Georgia probe into 2020 election meddling could lead to jail time, prosecutors say

ATLANTA — Prosecutors investigating efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to challenge the 2020 election result in Georgia said this week that her team has heard credible allegations of serious crimes, some of whom she believes could be sentenced jail.

“These charges are very serious. People face jail time if charged and convicted, Fulton County District Attorney Fanny Willis told The Washington Post.

No decision will be made for months on whether there will be prosecutions — most notably, whether Trump himself will face charges. At least 17 people have been told they were the target of a criminal investigation, meaning they could eventually face charges. More targets will be added to the roster soon, Willis said in an interview Tuesday in his Atlanta office.

Willis would not discuss any targets by name, nor did she say whether she would be willing to charge the former president. Willis said Tuesday that a special grand jury convened this spring could be called as a witness by Trump as part of the investigation.

“A decision has to be made,” she said of whether to seek Trump’s testimony. “I think it will be made later this fall.”

Georgia’s criminal investigation into Trump and his allies explained

so far, A group of known targets, including former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and 16 potential Trump voters in the state, created unofficial documents declaring Trump the winner of Georgia’s electoral vote despite his lost the state. Lawyers for Giuliani and the voters deny any wrongdoing. Lawyers for the electors said their clients were following the law and made clear that their meeting was a contingency measure as they await a court ruling on a challenge to the Georgia ballot.

In an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Thursday, Trump said he had “not at all” received any targeting letters in the ongoing criminal investigation. He denied involvement in Republicans’ multi-state plan to send Trump voters’ names to Washington, but said such alternative voter rolls were “very common.”

The Fulton County investigation is far from the only inquiry into Trump’s conduct around the 2020 election. A House select committee investigates January. 6 Extensive research on electoral programs and other matters. The Justice Department is investigating Trump’s election-related conduct as part of a federal grand jury investigation.

In addition to investigating the conduct of Trump voters, Willis is investigating Trump and his allies for calling Georgia officials, making false statements to lawmakers, harassing election officials and tampering with the election system in a southern Georgia county. potential criminal activity. .

Willis said she expects to wrap up the fact-finding phase of the investigation by the end of the year, even as she continues to expand her scope. She said the investigation would cease public activities, such as calling witnesses, a month before the election. When the special grand jury finishes hearing witnesses, it is expected to provide Willis with a report that may include recommendations for prosecution. She will then decide who, if any, to charge.

Willis’ public and candid assessment is unusual for prosecutors because such high-profile investigations are often shrouded in secrecy. Her approach to the investigation has drawn criticism from some in the legal community, but she says this kind of transparency is a requirement of her job.

Her latest comments come as Republicans in Georgia — including the state’s governor — complained that her investigation was politically motivated, a claim Democrat Willis denies.

She noted that there will be no grand jury activity during the state’s primary this spring, and she plans to have a similar quiet period starting Oct. 10. 7 days before the mid-term exam in November.

“I don’t want people to claim that this is some political stunt we’re doing to influence the election,” she said.

The special grand jury has interviewed about 65 percent of the dozens of witnesses prosecutors have called to testify, Willis said.

“I’m happy with where it’s at. I think we’re moving at a very good pace,” Willis said, adding that she wasn’t worried about some of the witnesses, including the senator. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) declined to appear before a grand jury.

“We’ll finish calling witnesses by the end of this year. Period,” she said.

The investigation has seen a number of high-profile witnesses emerge, including Giuliani, who was told last month that he was the target.

Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, declined to comment on Willis’ latest remarks.

In addition to Giuliani, Willis notified 16 potential Trump voters from Georgia who were also the target of the investigation. In the past, lawyers for some voters have said their clients would cooperate with the investigation if Willis did not target them. The lawyers declined to comment on Willis’ latest remarks.

