Georgia investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn 2020 election ramps up

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ATLANTA — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is stepping up the pace of her investigation into Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, questioning a wide array of witnesses and preparing a rash of subpoenas to top Georgia state officials, state lawmakers and a prominent local journalist for testimony that will start next week.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who won a surprise victory against a Trump-backed opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary, is slated to be one of Willis’s lead witnesses when he appears before the grand jury next Wednesday, sources confirmed to Yahoo News.

“Based on her pugnacity, it looks like it’s full steam ahead,” said one lawyer representing a client who has been contacted by Willis’s team of investigators and prosecutors. “She’s much more aggressive and determined than I expected.”

Willis’s investigation appears to now represent the biggest single legal threat to Trump, given that there have been no clear signs that prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice or the New York district attorney’s office are actively preparing to bring criminal charges against the former president. She has assembled a team of about 10 prosecutors and agents for the Trump probe. Earlier this month a group of them flew to Washington to meet with investigators from the Jan. 6 committee, who shared details from confidential witness testimony and other material relevant to Trump’s efforts to flip Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, said a source familiar with the probe.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks at a podium.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Glennville, Ga., on April 14. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

Initially Willis was expected to focus on Trump’s Jan. 3, 2021, hourlong phone call to Raffensperger in which the then president repeatedly implored him to “find” just enough votes to change the election results and suggested he could face criminal penalties if he did not.

But sources familiar with the investigation say Willis’s agents and prosecutors are casting a much wider net in an apparent effort to establish that Trump’s phone call was only one piece in a broader conspiracy — potentially prosecutable under an expansive state racketeering law — to pressure or intimidate state officials and lawmakers to change the results of the 2020 election by promoting bogus claims of voter fraud.

“The process of hearing from witnesses is starting June 1,” said Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for Willis. He declined further comment.

In recent weeks Willis’s team, including an outside special counsel and at least four prosecutors and investigators, has interviewed witnesses about efforts by Georgia Republican lawmakers to appoint an alternate slate of electors who would certify Trump as the winner of the state’s electoral votes. The team has also questioned legislators who sat for a controversial series of hearings in which Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani made demonstrably false statements about a video he claimed showed evidence of voter fraud. That assertion had already been debunked by state officials and the FBI.

Former President Donald Trump speaks into a microphone at an outdoor rally.
Former President Donald Trump at a rally on April 23 in Delaware, Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Elena Parent, a Democratic state senator who attended the hearings, told Yahoo News that she was questioned by Willis’s team a couple of weeks ago and then received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury on June 22. (Parent shared a copy of the subpoena with Yahoo News.)

Parent said the Willis team — led by Nathan Wade, a private lawyer and friend of Willis’s who has been hired as a special counsel by her office — questioned her about the circumstances of how Giuliani came to appear before two legislative committees on Dec. 3, 2020, the remarks he made before the lawmakers and his questioning of witnesses he brought with him that day. They wanted to know about “everything that happened with the hearings,” Parent said. But she said they also “zeroed in” on vile death threats she received after her comments at the hearing and a mocking tweet about Giuliani’s appearance she posted later that day.

Parent had noted in a Dec. 3, 2020, tweet that Raffensperger’s office had already explained how Joe Biden had legitimately won the state’s electoral votes. “Now we are being forced to listen to bonkers conspiracy theories out of Rudy Giuliani’s team,” she wrote. “What a disservice to the public.”

Willis had publicly promised to hold off on subpoenaing witnesses before Georgia’s primary so as not to be accused of seeking to interfere in the election. But the state’s primary voting ended on Tuesday and Raffensperger himself defeated a Trump-backed opponent, Rep. Jody Hice, garnering 52 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. As a result, Raffensperger will now be among the lead witnesses next week while multiple Georgia state officials — including Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and others in Raffensperger’s office — are bracing for what they have been told will be a wave of subpoenas.

“There’s likely to be a flurry of people being brought in [before the grand jury] in the next few weeks,” said one witness who has been contacted by Willis’s team and told to expect a subpoena.

But there are already signs that Willis will face considerable legal challenges. Republican lawmakers have refused requests to sit for voluntary interviews and have hired an outside counsel who is expected to raise challenges to any subpoenas on the grounds that the lawmakers had legislative immunity barring them from being questioned about their official actions.

In another move that could produce a legal skirmish, Willis’s office has also contacted Greg Bluestein, the lead political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and told him to expect a subpoena. Bluestein was a witness to events surrounding the Dec. 14, 2020, effort led by Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer to appoint an alternate slate of electors pledged to Trump despite Biden’s victory in the state. Bluestein has written that after being tipped off to a gathering of the rogue Trump electors in the state Capitol, he tried to attend but was blocked from doing so after being told it was an “education” meeting, a scenario that could be used by Willis’s prosecutors to show that the Trump electors were being secretive about what they were doing. (Bluestein declined comment, but legal experts expect lawyers for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to challenge the subpoena.)

Georgia Senator Elena Parent stands as she speaks into a microphone during a meeting.
Georgia Sen. Elena Parent at the Capitol in Atlanta in 2017. (David Goldman/AP)

But Raffensperger remains the star witness, with his phone call from Trump most likely the core of the case. Although he sought during his reelection campaign to court conservative Trump voters by pledging to fight for a constitutional amendment that would bar noncitizens from voting, he has never wavered from his position that there was no evidence of fraud that would change the results of the 2020 election. And he reaffirmed that with strong and pointed words about the improper pressure he came under from Trump in remarks he made in a brief victory speech to a group of supporters.

“We investigated everything and it wouldn’t have overturned the results of the race,” he said. “My thinking was the vast majority of Georgians are looking for honest people for elected office. Standing for the truth, and not buckling under pressure, is what people want.”