COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham will testify before a special grand jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the 2020 election in Georgia, a federal appeals court said Thursday.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals clears the way for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to bring Graham in for questioning. She will ask the South Carolina Republican about phone calls he made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the weeks after the election.
Raffensperger said Graham asked if he had the power to reject certain absentee ballots, something Raffensperger took as a suggestion to throw out legally cast votes. Graham has dismissed this interpretation as “ridiculous”.
Graham could appeal the ruling to the General Court of Appeal. An attorney for Graham deferred comment Thursday to a spokesman for the senator’s office, who did not immediately comment on the ruling.
Graham had challenged his subpoena, saying his position as a U.S. senator protected him from having to testify in the state investigation. He has also pleaded not guilty. In a six-page order, the justices wrote that Graham “has failed to demonstrate that this approach will violate his rights under the Speech and Debate Clause.”
Willis opened the investigation early last year, shortly after a recording of a January 2021 phone call between Trump and Raffensperger was made public. In that call, Trump suggested Raffensperger could “find” the votes needed to overturn his narrow loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Willis requested a special grand jury, saying the panel’s subpoena power would allow questioning of people who would otherwise not cooperate with the investigation. She has since filed several rounds of paperwork in court to try to compel testimony from close Trump advisers and associates.
Some of those staffers include former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who has testified before the special jury, according to a person familiar with Cipollone’s testimony, who spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity to discuss a private appearance . Cipollone’s appearance was first reported by CNN.
Cipollone strongly opposed efforts to overturn the election and has said he did not believe there was enough fraud to have affected the outcome of the race, which was won by Biden.
Graham was in the first group of people close to Trump whose testimony Willis tried to compel in a series of petitions filed with the court in early July. He challenged his subpoena in federal court, but U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May refused to throw out his subpoena. Graham then appealed to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Graham’s lawyers argued that the U.S. Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which protects members of Congress from having to answer questions about legislative activities, protects him from having to testify. He claims the call he made to Raffensperger fare was protected because he asked questions to inform his decisions to vote to confirm the 2020 election and future legislation.
Lawyers for Willis’ team argued that comments Graham made in news interviews at the time, as well as statements made by Raffensperger, show the senator was motivated by politics rather than legislative facts.
They also argued that the scope of the special jury’s investigation includes a number of other topics that have nothing to do with the Raffensperger call. They also want to ask Graham about his briefings from the Trump campaign, including whether he was briefed on the Trump-Raffensperger call and whether he communicated or coordinated with Trump and his campaign about efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia and elsewhere.
Graham’s lawyers also argued that the principle of “sovereign immunity” protects a U.S. senator from being subpoenaed by a state prosecutor.
Even if the speech or debate clause or sovereign immunity did not apply, Graham’s lawyers argued, his status as a “senior official” protects him from having to testify. That’s because Willis has failed to show that his testimony is conclusive and that the information he would provide cannot be obtained from someone else, they argued.
In their ruling Thursday, the appeals judges ruled that Willis “may ask about non-investigative conduct that falls within the scope of the subpoena” but “may not ask about any investigative conduct,” noting that Graham could note any questions regarding specific areas on that time. of his interrogation.
Others have already appeared before the special grand jury. Former New York mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has been told he may face criminal charges in connection with the investigation, testified in August. Lawyers John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro have also appeared before the panel.
Papers have been filed seeking testimony from othersincluding former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Speaker of the US House Newt Gingrich.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.