One of the biggest legal threats to former President Donald Trump since he left office has been an ongoing criminal investigation in Georgia. That danger only increased Tuesday when a slew of subpoenas for Trump allies for testimony before a special grand jury were made public.
The courts late last month granted Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ request to subpoena eight witnesses to Trump’s attempts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Six of those eight subpoenas target lawyers who worked with the Trump campaign, the former president himself or both. Tellingly, all of them began their connections with the campaign only after Election Day and Trump’s apparent loss to Joe Biden. All but one, that is: Rudy Giuliani.
According to testimony given to the House Jan. 6 committee, it was an allegedly inebriated Giuliani who urged Trump to go out and declare that he’d won on election night, even as the results were still being tallied. It was Giuliani who ran point on the many failed court cases seeking to invalidate the election in multiple states. And it was Giuliani who coordinated a group of fake electors to cast votes for Trump in the hope of getting Congress, state legislatures or both to invalidate Biden’s win.
There’s already ample evidence from the Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings that Trump likely solicited election fraud in Georgia. Much of that effort was undertaken with the help of Giuliani and the legal team he wrangled into place. It’s fitting that the same band of misfits is now poised to help prosecutors in Georgia make the case that Trump’s bid to remain in power broke state law.
Georgia was one of the main targets of Trump’s wrath after the election and a prime subject for conspiracy theories about election fraud. Giuliani himself helped spread one such rumor in an appearance before the Georgia Senate on Dec. 3, 2020, alongside fellow campaign lawyers Jacki Deason and Jenna Ellis. As the court order documented, Giuliani showed the senators “a video recording of election workers at State Farm Arena in Atlanta that purported to show election workers producing ‘suitcases’ of unlawful ballots from unknown sources, outside the view of election poll watchers.”
As the subpoena for Deason notes, she “personally presented and narrated selected portions of the State Farm video to members of the Georgia State Senate.” That video was quickly debunked, but Deason, Giuliani and Ellis continued to spread that rumor, despite the harm it caused poll worker Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman. (Moss testified about her experience at the House Jan. 6 committee’s hearing on the Trump campaign’s state pressure campaign last month, which Freeman also attended.)
The court ruled in issuing subpoenas to the three Trump campaign staffers that there is “evidence that the Witness’s appearance and testimony at the hearing was part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman were also ordered to testify about their behind-the-scenes work on Trump’s post-election plotting. Mitchell could be heard in the room with Trump during his now-infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. She’s now being compelled to testify about her work in Georgia before that exchange, when Trump cajoled Raffensperger to simply “find 11,780 votes” needed for him to win the state.
Meanwhile, Eastman has become known as the main author of a plot to have Vice President Mike Pence simply declare Trump the winner on Jan. 6, 2021, or else throw the decision back to the state legislatures. One of his supporters in that scheme, Kenneth Chesebro, was also subpoenaed to testify. Chesebro’s name was mostly unknown to even those closely tracking Trump’s machinations until last month, when the Jan. 6 committee revealed an email exchange between him and Eastman speculating on the Supreme Court’s views of their theories.
This is the team that Rudy built, a collection of fringe legal analysts and committed partisan warriors.
According to the subpoena, Chesebro worked with the local Republican Party to gather 16 fake electors to cast their (unofficial) votes for Trump. Those votes under Eastman’s plan would then be sent to Pence and used as justification to either effectively steal Georgia’s electoral votes or justify enough confusion to punt the issue back to the Republican-led Legislature. The court found in approving Willis’ subpoena request that Chesebro “indicated in communications with the Georgia Republican Party that he had worked directly with Trump Campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani as part of the coordination and execution of the plan.”
This is the team that Rudy built, a collection of fringe legal analysts and committed partisan warriors. All of them fully backed the worst of Trump’s instincts, even as others on the campaign and in the White House tried to restrain them. Each of them has been ordered to appear before the grand jury in Georgia this month and remain until the end of August or when the prosecutors are done with them, whichever comes first.
Some of them may try to fight off the subpoenas, as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he would. Some may invoke the Fifth Amendment, as Eastman did 100 times when he appeared before the Jan. 6 committee. But I doubt that all of them, or even most of them, will avoid spilling what they know under oath before the assembled grand jury members. I’m looking forward to seeing which of them will have their words appear in any indictment handed up against Trump when the grand jury concludes its work.