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A Georgia grand jury subpoenas top Trump allies, including Giuliani and Graham

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

An investigation into potential criminal interference in Georgia after the 2020 election is heating up.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A special grand jury in Atlanta filed documents seeking to compel seven people with close ties to former President Trump to testify behind closed doors. That includes Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

MARTINEZ: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting is here to put it into context for us. Stephen, we mentioned Giuliani. Why does this special grand jury want to speak with him?

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Well, A, he's the biggest name because he's Trump's personal attorney and one of the lead lawyers in the efforts to overturn the election in Georgia and other states. He spoke to Georgia lawmakers in several unsanctioned hearings in December 2020, and he made a ton of false claims about the state and its election procedures, even after officials knock them down as untrue. There's also John Eastman and Jenna Ellis, both attorneys who push the fringe legal theory that then-Vice President Mike Pence could reject slates of electors and pick Republicans to win. Eastman told Georgia lawmakers at some of these hearings, it was their, quote, "duty to overturn the election."

Then there's other figures like Kenneth Cheseboro, who worked with Georgia's chair of the Republican Party to enact a secret plan to meet with a fake slate of electors, Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer on the phone with Trump during the infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State, and Jacki Pick Deason, who introduced a video of vote counting in Georgia at State Farm Arena and claimed it showed massive evidence of fraud. Elections officials quickly debunked those claims. And they want to talk to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina about calls he had with the secretary of state about rejecting absentee ballots. We don't yet know if anyone will cooperate.

MARTINEZ: Now, Trump lost by about 12,000 votes. The outcome stayed that way. What specifically is this special grand jury looking at from a criminal angle?

FOWLER: One of the biggest takeaways we can glean from these documents seeking to have these people testify behind closed doors is an interest in comments made during these off-book hearings with state lawmakers. They weren't official meetings. The witnesses weren't required to testify under oath. And facts were definitely not followed in these one-sided discussions. One of the potential charges the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., could look at is making false statements to state or local governmental bodies. And court watchers say Rudy Giuliani, in particular, could be a target. Then, of course, there's that fake slate of electors organized by the Georgia GOP and others that are of interest, too. We don't really yet know where this will lead, particularly because of how prevalent the attacks on Georgia's election results were, but also because this jury is meeting behind closed doors, and many witnesses are having to be compelled to testify.

MARTINEZ: And, Stephen, what about Donald Trump? How does he fit into all this? - because members of the House committee are investigating January 6, and they say they're weighing criminal referrals to the Department of Justice. So is he, maybe, in legal trouble in Georgia?

FOWLER: Well, this week's court filings are the closest we've seen to Trump. But we haven't seen any indication yet that he, himself, is a target of the investigation in the same way these other lower-hanging-fruit type conversations are with more clear-cut roles. Trump's call to the secretary of state to, quote, "find votes," as well as a call he made to the state's top election investigator, have been discussed and could be where the former president faces his biggest liability. But also, the fact that he is the former president could make it harder to charge if the DA ultimately decides to do so. And it's something we're definitely going to be watching as more information comes out in the coming weeks here in Georgia.

MARTINEZ: Georgia Public Broadcasting, Stephen Fowler. Stephen, thanks.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.