Willis said in the interview that she briefly hoped she wouldn’t have to open the 2020 election poll at all. She was only a few days into the job in early January 2021 when the Washington Post and others reported Describes Trump’s call Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffinsperger (right) urged him to “find” extra votes to overcome Joe Biden’s lead in Georgia.

‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: In special hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recount votes in his favor

Willis said she quickly realized she would have to investigate alleged election meddling. “I know if this happened in Fulton County, it’s serious enough to warrant an investigation,” she said.

Since then, Willis’ investigation has expanded and represents — as the federal investigation intensifies — a serious threat of possible criminal charges against Trump and his allies.

Trump took to social media to criticize Willis as a “young, ambitious, radical left-wing Democrat … who presides over one of the most crime-ridden and corrupt places in America.”

Willis said she was not intimidated by such criticism and regular threats against her.

Status of key investigation involving Donald Trump

Court documents and interviews show her team continued to work on several key topics. First, they’re going after a violation of a Georgia law that prohibits making false statements to government officials. The regulations could apply to Giuliani and other Trump campaign advisers who cited evidence — later debunked — of widespread election fraud in conversations with the Georgia Legislative Council.

Second, Willis is reviewing calls Trump and others made to Georgia officials after the election. In court filings, Willis cited a Georgia statute that prohibits solicitation of election fraud.

Third, prosecutors have struggled to send the names of potential Trump voters from Georgia to Washington. Prosecutors are interested in whether sending Trump’s official electors from battleground states is part of an organized effort to give Vice President Mike Pence a reason to call the election in doubt when he presided over the Jan. 1 election. Congressional electoral votes are counted. June 6, 2021.

Pence’s Jan. 6 tightrope walk: Own your role while courting Trump voters

Two weeks ago, Willis filed a petition seeking testimony from Boris Epshteyn, a lawyer who worked closely with Giuliani in the post-election period. Epshteyn “has unique knowledge” of “the Trump campaign’s submission of false vote certifications to former Vice President Michael Pence and others,” the petition said.

Last week, Epshteyn and Giuliani were among those named in federal subpoenas seeking information on plans to submit lists of potential Trump voters from Georgia and other states.

Willis has added new items to her investigative agenda in recent weeks, including seeking details about threats to election workers.

In December 2020, Trump allies pressured and threatened Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman, according to her court documents. Willis declined to comment on recent documents about pressure on Freeman, saying only: “I hate bullies. Obviously, I think we’re going to find it offensive to bully election officials to influence elections.”

Finally, Willis expanded her investigation into whether the election system in Coffee County, Georgia, had been improperly violated. The interest was first revealed in documents seeking testimony from attorney Sidney Powell, who worked for the Trump campaign after the 2020 election.

The Washington Post was the first to report on efforts by Powell and other Trump allies to replicate data from Coffee County’s restricted election system. The effort comes as Trump allies openly focus on voting machines, proving they are part of a conspiracy to rig the election for Biden.

Willis’ petition calling for Powell to appear in court noted that in addition to Coffee County, there is evidence Powell “participated in similar efforts in Michigan and Nevada,” along with the alleged sabotage of the Coffee County electoral system. Powell did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan conspiracy to sabotage voting machines points to a national model

Willis suggested that such complex activity — from organizing Trump electors to making false statements to pressure local election officials — could be prosecuted under Georgia’s conspiracy and anti-extortion laws.

State anti-extortion laws, known as the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act or RICO, were enacted decades ago as a legal tool to combat organized crime. Willis and others used Georgia’s RICO statute to prosecute a series of high-profile cases. In 2014, Willis was one of the lead prosecutors to secure the convictions and guilty pleas of 30 Atlanta public school teachers and administrators in connection with the student test-cheating scandal.

“The RICO statute allows you to tell jurors the full story of a complex conspiracy,” Willis said Tuesday, noting that Georgia law allows investigations of seemingly disparate acts, even those that occurred outside the prosecutor’s county. “This is a great statute for prosecutors,” she said.

Alice Crites, Jon Swain, and Emma Brown contributed to this report.

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