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What to know about the Georgia investigation of Donald Trump and the 2020 election


The House January 6 committee isn’t the only entity investigating former President Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. On Tuesday, a special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, subpoenaed members of Trump’s inner circle, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rudy Giuliani.

While the January 6 committee has been holding hearings on national television, the grand jury has been doing its work behind closed doors since early this year. Vox spoke to Tamar Hallerman, the ace reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution covering the special grand jury who first reported news of the subpoenas, to understand what was happening and how this differs from the congressional committee.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Ben Jacobs

What is this special grand jury doing?

Tamar Hallerman

This is an investigative grand jury, which is slightly different from a regular grand jury that would hear every felony under the sun. It is focused on this one exclusive case. The whole idea is that they really can become experts and do a deep dive on everything to overturn Georgia’s election results.

The order from the judge establishing the grand jury came in January, I don’t think it even mentions Trump’s name, but he’s central to all of this. Based on the witnesses that have come in, prosecutor Fani Willis is casting a really wide net. She’s brought in a parade of witnesses between June 2 and now, which has stretched all the way from local elections officials to a publicist for Kanye West and R. Kelly, and now into the inner circle of Donald Trump.

Ben Jacobs

How is this different than the January 6 committee?

Tamar Hallerman

This is a criminal investigation looking at state laws that might have been broken. Willis can press charges, and the committee can only make referrals to the Department of Justice.

Further, the laws are different at the federal level and state level. Georgia has a law that prohibits criminal solicitation to commit election fraud; a lot of lawyers I’ve talked to believe it fits perfectly with a lot of stuff Trump said during his phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January 2021.

We also have a racketeering statute in Georgia which is broader than federal racketeering law. It gives prosecutors more options.

Ben Jacobs

So could this lead to Donald Trump being prosecuted?

Tamar Hallerman

Fani Willis is known as a very hard-nosed prosecutor. She is a lady who works her butt off and dots her i’s and crosses her t’s. Further, she’s shown over her career that she’s not afraid of doing unpopular things if she believes they’re just. She is most famous for prosecuting school teachers and principals in an Atlanta Public Schools school cheating scandal, and used a racketeering law to charge a dozen teachers for changing test scores. Some in the African American community still think she went too far by using this.

Willis is also using racketeering law to go after a street gang affiliated with [Atlanta rapper] Young Thug, which has drawn some criticism. She’s indicated to me she’s willing to subpoena or indict Donald Trump if she finds evidence that he’s breaking the law.

Ben Jacobs

How big a deal were the subpoenas issued yesterday?

Tamar Hallerman

This is major. This represents the first time that the DA is piercing the inner orbit of Donald Trump. Previously, she stayed at the state and local level and kept it very Georgia-focused. Now, not only is she going straight into the inner circle with folks like Rudy and Lindsey, if there’s a pyramid where prosecutors work their way up to the tippy-top, they’re getting closer and closer to Trump. Willis has told me that she’s not afraid to interview him or to ultimately indict him if there’s sufficient evidence, but we don’t have any indications that they’ve taken those steps.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right, talks with a member of her team during proceedings to seat a grand jury in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 2, to look into the actions of former President Donald Trump and his supporters who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Ben Gray/AP

Ben Jacobs

How big of a legal fight do you expect there to be over the subpoenas?

Tamar Hallerman

My sense is that there is going to be a fight, especially with the posture of these witnesses; like John Eastman with the select committee, most will try to cite attorney-client privilege. Maybe there’s executive privilege, although I’m not sure that, as much, applies here. And it’s possible Lindsey Graham could cite the speech or debate clause in the Constitution to avoid testifying. His lawyers on Wednesday said that Graham’s actions after the elections were well within the law and he would fight the subpoena in court … This could take a while to resolve itself. They are all entitled to hearings in home states with a home state judge, and Willis would have to send prosecutors to argue why these witnesses would need to come to Georgia to testify and that privileges don’t apply.

I’m expecting these folks to file motions to quash [and avoid testifying], and it’s possible that results could be appealed, further dragging out the process.

Ben Jacobs

How has Donald Trump reacted to the grand jury?

Tamar Hallerman

For the most part, he has held his tongue. He tweets every once in a while about his phone call with Brad Raffensperger, which he calls “perfect,” and says the DA should be looking at what he sees as massive election fraud in Georgia. Three vote counts in Georgia, including an audit, have disputed that.

He has complained more widely about “radical, vicious, racist prosecutors,” referring to Fani Willis, the state Attorney General Tish James in New York, District Attorney Alvin Bragg in Manhattan, and the January 6 committee, but he hasn’t expanded a ton about what’s going on in Georgia.

In a rally in Texas, he did call for massive protests in Atlanta and Washington and New York, which was enough for Willis to call the FBI to secure the courthouse because she is concerned about a January 6-style insurrection. She’s also bought bulletproof vests for her prosecutors and has personal round-the-clock security.

Ben Jacobs

And how are Republicans in Georgia generally reacting to the grand jury?

Tamar Hallerman

Those who have been subpoenaed haven’t publicly slammed it — they kept their heads down. Some cooperated voluntarily with prosecutors and many don’t want to make an issue of this. Especially Republicans who are on the ballot in November and don’t want to be seen complaining about it on the record. Gov. Brian Kemp won’t testify until July 25, but he is cooperating.

Many, though, have complained that it is partisan; Raffensperger has complained about why it’s taken so long and sees it as partisan slow-walking. Many Republicans who aren’t being questioned are entirely dismissive and just view it as a total partisan witch hunt that is designed to help Democrats in the lead-up to the midterms.

Ben Jacobs

How does this interact with the January 6 committee?

Tamar Hallerman

We know that investigators with the January 6 committee are cooperating with District Attorney Willis in Fulton County. A lot of the evidence that they have gathered can be used by Willis in her investigation as well, and is really helpful to her because the January 6 committee has access to stuff that would have taken her a long time to unearth on her own. Especially when it comes to slates of alternative electors and establishing Trump’s state of mind and that of others around him.

Many attorneys I talked to in Georgia said the biggest weak link is that it’s going to be hard to prove Trump’s state of mind, since he can argue that he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. But some of the people who were skeptics are starting to change their mind, now that some of the evidence unearthed by the January 6 committee shows he was told by his attorney general and by his campaign data folks that he had lost and there wasn’t widespread fraud. That will be enormously helpful to Fani Willis.

Ben Jacobs

How much longer will this take?

Tamar Hallerman

Willis has mentioned she doesn’t think the special grand jury will go the full year. She has painted a very optimistic timeline of hoping to finish most of the work by end of summer, and signified she ideally wants a resolution and decision to file charges by the end of the year.

However, in addition to the Trump aides, she has state officials — including the lieutenant governor and a former state senator — fighting their subpoenas, and it’s possible some of those folks could even appeal rulings that come out as well.



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