Special prosecutor will examine actions of Georgia's lieutenant governor in Trump election meddling

FILE - Georgia Lt. Gov. candidate Burt Jones participates in a Republican primary debate, May 3, 2022, in Atlanta. A Georgia state agency said Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, that it will name a special prosecutor to consider whether Jones, the state's Republican lieutenant governor, should face criminal charges after former president Donald Trump and 18 of his allies were indicted Monday, Aug. 14, for working to overturn the states 2020 election results. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, Pool, File) (Brynn Anderson, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ATLANTA – A Georgia state agency said Tuesday that it will name a special prosecutor to consider whether the state's Republican lieutenant governor should face criminal charges after former president Donald Trump and 18 of his allies were indicted Monday for working to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones was one of 16 Republican electors who falsely claimed that Trump won Georgia. As a state senator, he also sought a special session of Georgia’s Legislature aimed at overturning President Joe Biden’s narrow win in the state. But Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis was barred by a judge from indicting Jones. Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney agreed with Jones that Willis, an elected Democrat, had a conflict of interest because she hosted a fundraiser for the Democrat who lost to Jones in the 2022 election for lieutenant governor.

McBurney said in a hearing that Willis’ decision to host the fundraiser was a "what are you thinking?" moment.

That leaves the Prosecuting Attorneys Council, a state agency that supports district attorneys, to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Jones' actions were criminal. Pete Skandalakis, the council's executive director, said Tuesday that he will begin looking for an appropriate prosecutor.

“Ultimately, the special prosecutor will make the decision about whether or not to file any charges," Skandalakis told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Jones has previously denied wrongdoing, saying he and other electors acted only to preserve Trump's chances if Trump won a court challenge. Others who used that explanation, including former state Republican Party Chairman David Shafer, were indicted. Tuesday, Jones issued a statement claiming Willis' investigation was “a constant media and PR campaign for the sole purpose of furthering her own political career.”

Jones suggested Willis was pursuing “the political vendettas of the past” and should have been “going after real criminals.”

But Senate Democratic Minority Leader Gloria Butler applauded the move, saying Jones' role should be examined.

“He doesn’t get a pass simply because the Fulton County DA wasn’t permitted to bring charges,” Butler said.

Skanadalakis said he would review the indictment, seek a copy of the still-sealed report of the special investigative grand jury that laid the groundwork for Monday’s indictments, and consult with Willis on what her investigators may know about Jones. Despite being ordered not to subpoena Jones or his records, Willis was allowed to ask other witnesses about him.

It's not clear how much risk of indictment Jones faces.

Willis only indicted three of the 16 electors who signed certificates falsely asserting Trump won the state and claimed to be the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors. Two of those people — Shafer and then-state party treasurer Shawn Still — helped orchestrate the meeting, the indictment alleges.

The third spurious elector who was indicted, Cathy Latham, is accused of helping others copy software and data from election equipment in south Georgia's Coffee County. The indictment alleges Latham committed a number of election law and computer felonies. Latham is also accused of perjuring herself by lying about her involvement in a federal court deposition in 2022.

However, the indictment lists 30 unindicted coconspirators. “Individual 8” is clearly identifiable as Jones, with actions listed including taking part in state Senate committee meetings, receiving emails from other people, issuing a tweet calling on people to pressure state lawmakers to support a special session, and acting as a Trump elector.

The indictment alleges that all 16 Trump electors, including Jones and the other 12 who weren't indicted, committed four felonies — impersonating a public officer, forgery in the first degree, false statements and writings and filing false documents.

At least eight other of the Trump electors signed immunity deals shielding them from criminal prosecution by Willis in exchange for their testimony. And Willis did not bring indictments against other Georgia Republican lawmakers who operated on Trump's behalf following the 2020 election.

But Jones did other things, notably flying to Washington the night before Jan. 6 to meet with Vice President Mike Pence. Jones was carrying a letter from a number of Republican state senators asking Pence to delay counting the electoral votes of Georgia and other states. But Jones has said he never delivered the letter, deciding it would be futile to try to sway Pence.

Trump endorsed Jones in 2022 for lieutenant governor, a position that presides over the Georgia Senate and helps control the flow of legislation. Jones' Democratic opponent for lieutenant governor, Charlie Bailey, frequently attacked Jones for his actions, calling him “un-American and unpatriotic” in a debate.

Skandalakis declined to weigh whether Jones acts' merit indictment, saying “I don’t even know what’s in the investigation." But the outcome of the investigation could weigh on Jones' political future — he's seen as a likely candidate for governor in 2026. Current Republican Gov. Brian Kemp can't seek reelection because of term limits.

Skandalakis doesn't have to name one of Georgia's 49 other district attorneys to examine Jones. He can choose anyone with prosecutorial experience. But he said that it may be difficult to find a prosecutor willing to take the case. Georgia pays little to a special prosecutor and provides no money at all to hire other staff. That means a district attorney would have to use their existing staff to do the work, and a retired prosecutor wouldn't be able to hire any staff at all.