Harassment of Fulton poll workers could be subject of Trump indictments

Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss received death threats after 2020 election
FILE — An emotional Wandrea Moss is comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman, both former election workers in Georgia, during testimony to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6. attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, June 21, 2022. Prosecutors in the criminal investigation into election interference in Georgia are seeking testimony from three people who took part in the pressure campaign against Ruby Freeman after the 2020 election. (Shuran Huang/The New York Times)

FILE — An emotional Wandrea Moss is comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman, both former election workers in Georgia, during testimony to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6. attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, June 21, 2022. Prosecutors in the criminal investigation into election interference in Georgia are seeking testimony from three people who took part in the pressure campaign against Ruby Freeman after the 2020 election. (Shuran Huang/The New York Times)

The police body cam footage shows a red sedan stopped on the side of a Cobb County road six weeks after the 2020 election, its sport coat-clad driver sitting with his hand draped out the window.

After identifying himself and noting his position as a pastor, the driver acknowledged that he had knocked on the door of Ruby Freeman, a Fulton County poll worker.

“I’m working with some folks who are trying to help Ruby out” and are seeking to share “some truth of what’s going on,” Stephen Cliffgard Lee told the officer who was recording the conversation.

“I’m not here to hurt her,” Lee added. “I’m not here to cause any problems or anything like that ... but it would be nice if I could talk to her.”

By the day of Lee’s visit on Dec. 15, 2020, Freeman had for weeks been bombarded with violent and racist threats after she and her daughter were singled out by Rudy Giuliani, then President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, for allegedly committing election fraud while counting ballots at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.

The problem was, the allegations weren’t true.

All eyes are on Trump as Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis prepares to announce indictments stemming from her more than 2-year-old probe of interference in Georgia’s 2020 elections. One area of interest that could result in criminal charges relates to the harassment experienced by Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, in late 2020 and early 2021.

Both poll workers testified before the special grand jury in Fulton that spent nearly eight months helping Willis compile evidence and later recommended a series of indictments. Several jurors interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, said they were deeply affected by the mother and daughter’s testimony and found no evidence of wrongdoing on their part.

The grand jurors approved legal summons for several people who visited Freeman’s Cobb County home or spoke to her over the phone in an alleged attempt to convince her to falsely implicate herself. Three of those people — Lee, Trevian Kutti and Harrison Floyd — did not end up testifying before the special grand jury, the jurors said.

Several jurors indicated the group was on the same page in terms of recommending charges for people who were involved in harassing the poll workers, though they refused to disclose whom they had suggested. Willis will make the final call on indictments, though it will be up to a separate grand jury to greenlight any charges.

A Willis spokesman declined to comment. Freeman and Moss declined interview requests but their attorney, Von DuBose said, “we hope to see accountability for those who led and profited from the smear campaign against Ruby and Shaye.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis attends an event at Atlanta Technical College in Atlanta on Thursday, August 3, 2023. Wilson commented ahead of the expected indictment announcement in Fulton Trump case. (Katelyn Myrick/katelyn.myrick@ajc.com)

Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

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Credit: Katelyn Myrick/AJC

‘Stealing votes’

Freeman and Moss were first named by Giuliani and his colleagues during a Dec. 3, 2020, hearing before a Georgia Senate subcommittee.

“Look at them scurrying around with the ballots,” said Giuliani, pointing out the two in excerpted surveillance footage from the arena. “Nobody in the room. Hiding around. They look like they’re passing out dope, not just ballots. It is quite clear they’re stealing votes.”

His allegations that Freeman and Moss were handling “suitcases” stuffed with fake ballots were quickly picked up by conservative outlets and Trump himself, who mentioned Freeman by name 18 times in his infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The allegations were quickly proven false, by both state investigators and Trump’s own Justice Department. The suitcases of ballots were official ballot containers and the poll workers were just doing their jobs, law enforcement concluded. What Giuliani posited could be USB drive being passed between Moss and Freeman was actually a ginger mint, Moss later told the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But that didn’t stop the misinformation.

Lee, who resides outside of Chicago, visited Freeman’s house less than two weeks after Giuliani spoke at the hearing.

