(Bloomberg) -- Georgia Governor Brian Kemp will become the latest politician to answer to Fani Willis, the Atlanta-based prosecutor commanding a wide-reaching investigation of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to change the outcome of the 2020 election.
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Kemp will testify on Monday afternoon. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, has also issued subpoenas in recent days seeking testimony from some of Trump’s closest confidantes and allies – including Rudy Giuliani and US Senator Lindsey Graham -- and sent letters to 16 Georgia Republican leaders warning them that they are targets in a criminal probe.
While the House committee in Washington investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack has held live nationally televised hearings, a concurrent investigation in Georgia has been quietly honing in on the former president. With evidence such as Trump on tape asking Georgia’s chief election official to “find” an additional 11,780 votes in his favor, Willis is now moving to get lower-level politicians and government officials to “flip” and testify against the president.
“It looks like Fani Willis is closing in on an indictment for Trump,” Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe said in an interview. Tribe said Willis has a clearer case to prove than the Justice Department, which is looking at broad issues such as obstructing a congressional inquiry, defrauding the government and inciting an insurrection.
Court filings revealed last week that 16 Trump allies involved in creating an alternate 2020 presidential elector slate from Georgia were notified they could face charges in the ongoing investigation led by Willis. Lawyers for some of the fake presidential electors are attempting to quash subpoenas sent to their clients.
Unlike a regular grand jury, the special grand jury will not issue any indictments, only recommendations. Those recommendations will be used to determine whether a regular grand jury is convened for the purpose of seeking criminal charges.
In addition to Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, and Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, Willis has in recent days subpoenaed another half-dozen former top aides or advisors to Trump.
Republicans, meanwhile, have said Willis’s investigation is politically motivated, citing her a fund-raiser she hosted for the political opponent of one of the targets.
“Fani Willis has issued subpoenas to all the right people and properly issued target letters,” Tribe said.
Fani (FAH-nee) Willis, who declined requests to comment, is a seasoned prosecutor who has led prominent, if not always popular, cases such as the 2015 conviction and imprisonment of several Atlanta public school educators who conspired to change student scores on standardized tests. Earlier this year, Willis brought charges against Jeffrey L. Williams, an influential rapper known as “Young Thug” and many of his record label employees for running what Willis called a “criminal street gang.”
A Democrat in a county in which 73% of voters selected President Joe Biden in the last election, Willis was elected district attorney during the same November 2020 election season that delivered the White House to Biden and is now the nationwide focus of political theatrics and legal investigations. A graduate of Howard University and Emory University School of Law and the first black woman to serve as the county’s top prosecutor, Willis won the job by defeating her former boss, Paul Howard, who was district attorney for 23 years.
Kemp, who is seeking a second term in the governor’s mansion, is alleged to have been contacted by the former president following the November 2020 election. The Fulton County special grand jury, which has been convened since early May behind closed doors in a downtown Atlanta courtroom, has also asked Kemp to provide documents such as telephone logs, text messages and emails related to the investigation.
Kemp’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment or confirm that the governor is cooperating with the subpoena from Willis’ office. Kemp was loudly ridiculed by Trump for his refusal to cooperate in the former president’s attempts to alter the election outcome. In an act of political retribution, Trump encouraged former US Senator David Perdue to run in this spring’s Republican primary against Kemp. Despite strong campaign support from Trump, Perdue was defeated by a wide margin and Kemp emerged as a victorious slayer of the Trump political juggernaut.
“Kemp won the nomination by a wide margin,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said. “But if those who went for Perdue and believe in Donald Trump decide they are not going to vote for Kemp, or vote at all, he loses.”
What he says to the grand jury could “imperil his general election,” Bullock said. “He’s got to continue to disagree with Trump, but not boast about it or do anything that antagonizes that component of the electoral that believes everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth.”
Willis’s office wouldn’t say whether it had offered any subpoenaed witnesses, other than Kemp, the opportunity to provide a recorded testimony. Both Giuliani and Graham have been fighting to avoid appearing and testifying before the grand jury. A Georgia judge on Wednesday ordered Guiliani to testify on Aug. 9, after he failed to appear for a hearing on the matter.
Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade wrote a June 22 letter to Kemp’s attorneys detailing what the grand jury was requesting and stating that the district attorney’s office shared a “spirit of cooperation with the governor and his schedule.”
The Fulton County grand jury has already taken testimony from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the chief election official who received and recorded the now infamous call from Trump. At the time, Trump had just been officially declared the loser in the race, which took several days to decide as Georgia was one of the last and pivotal states to declare Biden the winner.
The district attorney’s office has said that Trump contacted both Raffensperger and Kemp in the days after the election, urging them to find him enough votes to change the results in his favor. According to the letter to Kemp’s lawyers from Wade -- the special prosecutor appointed by Willis -- the Fulton County investigation is examining “the conduct of former President Donald Trump, and those working on his behalf.”
With the general election coming up, in a state precipitously see-sawing between red and blue politics, the stakes are high. The target letters that Willis sent out went to Georgia political leaders who were part of an alleged scheme to send 16 fake electorates to Washington, to cast votes for Trump instead of Biden, as the law required.
One of the recipients of the letter, GOP state senator Burt Jones, on Monday was granted a request to have Willis and her team disqualified from questioning him in the case. The Superior Court in Fulton County granted the request from Jones, who argued that Willis’s primary support of the man who is now his Democrat opponent in the race for Lieutenant Governor rendered her biased and unqualified to lead the grand jury investigation. The court denied a similar request from 11 other fake electors who received the target letter.
In Washington, federal prosecutors are focusing, at least in part, on the fake elector slates from Georgia and other states. The chairman of the House committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, says the only issue committee investigators “have engaged them on, is the list of fraudulent electors.”
And Georgia Republican Party David Shafer is among those who the DOJ investigators are known to have subpoenaed for information related to the fake elector scheme coordinated with members of the Trump campaign.
(Updates with a court on Monday disqualifying Willis and her team from questioning one of the targets of her probe.)
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