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Trump election interference probe heats up in Atlanta

A county prosecutor's investigation into the former president and his allies’ efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia has become more contentious, as Rudy Giuliani testifies behind closed doors and the state’s Republican governor lashes out against investigators.

ATLANTA (CN) — The investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and his allies illegally attempted to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results has intensified as crucial witnesses are set to appear before a special grand jury over the coming weeks.

Trump’s former personal attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani testified for nearly six hours before the grand jurors Wednesday as a target of the investigation launched by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

“Grand juries, as I recall, are secret,” Giuliani told reporters when entering the Fulton County Courthouse. “They ask the questions and we’ll see. "

Prosecutors informed his attorney, Robert Costello, just two days prior that Giuliani is a target of the investigation and could potentially be indicted on criminal charges.

“I can tell you that we were ordered to be here, we showed up, we did what we had to do,” Giuliani’s local attorney, Bill Thomas, told reporters while leaving the courthouse. “The grand jury process is a secret process and we’re going to respect that.”

It’s unclear what exactly prosecutors asked Giuliani, as proceedings for special grand juries are held in secrecy, though he likely attempted to cite attorney-client privilege to avoid answering questions about specific conversations he had with Trump.

Giuliani’s law license was suspended in June 2021, after a New York appellate court ruled that he made “demonstrably false and misleading statements” following the 2020 election on behalf of Trump, specifically in Georgia. 

Because of this, prosecutors could potentially cite a “crime-fraud exception," meaning attorney-client privileges won’t be able to shield Giuliani from questioning, if allowed by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who is overseeing the grand jury.  

According to Giuliani's subpoena, much of the focus likely surrounded an edited surveillance video of election workers, purported to show them producing suitcases of unlawful ballots.

Giuliani and other members of the Trump campaign presented the video to Georgia legislators in December 2020, in an attempt to prove election fraud in multiple counties across the state during the election.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has already testified before the special grand jury, said his office's investigation into the incident revealed no evidence of voter fraud.

“There is evidence that the Witness’s appearance and testimony at [a Dec. 3, 2020] hearing was part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere,” Giuliani’s subpoena states.

The former federal prosecutor was originally scheduled to testify last week, but claimed that a recent heart stent operation prevented him from flying. 

After prosecutors found evidence that Giuliani was still traveling out of state anyway, including a tweeted photo of himself with a woman in New Hampshire, he was ordered during an emergency hearing by McBurney to use alternate methods of travel to appear in Atlanta on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Republican Governor Brian Kemp filed a motion to kill the subpoena that was sent to him after the district attorney’s office abruptly canceled his scheduled sworn video statement last month. 

Kemp’s attorney Brian F. McEvoy accused Willis' office of “gamesmanship” in the grand jury process and having it “intentionally delayed," as the governor is now scheduled to testify before the grand jury on Thursday, less than 90 days before his Nov. 8 rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“For more than a year, the Governor’s team has continually expressed his desire to provide a full accounting of his very limited role in the issues being looked at by the special grand jury,” a spokesperson for the governor’s office said in a written statement. “We are now just weeks away from the 2022 general election making it increasingly difficult to dedicate the time necessary to prepare and then appear.”

A hearing was also held Wednesday in New Mexico federal court, where a judge ordered John Eastman, a Trump campaign lawyer, to honor his subpoena and appear in Atlanta before the special grand jury later this month. 

U.S. District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said that it will be up to the Fulton County Judge to determine what questions can’t be answered under Eastman’s attorney-client privileges.

Eastman was declared a “necessary and material witness” to the investigation for also appearing at the December 2020 Georgia Senate hearing, where he advised lawmakers that it was their “duty to replace the Democratic Party’s slate of presidential electors” from seven swing states, according to his subpoena

Another one of Trump’s former campaign attorneys, Jenna Ellis, was ordered by a Colorado judge Tuesday to appear and testify on Aug. 25.

Ellis is being summoned for appearing with Giuliani at the Georgia lawmakers' hearing and also for writing legal memos to Trump and his legal counsel advising that then-Vice President Mike Pence should “disregard certified electoral college votes from Georgia and other purportedly ‘contested’ states'” when Congress met to certify the election results on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Also on Tuesday, attorneys for 11 of the 16 “alternate” Trump electors in Georgia filed to disqualify Willis from their portion of the investigation, after McBurney rejected their previous motion to quash their subpoenas. 

They argued that Willis and her office should be disqualified from questioning them in their part of the investigation, just like the judge ruled for state Senator Burt Jones, because he also served as a Trump elector. 

McBurney granted Jones’s motion for alternate prosecutors last month because Willis had hosted a fundraiser for his Democratic opponent in the current lieutenant governor race. 

All 16 of the Republicans had previously been named targets of the investigation for declaring themselves as qualified state electors and signing a certificate falsely stating that then-President Trump had won the vote in several states that he had actually lost. 

After a federal judge refused Monday to quash the subpoena for U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, ruling that he is not protected by legislative immunity in this case, the South Carolina Republican is ordered to make his grand jury appearance on Aug. 23. But Graham is likely to file an appeal on this ruling. 

Willis, who launched the probe last year, will ultimately decide whether to press charges based on the findings of the 23-person grand jury.

As Willis pries closer into the former president’s inner circle, she has said that she will consider seeking testimony from Trump himself, who recently hired prominent Atlanta criminal defense attorney Drew Findling, who is best known for representing several famous rappers. 

A group of Trump supporters and his former attorney, Sidney Powell, are also under criminal investigation by Georgia and the state’s Bureau of Investigation for election interference. 

The group is said to have illegally accessed election equipment in Coffee County after the 2020 presidential election and copied sensitive data from an election server, voter check-in computers and ballot memory cards. 

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