the investigation.
"Fani is a bulldog. She's always been a bulldog, from the first day I met her. She is really passionate," Rucker said.
Willis is "meticulous" in her investigative work, said Redmon.
"She knew her cases backwards and forwards and knew everything about her cases, what each witness said and when they said it," Redmon said. "So I imagine that remains her method, gathering all of the evidence, analyzing all of the evidence and deciding what, if any charges are appropriate."
Trump said in a Jan. 20 statement that, "My phone call to the Secretary of State of Georgia was perfect."
A spokesperson for Trump claimed in a May 2 text to CBS News that an "illegal ballot trafficking ring" had influenced the outcome of Georgia's election, referring to unproven claims often made by Trump and his supporters.
"A grand jury should be opened for the massive voter fraud in Georgia in 2020," said Liz Harrington, the Trump spokesperson.
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