Politics

Atlanta DA seeks special grand jury in Trump Georgia election interference probe

Key Points
  • The top prosecutor in Atlanta has asked a judge to impanel a special grand jury to investigate efforts by then-President Donald Trump to sway the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.
  • Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her ongoing probe her office "has received information indicating a reasonable probability" that Georgia's election that year "was subject to possible criminal disruptions."
  • Trump in a Jan. 2, 2021 call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asked that top election official to "find" enough votes to reverse his loss to President Joe Biden.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a photo at her office, Feb. 24, 2021 in Atlanta.

The top prosecutor in Atlanta asked a judge Thursday to impanel a special grand jury to investigate efforts by then-President Donald Trump to sway the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia after results showed President Joe Biden won that state.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said that a special grand jury is needed, among other reasons, to compel the testimony of a significant number of witnesses who are refusing to cooperate with her investigation.

That probe "has received information indicating a reasonable probability" that Georgia's election in 2020 "was subject to possible criminal disruptions," Willis told Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher in a letter.

Willis said her office learned that "individuals associated with these disruptions" had contacted the Georgia secretary of state, the state's attorney general; and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

VIDEO1:2401:24
Fulton County DA requests special grand jury in Trump election probe

"As a result, our office has opened an investigation into any coordinated attempts to unlawfully alter
the outcome of the 2020 elections in this state," she wrote.

The DA told the Associated Press earlier this month that her probe, which began last February, is eyeing a Jan. 2, 2021, call that Trump had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The call came four days before the U.S. Congress met in a joint session to confirm Biden's victory in the Electoral College vote, which included votes from Georgia's slate of electors.

President Donald Trump looks on during a rally in support of Republican incumbent senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue ahead of a Senate runoff in Dalton, Georgia on January 4, 2021.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

During Trump's call with Raffensperger, he urged the state's top election official to "find" him enough votes to overturn his loss to the Democrat Biden.

"All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes," Trump told Raffensperger in the call.

Trump also made what Georgia's voting system implementation manager days later called a series of "provably false" claims about purported election irregularities.

Trump in a statement Thursday said that his phone call with Raffensperger was "perfect," called the investigation a witch hunt, and repeated false claims of ballot fraud.

Willis also is investigating the surprise resignation of Atlanta's top federal prosecutor on Jan. 4, 2021, and and a November 2020 call Raffensperger had with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally.

In her request Thursday, Willis wrote that "a significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate" with her investigation without a grand jury subpoena that would compel their testimony.

"By way of example, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, an essential witness to the investigation, has indicated that he will not participate in an interview or otherwise offer evidence until he is presented with a subpoena by my office," Willis wrote.

The prosecutor noted in the letter that a special purpose grand jury would not have the authority to issue indictments in the case.

But it "may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit," she wrote.

Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on election results in Atlanta, Georgia, December 2, 2020.
Elijah Nouvelage | Reuters

Trump's pressure on Raffensperger to find votes for him was part of a sustained effort to get legislators and judges in several swing states to reverse Biden's victories in those states, and erase his edge over Trump in the Electoral College tally. The Electoral College results, not the popular vote, determine the winner of a presidential election.

On Jan. 6, 2021, during the joint session of Congress called to confirm those results, a mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol complex, disrupting the proceedings for hours.

A number of Republican House members objected to the acceptance of Biden electors from Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, but none of those efforts obtained the support of at least one senator required to join a challenge and force a debate and vote.

Six GOP senators voted to sustain a challenge to Biden's electors from Arizona, and seven Republican senators voted to sustain objections to his Pennsylvania electors. But those challenges failed after more than 280 House members voted to approve the acceptance of those states' electors.

Trump in his statement Thursday said that his call with Raffensperger "was perfect, perhaps even more so than my call with the Ukranian President, if that's possible."

Trump's 2019 call with Ukraine's president, in which he pressured that leader to announce an investigation into Biden and Biden's son Hunter, led to Trump's first impeachment later that same year. Trump was acquitted at trial in the Senate.

"I knew there were large numbers of people on the line, including numerous lawyers for both sides," said Trump on Thursday, referring to the Raffensperger call.

"Although I assumed the call may have been inappropriately, and perhaps illegally, recorded, I was not informed of that. I didn't say anything wrong in the call, made while I was President on behalf of the United States of America, to look into the massive voter fraud which took place in Georgia."

"What this Civil Special Grand Jury should be looking into is not my perfect phone call, but the large scale voter fraud that took place in Georgia," Trump said. "Then they would be doing a great job for the people. No more political witch hunts!

No court has sustained Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud, which also were disputed by his then-Attorney General William Barr.

Georgia last year passed a new voting law that would allow state officials to take over county election boards. The law was quickly used to launch a probe in Fulton County, which is Georgia's biggest source of Democratic votes, and which for years has had problems with election management.

Critics of the law fear it will be used to undercut Democratic chances in this year's governor's race, and in races for two U.S. Senate seats, which in a surprise were won last year by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats.