The Atlanta area prosecutor weighing whether former president Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials has been granted a special purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation.
Fulton County Superior Court judges on Monday approved the request made last week by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and said she will be allowed to seat a special grand jury on May 2, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The special grand jury can continue for a period “not to exceed 12 months,” Christopher Brasher, chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court, wrote in an order.
“The special purpose grand jury shall be authorized to investigate any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia, as set forth in the request of the District Attorney referenced hereinabove,” he added. “The special purpose grand jury … may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit.”
Willis launched the criminal investigation in February. At the time, a Trump spokesman dismissed the probe, calling it “the Democrats’ latest attempt to score political points by continuing their witch hunt against President Trump.”
In a letter last week, Willis, a Democrat, told the chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court the move was needed because a “significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate with the investigation absent a subpoena requiring their testimony.”
Willis cited Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, as an example. Willis has previously confirmed that part of her investigation centers on the Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Raffensperger in which Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state’s presidential election.
Trump last week defended his call with Raffensperger, saying in a statement, “I didn’t say anything wrong in the call” and repeating his false claims of widespread voter fraud. Trump has baselessly alleged that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him and focused much of his attention after the election on Georgia, where Biden became the first Democrat to win the state since 1992.
At one point during his call with Raffensperger, Trump told him, “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”
In an interview earlier this month with the Associated Press, Willis said that her team was making solid progress in its investigation. “I believe in 2022 a decision will be made in that case,” she said. “I certainly think that in the first half of the year that decisions will be made.”
In her letter Thursday, Willis called Raffensperger “an essential witness to the investigation” and said he “has indicated that he will not participate in an interview or otherwise offer evidence until he is presented with a subpoena.”
Willis pointed to comments Raffensperger made during an October interview with Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“If she wants to interview me, there’s a process for that, and I will gladly participate in that because I want to make sure that I follow the law, follow the Constitution,” Raffensperger told Todd. “And when you get a grand jury summons, you respond to it.”
Since the 2020 election, Georgia has become a hot spot in the battle over voting rights. After the state’s Republican-led legislature passed sweeping new voting restrictions last year, several companies spoke out against the new law and Major League Baseball pulled its 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
Earlier this month, Biden traveled to Atlanta to deliver a major speech that called for changing Senate filibuster rules to pass federal voting rights legislation. The party’s efforts to do so failed after two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, joined with Republicans to reject changes to the filibuster.