The Atlanta-area prosecutor investigating efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election indicated Tuesday that she has conducted fresh interviews with some of the Republican activists who falsely claimed to be Georgia’s legitimate presidential electors.
In a court filing Tuesday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis noted that her office conducted those interviews on April 12 and April 14, suggesting an active and ongoing investigation. Willis disclosed in the filing that more than one of the false electors had described potential violations of Georgia state law by another one.
Willis is urging the judge overseeing the matter to disqualify the lawyer who represents 10 of the false electors, an arrangement she had previously challenged — with limited success — because of the potential for conflict among the different false electors. Now that some have provided testimony implicating others in potential crimes, Willis’ office argued, it is no longer tenable for them to share the same attorney, Kimberly Debrow.
“It is unfathomable how Ms. Debrow can offer competent and adequate counsel to her client who has been accused of further crimes,” Willis argues in the filing.
It’s the first whisper from Willis about the probe since January, when she described charging decisions in the investigation as “imminent.” Her comments at the time followed the conclusion of a special grand jury’s investigation into Trump and his bid to reverse the election results. While the special grand jury recommended criminal charges against an untold number of people whose identities remain secret, the panel had no power to issue the charges itself. Instead, Willis must present evidence to a traditional grand jury in order to issue formal charges, which may or may not align with the special grand jury’s recommendations.
Willis’ special grand jury probe stretched for nearly a year as she hauled in a slew of figures in Trump’s inner circle, suggesting that her probe went beyond the immediate allegations of potential Georgia election law violations that Trump may have committed. She fought some of those witnesses — from Sen. Lindsey Graham to former chief of staff Mark Meadows to former national security adviser Mike Flynn to Rudy Giuliani — in state and federal courts to secure their testimony. Willis is particularly interested in Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021 phone call in which he urged Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” just enough votes to reverse the outcome of the election.
Willis’ concerns about the legal representation of the false electors is not new. She raised an alarm in November that some of them might have different degrees of legal exposure and could be called on to testify against each other or otherwise have interests that would require separate representation. At the time, the judge overseeing the matter, Robert McBurney, permitted 10 of the electors to remain represented by a single attorney. But he agreed to require another, Georgia Republican Party Chair David Shafer, to get separate representation because his degree of criminal exposure appeared to be greater than the others.
The false electors were a key aspect of Trump’s bid to remain in power, despite losing the 2020 election. By convening a set of pro-Trump electors in several states Trump lost, his allies pointed to the “competing“ slates of electors to argue that Congress or then-Vice President Mike Pence should pick between them on January 6, 2021, when lawmakers met to count electoral votes and finalize the results of the election. The challenges lodged by Trump’s congressional allies failed, and Pence ultimately rejected Trump’s repeated insistence that he had the single-handed authority to halt the certification himself, ending Trump’s last-ditch bid to stay in power.
Many of the false Republican electors were party activists or chairs in those states, and they helped convene the Republican electors in December, when Biden’s certified electors also met to formalize his victory in those states. The false electors in at least five of the Biden-won states — including Georgia — signed certificates claiming that they were the legitimate presidential electors from those states. While many of the false electors have claimed they weren’t told that they were going to become components in Trump’s Jan. 6 plans — only that their actions were necessary to preserve legal challenges — others were more intimately involved with figures in Trump’s inner circle.
Many of them have already been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors probing Trump’s election gambit as well, and dozens of them were subpoenaed by and testified to the Jan. 6 select committee.
Trump has already been indicted in New York for alleged crimes related to hush money payments and covering up an affair just before the 2016 election. But the Fulton County and federal probe may present more acute legal threats in the long run as prosecutors edge closer to final charging decisions.
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