The Washington Post

Questionin­g of GOP lawmaker blocked in Ga.

District attorney’s event to support Democrat has consequenc­es, judge says

- BY MATTHEW BROWN

A judge ruled that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her staff cannot question Georgia’s Republican pick for lieutenant governor over his role in contesting the 2020 presidenti­al election because Willis hosted a fundraiser for the nominee’s Democratic rival.

In a ruling issued Monday, Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert Mcburney reasoned that Willis’s decision to back Charlie Bailey during his runoff in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor “creates a plain — and actual and untenable — conflict” with her investigat­ion into potential election fraud by state Sen. Burt Jones, the GOP nominee for the office.

“This choice — which the District attorney was within her rights as an elected official to make — has consequenc­es,” the judge wrote.

In late June, Willis sent letters to 16 Georgia Republican­s notifying them that they were potential “targets” of a criminal investigat­ion over their participat­ion in a campaign scheme to create a fake slate of electors from Georgia to support Donald Trump in the 2020 presidenti­al election — an election in which Georgia voters picked Democrat Joe Biden.

Lawyers for 11 of those 16 Republican­s said in court filings that their clients received the “target” letters after they had been subpoenaed to testify in connection with the inquiry — a somewhat unusual juxtaposit­ion that could make it unlikely that they will provide much informatio­n in their testimony.

Jones, who was among the Republican­s who led the elector effort, subsequent­ly sought to disqualify Willis from the criminal probe, citing her fundraiser with Bailey.

The Prosecutin­g Attorney’s Council of Georgia, which supports local prosecutor­s in the state, will select a different district attorney’s office to oversee aspects of the investigat­ion relating to Jones.

Mcburney noted that the fundraiser Willis hosted was to support Bailey in a runoff contest against fellow Democrat Kwanza Hall, a distinctio­n the judge deemed “important.”

“But more relevant — and harmful — to the integrity of the grand jury investigat­ion is that the die was already cast on the other side of the political divide: whoever won the Hailey-hall runoff would face Senator Jones,” the judge reasoned.

The decision is a major and unexpected win for Jones’s legal team. Mcburney denied a similar motion to quash the district attorney’s subpoenas filed by lawyers representi­ng 11 of the other fake electors.

“Many legal observers didn’t predict this outcome because Fani Willis didn’t have an actual conflict of interest as a result of the fundraiser though she certainly created the appearance of one,” said Anthony Kreis, a constituti­onal law professor at Georgia State University.

Asked about the decision to subpoena witnesses and then inform them they were potential targets of the investigat­ion, Kreis said that “wasn’t a routine practice for DAS here. But there’s also nothing routine about the process of this investigat­ion.”

“On the one hand, you can see how the office is sensitive to allegation­s that they railroaded political opponents. So, there’s a good claim that they issued the letters to hedge against anyone saying they were denied procedural safeguards down the road,” Kreis said. “On the other hand, a cynical eye can understand how there is a publicity boon from the news cycle that the letters generated.”

Over the course of more than a year, Willis’s investigat­ion into potential criminal election fraud appears to have widened, from a narrow focus on Trump’s alleged pressure on state officials to a broader inquiry involving the fake electors and potentiall­y false testimony given to state lawmakers by Trump loyalists.

Willis launched the investigat­ion after a January 2021 Washington Post report that Trump had pressured Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensper­ger (R), to “find” more than 11,000 votes to make up his margin of defeat in the state.

Willis endorsed Bailey for lieutenant governor that same month, more than a year before the Democratic primary. In the weeks between the May 24 primary election and the June 21 runoff for lieutenant governor, Willis announced the fundraiser for Bailey at Westview Corner Grocery in southwest Atlanta.

About 100 people attended the event, which featured a live band and meet-and-greet for Willis, Bailey and Bailey’s wife, according to store owner Matt Garbett, who endorsed Bailey in the primary after the Democratic nominee promised him a campaign T-shirt.

“All this started with a joke and me wanting free T-shirts,” Garbett said.

In May, a special grand jury was seated to obtain testimony from a broader array of witnesses in Willis’s investigat­ion. Unlike a traditiona­l grand jury, the special grand jury is seated for a year and is focused on a single topic. It will produce a report on its findings, but it cannot issue indictment­s like a traditiona­l grand jury.

Grand jurors have heard from Raffensper­ger and his aides, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R), and several state lawmakers, local election workers and legal experts. On Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) submitted a sworn written statement to prosecutor­s about the efforts Trump and his allies took in Georgia to overturn the election results there.

A Georgia judge also approved prosecutor­s’ subpoenas of seven close Trump allies, including his former lawyer Rudy Giuliani and members of his campaign’s legal team, including Kenneth Chesebro, John Eastman and Jenna Ellis.

Grand jurors have also subpoenaed testimony from two U.S. lawmakers, Rep. Jody Hice (R- Ga.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), for their potential roles in pressuring officials to delay or interfere with Georgia’s election administra­tion in favor of Trump.

Graham has asserted that he was working within his profession­al duties and that provisions in the Constituti­on shield him from testifying.

Hice has fought the subpoena, arguing that the case should be moved to federal court.

 ?? Erik S. LESSER/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears at an airport news conference in Atlanta for the start of the Fourth of July travel rush. Her hosting of a fundraiser for Charlie Bailey, a lieutenant governor hopeful, has been deemed a conflict with her 2020 election probe.
Erik S. LESSER/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTO­CK Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears at an airport news conference in Atlanta for the start of the Fourth of July travel rush. Her hosting of a fundraiser for Charlie Bailey, a lieutenant governor hopeful, has been deemed a conflict with her 2020 election probe.

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