- High-profile witnesses to testify
- Closing in on the Trump White House
- ‘Gaming the system’
- Fulton County prosecutors are investigating interference in the 2020 election in Georgia.
- Prosecutors have been tracking findings unveiled in the House Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings.
- DA Fani Willis indicated a decision on charges could come as early as the end of the year.
Across nine public hearings, the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attacks offered damning accounts of Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election.
From repeated attempts to pressure the Justice Department to amplify false claims of election fraud to summoning the mob that stormed the Capitol, the former president’s often-desperate attempts to cling to power are behind the most striking images to emerge from the extraordinary congressional investigation.
Perhaps no episode cut to the core of Trump’s alleged mission like the campaign to upend the election in Georgia where Trump, himself, pressed election officials in a recorded telephone call to “find” the votes to deny Joe Biden’s victory.
“The president had a particular obsession with Georgia,” House committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., declared earlier this year.
As lawmakers prepare their final report, the panel’s collective work is likely to have its most immediate impact in Georgia where state prosecutors are entering a consequential phase of a far-reaching investigation into election interference.
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Atlanta-area District Attorney Fani Willis, who has been examining possible election fraud, conspiracy, oath of office violations, racketeering and other offenses, indicated a decision on charges could come as early as the end of the year.
As part of that inquiry, Georgia prosecutors have been closely tracking the congressional panel’s work, while the local grand jury has heard testimony from some of the same headlining witnesses who have appeared before the committee. Among them: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who resisted Trump’s push to find “11,780 votes” to overturn the state election.
Last week, the Georgia connection was thrust into the spotlight as part of a legal dispute in which Trump attorney John Eastman, an architect of a plan to keep Trump in power, had been resisting the House committee’s effort to obtain post-election emails detailing efforts to overturn the election.
The emails that Eastman had long sought to shield were inadvertently made public in a federal appeals court filing, detailing potentially damning back-stage efforts to challenge the Georgia vote while acknowledging Trump was pressing wildly inaccurate claims that thousands of ineligible voters had cast ballots.
Eastman emails:Trump lawyers cast Justice Clarence Thomas as vital to blocking 2020 election certification, emails show
“President Trump knew that the specific numbers of voter fraud were wrong,” U.S. District Judge David Carter wrote last month, when first ordering the emails be turned over to the House panel. “The court finds that these emails are sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
Clark Cunningham, a Georgia State University professor, said the communications could be used to show that Trump knew claims of election fraud were false even before the then-president placed a Jan. 2, 2021 telephone call, urging Raffensperger to find the votes to deny President Joe Biden’s victory in the key battleground state.
“Getting these emails would represent a big victory for people interested in pursuing former President Trump,” Cunningham said.
High-profile witnesses to testify
While the Atlanta inquiry has largely paused its public work in the run-up to the midterm elections, a string of high-profile witnesses have been summoned to testify after the vote.
The Supreme Court last week rejected Sen. Lindsey Graham’s challenge to a grand jury subpoena, seeking testimony from the South Carolina Republican and staunch Trump supporter in connection to calls he made to Raffensperger and his staff in November 2020.
A federal judge in September ruled Graham could be questioned about any “alleged efforts to encourage (Raffensperger) or others to throw out ballots or otherwise alter Georgia’s election practices and procedures.”
Graham, who mounted the most virgorous – and so far unsuccessful – effort to avoid scrutiny, asserted he was engaging in legitimate inquiries as a lawmaker under the Constitution’s speech and debate clause when he contacted Georgia officials following the 2020 vote. He denied claims he was pressuring them to exclude ballots.
The senator is just one of the witnesses waiting in the wings.
Trump allies Newt Gingrich and former national security adviser Michael Flynn have been scheduled to testify later this month.
Citing material gathered by the House committee, prosecutors are seeking to question Gingrich about December 2020 contacts with the Trump campaign in which the former House speaker pushed for broadcasting television ads “promoting the false narrative that election workers had smuggled suitcases containing fake ballots” to the State Farm Arena in Atlanta where ballots were being counted.
“The goal is to arouse the country’s anger through new verifiable information the American people have never seen before,” Gingrich allegedly wrote in a Dec. 8, 2020 email to Trump Campaign associates. “If we inform the American people in a way they find convincing and it arouses their anger, they will then bring pressure on legislatures and governors.”
Gingrich, who is also scheduled to be interviewed by the House committee Nov. 21, sought to avoid his appointment with the Georgia grand jury. But a Virginia judge Wednesday rejected claims that his testimony was unnecessary and travel to Atlanta would be an “undue burden” on the former Georgia lawmaker.
Gingrich is expected to appeal the ruling. In the meantime, he is due back in Atlanta Nov. 29.
Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian ambassador before he was pardoned by Trump, has been in the vanguard of the former president’s supporters who have continued to push conspiracy theories aimed at undercutting the 2020 election.
More:January 6 committee subpoenas Trump lawyer, 5 other advisers
In court documents supporting the Fulton County subpoena, prosecutors cited a contentious Dec. 18, 2020 White House meeting in which Flynn and others allegedly discussed invoking martial law in seizing voting machines in swing states as part of an investigation that would be headed by Trump acolyte and attorney Sidney Powell.
The White House meeting, also examined extensively by the House committee, came about three weeks after Trump issued the pardon for Flynn.
Georgia prosecutors asserted in court documents that Flynn “possesses unique knowledge about communications between himself and other known and unknown individuals involved in the multi-state, coordinated efforts to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Closing in on the Trump White House
In many respects, the Georgia and House investigations have proceeded as parallel inquiries, featuring some of the same key witnesses: Raffensperger, Trump attorneys Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, who repeatedly pressed false election fraud claims in Georgia, and Pat Cipollone, the former Trump White House counsel who sought to discourage the former president’s advisers from pursuing further election challenges.
Georgia prosecutors already have designated Giuliani as a target in the investigation, citing his false assertions that voting systems altered Georgia ballots. The former New York mayor also argued about 65,000 underage voters, more than 2,500 felons and 800 dead people voted in the state.
More:Rudy Giuliani now a ‘target’ in Georgia election interference investigation
More:Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows ordered to testify in Georgia election inquiry
All of those claims have been debunked by the Georgia secretary of state, which found no underage voters, only 74 potential felony voters and only two ballots that may have been improperly cast in the name of dead voters.
Another central figure in both inquiries, former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, also appears to be on the verge of a date with the Fulton County grand jury.
Meadows, a party to Trump’s telephone call to Raffensperger, was ordered last month by a South Carolina judge to comply with a summons from the Atlanta grand jury.
Attorneys for Meadows have disputed the authority of the investigative panel, while asserting the former White House official is shielded from providing testimony in the case because his communications with the former president were privileged.
More:Mark Meadows loses federal case in fight over House Jan. 6 committee subpoena
Meadows also was on the losing end of another court ruling last week. A federal judge in Washington threw out a similar challenge to a subpoena from the special House committee, concluding the panel was justified in seeking the former official’s testimony.U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols ruled the committee was justified in subpoenaing Meadows.
“Without a doubt, the Select Committee’s investigation of the January 6th attack is legitimately tied to Congress’s legislative function,” wrote Nichols, who was appointed by Trump.
Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, said Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, appears to have made steady progress, forcing testimony from Trump’s closest associates while benefitting from the House committee’s work.
More:House Jan. 6 committee subpoenas former President Donald Trump
Like the House committee, Willis also has raised the prospect of calling Trump before the grand jury, but no final decision has been made. The House issued its subpoena for Trump’s testimony last month.
“It’s clear that (Willis) is being very careful,” Litman said. “They have been going at it for months, starting with a blank slate and moving to something very broad. Looking at all the witnesses called so far, it looks like Trump is in the crosshairs. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion.”
‘Gaming the system’
For weeks, as Eastman sought to block the House committee from obtaining a cache of emails outlining Trump’s post-election strategy to cling to power, few tracked the legal battle more closely than Fulton County prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge David Carter, who first ordered that the communications be handed over to the House panel, whetted prosecutors’ appetite in an extraordinary ruling last month, asserting the communications were possible evidence of a “conspiracy to defraud the United States” that involved Trump.
When the emails were finally made public last week, they offered an inside look at a desperate strategy for Trump to cling to power, despite his loss at the polls.
In a Dec. 31, 2020 message, first obtained by Politico, Trump’s lawyers singled out Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as “key” to blocking certification of the election for Biden.
The Thomas email was authored by another Trump attorney, Kenneth Chesebro, and circulated to Eastman and others, suggesting a strategy to “frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay.”
More:Trump lawyers cast Thomas as vital to blocking 2020 election certification, emails show
In another message, also dated on New Year’s Eve 2020, Eastman expressed deep concern to colleagues about having Trump vouch for false claims related to an election challenge in Georgia.
“I have no doubt that an aggressive DA (district attorney) or US Atty someplace will go after both the president and his lawyers once all the dust settles on this,” the attorney wrote to fellow attorneys.
Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment, said emails are potential evidence of an attempt to “game the system.”
“These emails are further proof that they (Trump and his attorneys) knew full well that they didn’t have legally meritorious case,” Eisen said. “They are certainly important to the toughest issue for prosecutors to prove and that is intent. Now, you have it in their own words.”