After that effort proved to be unsuccessful, Lee allegedly reached out to Floyd, who briefly ran for a suburban Atlanta U.S. House seat before serving as director of Black Voices for Trump. Lee asked Floyd to arrange a meeting with Freeman, according to his summons from the special grand jury, which cites an interview Floyd did with Reuters. Floyd told the wire service that Lee had contacted him because he believed Freeman would be more likely to trust a Black stranger.

Floyd in turn reached out to Kutti, a onetime publicist for R. Kelly and Kanye West, and she visited Freeman on Jan. 4, 2021. She told Freeman that “an armed squad of federal” officers would “approach” Freeman and her family within 48 hours and said she could help if Freeman confessed to committing election fraud.

Freeman declined to talk with Kutti at her door, but after calling the cops agreed to speak with Kutti at a Cobb County police station. During that conversation, which was partially captured by police body camera footage, Kutti said Freeman was “a loose end for a party that needs to tidy up.” She stated that she wanted to connect Freeman to Floyd, whom she described as a “high level” crisis manager “with authoritative powers to get you protection that you need.”

Kutti then called Floyd on speakerphone, and the three spoke for about an hour. Freeman was pressured “to reveal information under the threat of incarceration if she did not comply,” according to her summons.

Special grand jury testimony

Jurors said they did not hear testimony from Floyd or Kutti, whom law enforcement had difficultly even locating as they attempted to serve her summons.

“We definitely tried to pursue that one and we never really got closure on that,” Emily Kohrs, the forewoman of the special grand jury, said of Kutti in an interview earlier this year. “But I know that was one that all of us were like, no, we want some answers here.”

Floyd did not respond to requests for comment. Kutti’s attorney hung up when contacted by the AJC.

Trevian Kutti, Harrison Floyd and Stephen Cliffgard Lee

Credit: AJC file images

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Credit: AJC file images

Lee, meanwhile, was one of the only witnesses to win his subpoena challenge against the DA’s office. In November, a judge in Kendall County, Ill., declined to enforce Lee’s summons, ruling that the Fulton DA’s office did not provide enough evidence to prove Lee was a “necessary” and “material” witness to the investigation and thus compel him to travel to Atlanta.

Lee’s attorney, David Shestokas, said Fulton prosecutors didn’t try again to subpoena or contact his client.

“I imagine that since they did not make any further effort to contact Mr. Lee nor me, for that matter, I can only guess they have no interest in him,” Shestokas told the AJC.

Since they were unable to bring in Floyd, Kutti or Lee, investigators with the Fulton DA’s office briefed jurors about what they had learned about the trio.

Jurors did hear testimony last summer from Garrison Douglas, a Republican staffer who was asked by Floyd, a former supervisor, to drive Kutti to Freeman’s house. Jurors said they had a favorable view of Douglas and did not see him as likely to be targeted by the DA’s office.

“I was unemployed at the time and received a call to serve as a volunteer driver for a stakeholder, as I had many times in the past,” said Douglas, who is now a press secretary for Gov. Brian Kemp. “I had no involvement in the meeting beyond the task of driving and I testified to that fact to the Fulton County special grand jury.”

‘Lost my name’

Few experienced the personal toll of Trump’s election lies quite like Freeman and Moss.

In testimony before the Jan. 6 committee and Georgia investigators, each described frequently fearing for their safety and retreating from their public lives.

“I’m always concerned of who’s around me,” Freeman said. “I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation. I’ve lost my sense of security.”

Both were threatened with lynching and other racist violence. On at least two occasions, a group of people tried to push their way into Freeman’s mother’s house, where Moss once lived, to make a citizen’s arrest. Critics picketed Moss outside her office and bombarded her 14-year-old son with threatening phone calls. Both quit their jobs because of the threats, and Freeman, at the suggestion of the FBI, fled her home for two months beginning in January 2021.

Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith cited the death threats experienced by the poll workers as evidence in his four-count, Georgia-heavy indictment of Trump earlier this month.

Freeman and Moss later filed defamation suits against Giuliani and two conservative outlets, One America News and Gateway Pundit, for spreading lies about them. OAN settled the claims against it. The lawsuits against Giuliani and the Gateway Pundit are still pending.