Fulton prosecutors eyeing Trump appearance at GOP convention

Former President Donald Trump dances as he leaves the stage during a rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Former President Donald Trump dances as he leaves the stage during a rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce on Saturday, March 26, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Fulton prosecutors examining whether Donald Trump and his allies criminally interfered in Georgia’s 2020 elections will be closely watching the former president’s address this weekend to the state GOP convention.

The two-day event in Columbus kicks off hours after Trump confirmed on his social media platform that he was indicted on federal charges stemming from the Justice Department’s investigation of his mishandling of classified documents after he left office. As of late Thursday, Trump was still scheduled to appear at the event.

His speech comes at a key moment for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who has heavily suggested she will pursue state charges against Trump in early to mid-August.

Trump is slated to address more than 1,500 GOP activists on Saturday afternoon, and observers say his speech could give Willis and her team of prosecutors new fodder for their ongoing investigation.

“I think Trump’s biggest enemy is often his own mouth,” said Michael J. Moore, a former federal prosecutor during the Obama administration. He said he’s certain that investigators will be “taking great note about what’s said.”

Trump gives “prosecutors a chance to gather additional information and incriminating statements, soundbites and sometimes admissions, pseudo confessions of things,” Moore said.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Some analysts believe Trump provided new ammunition to prosecutors during a CNN town hall in New Hampshire last month.

Describing his infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump said the Georgia Republican “owed me votes because the election was rigged,” which some argued was evidence of corrupt intent.

The Raffensperger phone call prompted Willis to launch her criminal investigation more than two years ago. Since then, it has expanded to include other events that Trump and his allies were involved in, including the appointment of a slate of “alternate” GOP electors; a wild White House meeting in December 2020 in which participants discussed the military seizing voting machines; and calls made to other Georgia officials.

The Fulton DA’s office has continued to compile new information in recent weeks. Prosecutors have interviewed new witnesses, including more than a half-dozen GOP electors, and sought out information from a pair of firms hired by the Trump campaign to vet fraud claims.

A spokesman for Willis declined to comment on Trump’s appearance in Columbus.

Former Gwinnett County DA Danny Porter said tuning in would be a no-brainer.

“He’s in Georgia and he’s Trump,” said Porter, a Republican. “He’s more likely to make an incriminating statement than an exculpatory statement. If you’re a prosecutor and that’s your target it would be a prudent move to make.”

State Republican Party Chairman David Shafer speaks at the Georgia GOP convention at Jekyll Island on Saturday, June 5, 2021. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution

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Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution

Other figures in attendance

Trump is not the only figure of interest who is expected to attend the GOP confab.

David Shafer, the outgoing party chairman who led a sham ceremony of Trump electors in the Georgia Capitol, organized the convention.

Shafer and the other 15 Republicans who served as GOP electors were sent letters by Fulton prosecutors last summer informing them they were investigation “targets” and could be charged as a result.

Since then, at least eight electors have been granted immunity deals in exchange for their testimony. Among them are several of Shafer’s deputies, including Treasurer Joseph Brannan, Assistant Treasurer Vikki Consiglio and District 5 Chairman Brad Carver.

Shafer is not among the group that was offered immunity. His lawyers have argued that their client had acted on legal advice when he served as an elector and that the 1960 election in Hawaii offered a legal and historic precedent.

The state GOP has agreed to cover legal fees for attorneys representing the electors. So far about $450,000 has been spent on at least four lawyers representing at least 10 of the electors, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of campaign finance filings.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones speaks in the Senate Chambers during day 40 of the legislative session at the State Capitol on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Several of the state’s most powerful elected Republicans who also served as key witnesses in the Fulton probe are skipping the convention. They include Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

One of the few statewide Republican officials who is planning to attend is Lt. Gov. Burt Jones. A staunch ally of Trump’s, Jones was previously named a target of Willis’s investigation for serving as a GOP elector alongside Shafer.

Jones’s status is different from his colleagues, however, after he succeeded in a legal challenge to block Willis and her office from investigating him due to a political conflict of interest.

It is now up to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to decide whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Jones. The head of the group has suggested he’ll wait until after potential indictments are announced before making a decision.