ATLANTA – Georgia’s top elections official appeared Thursday before a special grand jury investigating whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to meddle in the 2020 election in the state.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was summoned to the Fulton County courthouse where the special grand jury has been meeting, according to a subpoena obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. Other subpoenas seek documents and testimony from five other people in his office.
Raffensperger arrived at the courthouse in downtown Atlanta on Thursday morning. When a reporter asked how the day would go, Raffensperger replied “hopefully short" as he walked up the steps. That wasn't the case, though. Raffensperger left after more than five hours by another exit, avoiding reporters. It's unclear if Raffensperger's testimony concluded Thursday or if he will be called back.
Trump directed his ire at his fellow Republican after Raffensperger refused to bend to pressure to overturn the votes that gave Democrat Joe Biden a narrow presidential election victory in Georgia. Raffensperger defeated a Trump-endorsed challenger in last month's Republican primary.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her investigation includes looking into a January 2021 phone call in which Trump pushed Raffensperger to “find” the votes needed for him to win Georgia. Trump has said his call with Raffensperger was “perfect” and that he did nothing wrong.
Tricia Raffensperger, the secretary’s wife, also testified Thursday, leaving the courthouse after less than an hour. She was present with Raffensperger when he received the Trump phone call. Tricia Raffensperger received death threats during the period after the 2020 election.
Raffensperger wrote in his 2021 book “Integrity Counts” that he perceived Trump as threatening him multiple times during the phone call, a question that could ultimately be critical to whether some criminal charges could be brought. Raffensperger reiterated in an interview aired Wednesday by WAGA-TV that he felt pressured.
“I heard what the president said. And I understand that he has tremendous positional power,” Raffensperger told the television station. “But I also know that we followed the law and we followed the Constitution.”
A Trump spokesman dismissed the Fulton investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt” when it became public last February. A number of others have been subpoenaed, including five other people associated with Raffensperger's office. State Attorney General Chris Carr has received a subpoena to appear June 21.
The special grand jury will not issue indictments, but is meant to further the investigation and make recommendations to the district attorney, who then decides whether to seek an indictment from a regular grand jury. Willis said the special grand jury would be able to issue subpoenas to people who have refused to cooperate otherwise. The jury, including 23 grand jurors and three alternates, can serve for up to a year.
Willis has also said investigators are looking at a November 2020 phone call between Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.
It’s not clear exactly what charges Willis could choose to pursue against Trump or anyone else. In a letter she sent to top-ranking state officials last year, she said she was looking into “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”
While the district attorney’s office will be steering the investigation, grand jurors can question witnesses who appear before them. If they believe there are other witnesses they would like to hear from or documents they would like to see, they have the power to issue subpoenas.