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Giuliani appears before Georgia grand jury in election probe

The former New York City mayor’s appearance came as the state’s governor, Republican Brian Kemp, fought a subpoena seeking his testimony.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani entered a courthouse in Atlanta on Aug. 17 to testify in an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. (Video: WSB)
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ATLANTA — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis achieved a long-sought goal Wednesday, with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani appearing for six hours before a grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Giuliani, who is now the highest-profile member of former president Donald Trump’s inner circle to appear before grand jurors, was informed this week that he is a target of the inquiry.

It is not clear what Giuliani said in his closed-door appearance. It came as Willis, a Democrat, also saw new challenges to her inquiry.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) filed a 121-page motion late Wednesday alleging that the sweeping probe was being pursued “for improper political purposes,” and asking the court to kill a subpoena requiring his testimony later this month.

Giuliani’s attorneys declined to offer substantive details of his appearance, citing grand jury secrecy rules, but one of them said it had gone smoothly.

“We had no disputes,” Robert Costello said in a late afternoon text message. “We were told Mayor Giuliani has completed his grand jury obligations,” he said, adding: “At the end the DA came out of her office to meet Giuliani. She was very friendly.”

Giuliani was one of the most committed and outspoken advocates for Trump’s false assertions about the 2020 election, claiming before Georgia lawmakers multiple times that he possessed evidence of widespread voter fraud. State election officials quickly debunked those claims.

Giuliani was subpoenaed July 5 alongside others involved in the Trump campaign who were active in spreading false claims, including lawyers John Eastman, Cleta Mitchell and Jenna Ellis. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who called Georgia officials about the results, has also been subpoenaed, and a federal judge Monday dismissed his efforts to avoid making an appearance.

Willis initially requested that Giuliani appear as “a material witness.” On Monday, Giuliani’s lawyers were informed that his status had changed and that he was now considered a “target” of the ongoing inquiry, meaning he could be indicted if the investigation moves forward.

Giuliani’s lawyers sought to delay his testimony for health reasons, citing recent heart stent surgery. But Willis’s office was insistent.

When Giuliani arrived at the courthouse, a local reporter asked the former mayor how he had traveled to Atlanta. “I’ll give you one answer,” he said. “I didn’t walk.”

Giuliani's legal jeopardy in Georgia

Costello said in an interview Tuesday evening that Giuliani had planned to cite attorney-client privilege if asked about his interactions with the former president regarding the 2020 election. Giuliani may have followed the example of other targets who have been subpoenaed in this case and declined to answer questions based on the constitutional protection against self-incrimination.

Giuliani has faced related questions from several other inquiries. He had his law license suspended in New York over debunked election fraud claims he made in Georgia and other states. He is among those being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems.

He was subpoenaed to testify for several hours before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. That panel and an ongoing Justice Department inquiry have been scrutinizing the plan to send rival slates of presidential electors to Washington in advance of the congressional certification of the vote.

In the subpoena, Willis’s team cited Giuliani’s comments before a Georgia Senate hearing in which he provided testimony and evidence “purporting to demonstrate the existence of election fraud in multiple Georgia counties during the administration of the November 2020 election.”

Fulton County prosecutors have already questioned several state legislators about Giuliani’s statements before legislative panels in December 2020. During those meetings, Giuliani claimed illegal ballots had been surreptitiously stashed in suitcases under a tabulation table and that there was rampant underage voting in addition to security problems with voting machines and evidence of dead people voting.

Those claims were investigated by state officials and largely debunked.

Willis’s efforts to compel testimony from reluctant Trump advisers continued Wednesday when a New Mexico judge ordered Eastman to appear before the grand jury Aug. 30. Willis had similar success the day before in Colorado, when a judge ordered Ellis to appear.

Fulton County, Ga., prosecutors opened an investigation into former president Donald Trump and his allies' attempt to overturn the 2020 election results. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

But Willis also faced a new round of challenges from prominent Georgia Republicans.

In a court filing Wednesday evening, Kemp’s lawyers contended the district attorney’s office “has engineered the Governor’s interaction with the investigation to reach a crescendo in the middle of an election cycle” and argued that Willis’s team had failed to communicate in a straightforward way with the governor.

Kemp was originally slated to testify before the special grand jury in late July, though an interview never took place. Kemp’s team said it was taken aback to receive a subpoena to testify so close to the election after months of cooperation.

“The timing of the Subpoena in connection with the unjustified investigative delay reveals, at best, disregard of an unnecessary risk to the political process, and at worst, an attempt to influence the November 2022 election cycle,” the motion stated.

Kemp is a critical witness for the prosecution. In the weeks after the election, he resisted pressure from Trump and his allies to interfere with the election process.

In their latest court filing, lawyers for the governor argued that “Georgia courts have no legal authority” to compel testimony regarding a governor’s “official duties,” citing sovereign immunity under Georgia law.

The court filing is especially focused on communications within Kemp’s team surrounding the 2020 election, a notable line of inquiry for Willis’s office as she seeks to unravel the efforts to overturn the results.

“Unsurprisingly, the Governor’s decision-making before, during, and after the November 2020 election relied heavily on communications with his advisors and on notes and drafts that he prepared,” the filings reads, contending all such communications are off limits to the grand jury.

“While the Governor respects the authority of the (district attorney’s) Office to conduct its investigation, it must do so within the bounds of the law, including the centuries-old doctrine of sovereign immunity upon which the common law of the State was built,” Kemp’s lawyers argued in the court filing.

Kemp’s filing comes a day after lawyers for 11 of Georgia’s would-be Trump electors filed a motion Tuesday asking that Willis and her team be disqualified from investigating them — and perhaps from the entire investigation — for conducting what they say is a politically motivated prosecution.

The court filing cites the judge’s recent decision to disqualify Willis from investigating one would-be Trump elector — Republican state Sen. Burt Jones — after Willis hosted a fundraiser for Jones’s opponent in the upcoming lieutenant governor’s race. The judge called Willis’s participation in the fundraiser a “'what are you thinking?' moment.”

Lawyers for the 11 electors argued in their motion that the others are “inextricably intertwined” with Jones’s campaign and thus face the same “entirely reasonable concerns of politically motivated prosecution” that the judge found in disqualifying Willis from investigating Jones.

The motion asks that the court find another prosecutor who could “conduct this investigation adequately, fairly, and free from the existing personal and political conflicts with this DA and her office.”

Ronald Carlson, professor of law emeritus at the University of Georgia School of Law, called the request by the electors to disqualify Willis and her team is “a long shot,” but added “anything is possible” in the case.

Willis’s office did not respond to a request for comment.