An Atlanta-area prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia in the wake of calls President Donald Trump placed to state officials, urging them to invalidate Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
In a letter Wednesday to several state Republican officials including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis did not mention Trump by name but stated that her office is examining a raft of potential criminal charges related to “attempts to influence” the administration of the 2020 election in the state.
In early January, Trump pressured Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to reverse Biden’s victory in the state during an hourlong phone call. He also called the top Georgia state elections investigator shortly before Christmas, asking the person to “find the fraud” and become a “national hero,” as The Washington Post first reported. At the time, the investigator was leading an inquiry into allegations of ballot fraud in Cobb County, in the suburbs of Atlanta.
In a third call placed in early December to Kemp, Trump urged the governor to persuade the state legislature to overturn Biden’s victory and asked him to order an audit of absentee ballot signatures.
Prosecutors are scrutinizing all three of those calls, as well as the circumstances around the sudden resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, according to an official familiar with the probe, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the ongoing investigation.
The revelation of the Raffensperger call by The Post, days before Congress was set to meet in joint session to formalize Biden’s electoral college victory, sparked widespread political condemnation of Trump’s actions, including by some Republicans.
After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the House cited the call in its article of impeachment, which accuses Trump of inciting the siege. On Wednesday, as part of the ongoing Senate trial, House impeachment managers argued that his call to Raffensperger and the chief investigator were part of Trump’s long-running attempt to overturn the results of the election.
Willis, a Democrat, told state officials that her office will examine whether anyone illegally solicited election fraud, made false statements to state and local government officials, made threats, or participated in a criminal conspiracy as part of attempts to influence the election outcome.
In addition to Kemp and Raffensperger, Willis sent letters to Georgia’s attorney general, Chris Carr — who represented Raffensperger in numerous lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies over the election — and the lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan, who serves as president of the state Senate.
She said she will examine contacts made with offices of Raffensperger, Kemp and Carr, as well as with the General Assembly, which held hearings in which Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies made unfounded allegations of election fraud.
“We have reason to believe the Senate may have evidence related to the criminal investigation,” said Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for Willis.
Legal experts have said Trump’s call to the secretary of state may have broken state or federal laws that bar the solicitation of election fraud or prohibit participating in a conspiracy against people exercising their civil rights, and that his outreach to the state investigator could amount to obstruction of justice or other criminal violations.
Trump adviser Jason Miller on Wednesday dismissed the criminal investigation as a partisan attack against the former president.
“The timing here is not accidental given today’s impeachment trial,” Miller said via text. “This is simply the Democrats’ latest attempt to score political points by continuing their witch hunt against President Trump, and everybody sees through it.”
After the Nov. 3 election, Trump pressured officials in numerous states, urging them to reverse Biden’s win. His greatest focus was on Georgia, where he complained to aides that he felt betrayed by Kemp and Raffensperger after they refused to echo his claims of a rigged election despite his endorsement of them in 2018.
In an interview with The Post last month, Raffensperger said he was not familiar with the specifics of what the president said in the conversation with his chief investigator, but said it was inappropriate for Trump to have tried to intervene in the case.
“That was an ongoing investigation,” Raffensperger said. “I don’t believe that an elected official should be involved in that process.”
The Post is not identifying the investigator, who did not respond to requests for comment, because of the risk of threats and harassment directed at election officials.
A little more than a week after calling the investigator, Trump called Raffensperger directly.
In a recording of the conversation obtained by The Post, Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims about widespread fraud, at one point warning that Raffensperger was taking “a big risk.”
Throughout the call, Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected Trump’s assertions, explaining that the president was relying on debunked conspiracy theories and that Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in Georgia was legitimate.
But Trump brushed aside their responses.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry,” Trump said on the call. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you’ve recalculated.”
Raffensperger responded: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
At another point, Trump said: “So look. 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 her letters to state officials Wednesday, Willis asked officials to preserve all records related to the 2020 election. She said the matter is “of high priority” and will go before a grand jury as soon as March. She said she has no reason to believe that any Georgia state officials are the subject of the investigation.
“I know we all agree that our duty demands that this matter be investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted, in a manner that is free from any appearance of conflict of interest or political considerations,” Willis wrote in the letters, which were first reported by The New York Times.
The district attorney’s investigation follows the news Monday that Raffensperger’s office had opened its own inquiry to assess whether Trump broke any laws in his efforts to reverse his defeat in Georgia.
The inquiry was prompted by multiple complaints the office received about the Trump-Raffensperger call, including one from a law professor at George Washington University, John Banzhaf.
“The Secretary of State’s office investigates complaints it receives,” Raffensperger spokesman Walter Jones said in a statement. “The investigations are fact-finding and administrative in nature. Any further legal efforts will be left to the Attorney General.”
Typically, the individual leading that inquiry would be the chief investigator who received the Trump call in December. But Raffensperger or his aides may decide to assign a different investigator to avoid a conflict.
Raffensperger has told aides that he is likely to recuse himself when the results of the inquiry come to the State Election Board, which will decide whether to refer the matter to the state attorney general or the district attorney.
Willis’s office is also investigating the abrupt departure of Byung J. “BJay” Pak, the former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, who left a day after The Post reported Trump’s call with Raffensperger.
Pak unexpectedly announced Jan. 4 that he was stepping down as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, surprising many in his office. Trump then bypassed Pak’s top deputy in selecting a temporary replacement, raising questions among legal observers about the possibility of political interference in law enforcement work.
Pak and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Fulton County investigation.
Separately, the Justice Department inspector general is also examining Pak’s resignation.
Bobby Christine, who served temporarily as acting U.S. attorney after Pak’s departure, later told staff in the office that “there’s just nothing to” the few claims of fraud the office was examining.
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The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.