ATLANTA (AP) – Sen. Lindsey Graham Can’t Delay His Appearance Before a Special Grand Jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence Georgia’s 2020 election, a federal judge said Friday.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin ordered May Graham to honor his subpoena before the special grand jury. Graham’s attorneys appealed that order to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking May to stay her ruling and bar the special grand jury from questioning him while that appeal is pending. May rejected that request in her order on Friday.
“Under the circumstances, any further delay in Senator Graham’s testimony would greatly increase the overall delay in conducting the grand jury investigation,” May wrote.. “Further delay thus poses a significant risk of overall impediment to the grand jury’s investigation, and the court therefore finds that granting a stay would almost certainly result in material damage to the grand jury and its investigation.”
Graham is currently scheduled to testify on Tuesday. But he has another motion to stay May’s ruling pending the 11th Circuit.
Graham’s representatives did not immediately respond to messages asking for comment on Friday.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened the investigation early last year and filed petitions in July to demand a testimony from seven Trump advisers and associates, including Graham.
Former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has been told he is the target of the investigation, testified before the special grand jury nearly six o’clock on Wednesday. Two other lawyers who advised Trump, John Eastman and Jenna Ellis, were ordered this week to appear before the panel later this month. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp filed a motion on Wednesday to quash a subpoena for his testimony.
The investigation, originally in response to a phone call dated January 2, 2021 between Trump and Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is one of many pending legal threats facing Trump. Willis has said she is considering trying to force the former president himself to testify before the special grand jury.
Attorneys for Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, have argued: that a provision of the U.S. Constitution provides absolute protection against a senator being questioned about legislative acts. But the judge found there are “significant areas of potential grand jury investigation” that are outside the scope of that provision. The judge also rejected Graham’s argument that the principle of “sovereign immunity” protects a U.S. senator from being subpoenaed by a prosecutor.
Graham also argued that Willis, a Democrat, had not demonstrated any extraordinary circumstances necessary to force a testimony from a senior official. But the judge disagreed, finding that Willis had shown “extraordinary circumstances and a special need” for Graham’s testimony on matters related to an alleged attempt to influence or disrupt Georgia’s election.
Willis and her team have said they would like to ask Graham about two phone calls he made with Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his staff shortly after the 2020 general election. During those calls, Graham asked about “re-examining certain absentee ballots released in Georgia to explore the possibility of a more favorable outcome for former President Donald Trump,” Willis wrote in a petition.
Graham “also referred to allegations of widespread voter fraud in Georgia’s November 2020 election, consistent with public statements by known members of the Trump campaign,” she wrote.
Republican and Democrat election officials across the country, courts and even the Trump Attorney General found there was not enough evidence of voter fraud to influence the outcome of the election.
By asking May to uphold her decision, Graham’s lawyers argued that his right to immunity would be violated at the time of questioning.
Willis’s team replied that delaying Graham’s testimony would harm the investigation. In addition to facts he knows, he is also expected to shed light on other sources of information that the special grand jury may want to investigate, they wrote. So waiting to talk to him “may end up slowing the whole investigation”.
In the separate motion for a stay filed with the 11th Circuit, Graham’s attorneys state that on Wednesday Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney Donald Wakeford agreed to postpone scheduled testimony pending the outcome of the appeal. They include a voicemail that Wakeford left for Graham attorney Brian Lea.
Lea says in a statement filed with the motion that Wakeford later that same afternoon confirmed that Graham’s grand jury appearance would not continue until the appeal was resolved. But then Wakeford sent an email 20 minutes later “declaring that he ‘did not want to characterize the content of our answer before it was written,'” Lea wrote.
Lea said he reached out to Wakeford by phone and email a few more times, but got no response until Wakeford sent an email at 4:40 a.m. Friday saying the district attorney’s office planned to oppose it. stay and plead for Graham to appear for the special Grand Prix. jury as planned.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, reported.
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