Friday, August 12, 2022

Georgia’s Trump Inquiry and the 2020 Election Explained

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While the congressional committee investigating Jan. 6 has held public hearings and the Justice Department has steadily secured the convictions of hundreds of those who violated the Capitol, a grand jury in Atlanta has met behind closed doors to focus on the efforts of former President Donald Trump and his allies to undo Joe Biden’s election victory in Georgia.

That investigation in Georgia intensified this summer, moving closer to Trump’s inner circle and potentially posing a clearer legal threat to Trump than the other investigations in his campaign to undo the 2020 presidential election, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack. on the Capitol.

Here’s what you need to know about it.

How did this research begin and who is conducting it?

The special grand jury was convened in May at the request of Fani Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, which Atlanta is a part of, and she is presiding over. It will aid the ongoing investigation Willis launched in February 2021 into the conduct of Trump and his allies in the wake of the 2020 election.

“This is an investigative grand jury, which is different from an ordinary grand jury who would hear every crime under the sun,” Tamar Hallerman, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who has focused on the investigation told cafemadrid earlier in July. “It is focused on this one exclusive case. The whole idea is that they can really become experts and take an in-depth dive into everything to nullify Georgia’s election results.”

Special Grand Juries are relatively rare in Georgia and often used in intense, lengthy investigations such as this one into the attempt to reverse the Georgia presidential election.

Willis is a first prosecutor elected as a Democrat in 2020 in Georgia’s largest jurisdiction. She is a career prosecutor who was previously best known for prosecuting educators in Atlanta public schools for their role in a scheme to cheat on standardized tests. Willis has recently also received national attention for suing the rapper Young Thug on a series of gang-related charges.

What is the Georgia Grand Jury investigating?

The grand jury is investigating whether Donald Trump and his allies have violated Georgia’s state law in their efforts to reverse the former president’s 2020 loss to the state. Those efforts include his infamous January 2, 2021 phone call with Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump said he wanted to “find 11,780 votes.”

It also includes the Trump campaign’s efforts to create a series of fake voters in Georgia to pass fraudulent electoral votes to Congress for certification. Last week, Willis sent a letter to all 16 fake voters in the state informing them that they were considered “targets” of the investigation, meaning they are considered potential suspects of indictment and not just witnesses. She had sued them earlier in June.

Who has the grand jury heard from so far?

In addition to subpoenaing the fake voters, the grand jury has sought testimony from a wide variety of figures, ranging from a former publicist to Kanye Westwho allegedly tried to pressure an election official to making false claims about voter fraudto Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of the state, who was the subject of an unremitting print campaign by Trump to take action on his behalf.

Recently, it sought testimony from a variety of figures in Trump’s inner circle, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

“This is important,” Hallerman said at the time. “This is the first time the DA has penetrated Donald Trump’s inner orbit. Previously, she stayed at the state and local levels and kept it very much focused on Georgia.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis talks to a member of her team during the proceedings to sit a grand jury in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 2, to investigate the actions of former President Donald Trump and his supporters trying to rule out the outcome of the elections of 2020.
Ben Gray/AP

Both Graham and Giuliani have tried not to testify. Giuliani was ordered by a New York judge to testify in person in August after failing to appear at a court hearing contesting his subpoena. Graham has been in an ongoing legal battle about whether he can be forced to testify. As a result, he said on Monday that he had has yet to be served with a subpoena.

What happens if they find Trump or someone else committed a crime?

They can accuse them of that crime – even if it is Donald Trump.

“Georgia has a law banning criminal solicitations to commit electoral fraud [as well as] an racketeering statute in Georgia that is broader than the federal racketeering law,” Hallerman said. This creates opportunities for prosecutors in Georgia to pursue charges that would not be possible under federal statutes.

In particular, Trump’s infamous phone call to Raffensperger may be considered request to commit fraud and the state extortion statute could broadly include Trump’s coordinated efforts to topple the 2020 election.

Will this cause more trouble for Donald Trump than the Justice Department investigation?

Possibly because Willis, as a prosecutor with the power to prosecute only under state law, does not have the same restrictions as the DOJ investigators under federal laws and policy.

She is not bound by DOJ policy on caution in pursuing investigations and prosecutions prior to an election. She also does not carry the same political baggage as Attorney General Merrick Garland, who will ultimately decide whether to prosecute Trump under federal law. Garland was appointed by President Joe Biden, who could meet Trump again in 2024. Willis is an independently elected local official.

Although Garland is investigating whether Trump has violated federal law and Willis whether he has violated Georgia’s law, both can still sue Trump and others for the same actions under the dual sovereignty doctrine, which allows both the state and federal governments to pursue parallel actions. prosecutions for the same act, as long as the act is a felony under both state and federal law.

Does this have to do with the work of the committee of 6 January?

Not technically. The probes are completely separate. But the events they investigate are interrelated, so there’s considerable overlap in their efforts. Trump’s campaign to undo the election in Georgia was unsuccessful, and the commission has argued that failure prompted him to make one last-ditch effort to undo the election on January 6, 2021.

During the commission’s public hearings, there were a disproportionate number of witnesses from Georgia than from other similar states. A hearing in June featured nearly all of the witnesses from Georgia, with Raffensperger and his former top aide Gabriel Sterling appearing on one panel, while two former state election officials, Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, appeared on a second panel in the same hearing. .

The Peach State has received disproportionate attention from the panel, both because of the copious evidence of malfeasance — it’s the only state where there are phone recordings of Trump putting pressure on the top election official — and because so many of the figures opposing the effort , such as Raffensperger and Sterling were Republicans who actually voted for Trump.

The evidence unearthed by the committee and publicly revealed will likely help Willis a great deal in proving Trump’s state of mind, and that he knew or should have known that he had actually lost the 2020 election.

Has Willis’s research suffered any major setbacks?

Yes, one emerged this week that created legal hurdles and made it easier to view the investigation as a partisan witch hunt, which could undermine its credibility.

A judge ruled this week that Willis couldn’t go after one of the state’s 16 fake voters. In a ruling, a local district judge ruled that Willis himself could not criminalize or enforce testimony and documents from state senator Burt Jones, who is the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in the midterm elections. Instead, Willis should postpone to an independent outside group to appoint another district attorney to investigate Jones.

The decision came after Willis organized a fundraiser for Charlie Bailey, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, for his primary, causing too much conflict. In the verdict disqualifying Willis, the judge wrote: “An investigation of this significance, which attracts public attention and touches so many political nerves in our society, cannot be burdened by legitimate doubts about the prosecutor’s motives. The prosecutor doesn’t have to be apolitical, but her investigations do.”

What happens now?

The special grand jury can sit for a maximum of one year under Georgian law. However, it is unlikely that it will take that long for a charge to be filed. Sending the target letters for the 16 fake voters is an indication that it is likely that some charges will come sooner rather than later.

Willis also has indicated that she was willing to summon Trump to the grand jury, which would almost certainly lead to a major legal battle. However, no final decision has yet been made on a convincing testimony from the former president.

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