By MEG KINNARD Associated Press
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is due to testify before a special grand jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and others tried to illegally influence the 2020 election in Georgia, a federal court in Georgia said Thursday. appeals.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit paves the way for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to bring Graham in for questioning. She wants to ask the South Carolina Republican about phone calls she 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, which Raffensperger took as a suggestion to throw out legally cast votes. Graham has dismissed that interpretation as “ridiculous”.
Graham could appeal the ruling to the full appeals court. An attorney for Graham delegated the comments Thursday to a spokesman for the senator’s office, who did not immediately comment on the ruling.
Graham had contested his subpoena, saying his position as a US senator protected him from having to testify in the state investigation. He has also denied any wrongdoing. In a six-page order, the justices wrote that Graham “has failed to show that this approach will violate his rights under the Speech and Debate Clause.”
Willis opened the investigation early last year, shortly after the recording of a January 2021 phone call between Trump and Raffensperger was made public. On that call, Trump suggested that 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 it to question people who would not otherwise cooperate with the investigation. Since then, she has filed several rounds of paperwork with the court to obtain testimony from close Trump advisers and associates.
Some of those associates include former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who testified before the special grand jury, according to a person familiar with Cipollone’s testimony who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday to discuss a private appearance. Cipollone’s appearance was first reported by CNN.
Cipollone strongly resisted efforts to undo the election, saying he did not believe there was enough fraud to have affected the outcome of the race won by Biden.
Graham was among the first group of people close to Trump whose testimony Willis tried to force in a batch of petitions filed with the court in early July. He challenged his subpoena in federal court, but US District Judge Leigh Martin May refused to dismiss his subpoena. Graham then appealed to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Graham’s lawyers argued that the US Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which protects members of Congress from having to answer questions about legislative activity, protects him from having to testify. He maintains that the call he made to the Raffensperger tariff was protected because he was asking questions to inform his decisions on the vote to certify the 2020 election and future legislation.
Lawyers for Willis’ team argued that comments Graham made in press interviews at the time, as well as Raffensperger’s statements, show the senator was motivated by politics rather than legislative research.
They also argued that the scope of the special grand jury investigation includes a variety of other topics that have nothing to do with the Raffensperger call. They also want to ask Graham about his Trump campaign briefings, 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 election results in Georgia and in other places.
Graham’s lawyers also argued that the principle of “sovereign immunity” protects a US 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 been unable to show that his testimony is material and that the information he would provide cannot be obtained from someone else, they argued.
In their ruling Thursday, appellate 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 point any problems about specific areas at that time. of his interrogation.
Others have already made their appearances before the special grand jury. Former New York Mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who was told he could face criminal charges in the investigation, testified in August. Attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro also appeared before the panel.
Documents have been filed seeking the testimony of others, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former US House Speaker 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.
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