A federal judge on Monday rejected Sen. Lindsey Graham’s attempt to evade testifying before a special grand jury as part of a criminal investigation into Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis requested the special grand jury back in January to assist in her investigation. The panel issued the subpoena to Graham, a South Carolina Republican, last month — and he's been trying to get out of it ever since.
He's argued his post-election telephone calls to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, reportedly about striking so-called “fraudulent” (read: pro-Biden) votes from the official count, was part of his job as a senator. For that reason, his lawyers argued, he should be able to skirt the subpoena.
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May in Atlanta strongly disagreed.
“[T]he Court finds that there are considerable areas of potential grand jury inquiry falling outside the Speech or Debate Clause’s protections,” May said, citing the constitutional protections for lawmakers conducting their official duties.
May also said sovereign immunity, a doctrine that protects the government from civil and criminal lawsuits, doesn’t shield Graham from having to testify.
“[T]hough Senator Graham argues that he is exempt from testifying as a high-ranking government official,” May said, “the Court finds that the District Attorney has shown extraordinary circumstances and a special need for Senator Graham’s testimony on issues relating to alleged attempts to influence or disrupt the lawful administration of Georgia’s 2022 elections.”
May said Graham can try to argue particular lines of questioning are protected under the speech and debate clause, but he can’t quash the case completely on those grounds. That makes two judges now who have torpedoed Graham’s effort to avoid offering testimony. He's scheduled to testify on Aug. 23.
Graham is learning the pitfalls of being a Trump loyalist. Attaching yourself to Trump’s hip may earn you currency among conservatives — but doing so may very well lead you to engage in nefarious activity. And outside the conservative movement, that is still considered a bad thing. Graham's been in on the “MAGA” grift for several years now, but his testimony in the Fulton County case will be the closest he’s come to facing accountability for it.
Willis’ Trump probe arguably poses the greatest threat to the former president, in both a criminal and civil sense. That’s because there are mountains of evidence we already know about, pointing to a potential criminal scheme to intimidate election officials and election results. The evidence includes audio of Trump pressuring Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to declare him the true winner in Georgia. And the House Jan. 6 committee has unearthed potentially damning information, too.
Graham’s testimony will most likely add to a heap of details potentially implicating Trump World figures, if not himself. And that’s what he fears most.
Several people have told congressional investigators about Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pressuring and antagonizing Georgia officials to overturn the 2020 election. Trump, however, was told by several of his administration officials, including then-Attorney General Bill Barr, that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Prosecutors told Giuliani's legal team on Monday that he is a "target" of Willis' investigation, NBC News reported. Like Graham, Giuliani has tried — and failed — to wiggle his way out of a subpoena to testify in the case. He was ordered last week to testify in person on Wednesday.