Giuliani is the target of an election probe, his lawyers have been told

ATLANTA – Prosecutors in Atlanta told Rudy Giuliani’s lawyers Monday that he is their target criminal investigation about possible illegal attempts by then-President Donald Trump and others to interfere in the 2020 general election in Georgia.

Special counsel Nathan Wade warned Giuliani’s local attorney in Atlanta that the former New York mayor could face criminal charges, said another Giuliani lawyer, Robert Costello. News of the disclosure was first reported by The New York Times.

The revelation that Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, is the target of Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis’ investigation brings the probe closer to the former president. Willis said he is considering subpoenaing Trump himself to testify before the special grand jury, and the former president has hired a criminal attorney in Atlanta.

Law enforcement scrutiny of Trump’s actions has escalated. Last week, The FBI searched his home in Florida as part of an investigation into whether he took classified White House records to Mar-a-Lago. He also faces a civil investigation in New York over allegations that his company, the Trump Organization, misled banks and tax authorities about the value of his assets. And the Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters and efforts to overturn an election he falsely claimed was stolen.

Read more: Analysts warn the violent rhetoric following the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago manhunt is a preview of what’s to come

Giuliani, who spread false allegations of voter fraud in Atlanta’s Fulton County while leading efforts to overturn the state’s election results, is scheduled to testify Wednesday before a special grand jury that was formed at Willis’ request.

Also Monday, a federal judge said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham must testify before a special grand jury. Prosecutors said they want to question Graham about phone calls they say he made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his staff in the weeks after the election.

Willis’ investigation was prompted by a phone call between Trump and Raffensperger. During that conversation in January 2021, Trump suggested that Raffensperger “find” the votes needed to recover his narrow loss in the state.

Last month, Willis filed petitions seeking to compel testimony from seven Trump aides and advisers.

in seeking Giuliani’s testimony, Willis identified him as Trump’s personal attorney and lead attorney for his campaign. She wrote that he and others appeared at a state Senate committee hearing and presented video that Giuliani said showed election officials producing “suitcases” of illegal ballots from unknown sources, out of sight of election observers.

Within 24 hours of that hearing on December 3, 2020, Raffensperger’s office debunked the video. But Giuliani continued to make public statements and in subsequent legislative hearings alleging widespread voter fraud using the debunked video, Willis wrote.

The evidence showed that Giuliani’s hearing and testimony were “part of a multi-state coordinated plan by the Trump campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 elections in Georgia and elsewhere,” her petition said.

Two of the poll workers seen in the video, Ruby Freeman and Wondrea “Shay” Moss, said they faced relentless harassment online and in person after it was shown at a Dec. 3 hearing in the Georgia Legislature, where it appeared Giuliani. At another hearing a week later, Giuliani said the footage showed the women “surreptitiously walking around the USB ports as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine.” They were actually passing each other candy.

Willis also wrote in a petition looking for the testimony to attorney Kenneth Chesebro that he worked with Giuliani to coordinate and execute a plan to have Georgia Republicans serve as bogus voters. These 16 people signed an affidavit falsely declaring that Trump had won the 2020 presidential election and claiming to be “duly elected and qualified” electors of the state, even though Joe Biden had won the state and a Democratic electoral roll was certified.

Read more: Trump allies predict FBI search for Mar-a-Lago will help Republicans in midterm elections

All 16 of those fraudulent voters received letters saying they were targets of the investigation, Willis said in a court filing last month.

Attorneys for Graham, RS.C., argued that his position as a U.S. senator gave him immunity from having to appear before the investigative panel. But U.S. District Judge Lee Martin May writes in an order Monday that the immunities associated with his role as a senator do not protect him from having to testify. Graham’s subpoena instructs him to appear before a special grand jury on Aug. 23, but his office said Monday it plans to appeal.

Graham argued that a provision of the constitution provides absolute protection against questioning of a senator on legislative acts. But the judge found that there were “significant areas of potential grand jury investigation” that fell outside the scope of that provision. The judge also rejected Graham’s argument that the principle of “sovereign immunity” protects a senator from being subpoenaed by a state attorney.

Graham also argued that Willis, a Democrat, has not demonstrated the extraordinary circumstances necessary to compel testimony from a high-ranking official. But the judge disagreed, finding that Willis had shown “extraordinary circumstances and special necessity” for Graham’s testimony on matters related to an alleged attempt to influence or disrupt the Georgia election.

Judge May last month rejected a similar attempt by U.S. Rep. Jody Hayes, R-Ga., to avoid testifying before a special grand jury.

Graham’s office said in a statement Monday that the senator disagreed with the judge’s interpretation of the provision of the Constitution that he said protects him from questioning by a government official. His lawyers said he made inquiries that were part of his legislative duties relating to vote certification and proposing election-related legislation.

But the judge wrote that this ignores “the fact that individuals in the calls publicly suggested that Senator Graham was not simply engaging in legislative fact-finding, but instead suggested or implied that Georgia election officials were changing their processes or otherwise way potentially changing the state’s results.”

In calls made shortly after the 2020 general election, Graham “questioned Raffensperger and his team about reviewing some absentee ballots cast 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 the November 2020 election in Georgia, consistent with public statements made by known Trump campaign affiliates,” she wrote.

Republican and Democratic representatives in state elections across the country, courts and even Trump’s attorney general have found there was insufficient evidence of voter fraud to affect the outcome of his 2020 presidential loss.

Trump-allied lawmakers planned to challenge the results of several battleground states when Congress convened on Jan. 6, 2021, to certify the results under the Election Counting Act, but after the attack on the capitol that day Georgia’s score was never disputed.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and described his call to Raffensperger as “perfect.”

Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writers Meg Kinard in Columbia, South Carolina and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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