The Jolt: DA Fani Willis on Trump grand jury probe: ‘This is not a game at all.’

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fulton County District Attorney Fanni Wills listens to Judge Robert McBurney talk to the jurors at Fulton County Court during the selection of the special grand jury to investigate allegations that former President Donald Trump criminally interfered with Georgia’s elections in 2020. Monday, May 2, 2022. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Fulton County District Attorney Fanni Wills listens to Judge Robert McBurney talk to the jurors at Fulton County Court during the selection of the special grand jury to investigate allegations that former President Donald Trump criminally interfered with Georgia’s elections in 2020. Monday, May 2, 2022. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

We’ve been asked many times by many people whether the special grand jury investigation into former President Donald Trump is something to take seriously.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis answered that question herself Wednesday night in an interview with NBC News.

“I think that people thought that we came into this as some kind of game,” she said. “This is not a game at all. What I am doing is very serious. It’s very important work. And we’re going to do our due diligence and making sure that we look at all aspects of the case.”

She also suggested that additional subpoenas could be on the way for more Trump associates, and she again refused to rule out subpoenaing Trump himself.

“We’ll just have to see where the investigation leads us.”

They’re the first public comments from Willis since the special grand jury issued subpoenas for Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and other Trump allies Tuesday.

One other bit worth flagging from Willis’ NBC interview: She said that if the investigation is not complete by election season, she plans to temporarily pause activity to avoid being perceived as trying to influence the election. That means not issuing any subpoenas or indictments beginning when early voting starts in October.

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NOT QUASHED. Also on Wednesday a Fulton Superior Court judge ruled that Georgia lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and former Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick, must honor subpoenas compelling their testimony before the special grand jury.

Judge Robert McBurney killed a motion to quash subpoenas filed last week by attorneys representing Duncan, Ligon and other unnamed legislators who had argued that the state Constitution shielded them from testifying, the AJC’s Tamar Hallerman reported.

But McBurney established some limits. He said that prosecutors and jurors couldn’t ask them about anything that they or their staff said or wrote in relation to a December 2020 Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing where Rudy Giuliani raised questions about the 2020 election. Ditto for communications among legislators as they prepared for the session, drafted legislation or official reports.

That could make things difficult for prosecutors, given their interest in the hearing, where Giuliani unfurled a stream of falsehoods about Georgia’s elections.

But McBurney said the lawmakers could be questioned about their conversations with third parties, including private citizens, constituents or lobbyists, “even if arguably in connection with the performance of his legislative duties — if such an inquiry proves relevant to investigating possible third-party crime.”

“Inquiries remain limited to who and what, not why,” McBurney wrote.

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THANKS A LOT. As former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler ramps up her efforts to help elect Republicans in 2022, she might have other fences to mend if she wants to run again in 2024 or 2026.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Loeffler once had the tightest of bonds, dating back to his decision three years ago to defy former President Donald Trump and appoint her to an open U.S. Senate seat. Back then, he saw her as a de facto running-mate, given that both would be on the ballot in 2022.

That is, until her defeat to Democrat Raphael Warnock in last year’s Senate runoff. Now, the two are charting separate political paths.

Loeffler, who has positioned herself as a go-to GOP voice on voting laws, was conspicuously absent from Kemp’s signing of the election overhaul measure in 2021 and many of the rallies that followed.

And the disclosure that Loeffler gave $280,000 to Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again PAC has rankled some in Kemp’s orbit. That group actively worked against Kemp’s re-election by supporting Trump-backed candidate David Perdue.

And she didn’t endorse Kemp in the primary - even when it was clear he was going to demolish Perdue. Says one close Kemp friend who isn’t involved in the campaign: “She is as astute as politics as I would be in crypto-currency trading.“

Several allies of Herschel Walker have also grumbled about her tepid support of his Senate campaign even after the former football star taped an ad for her in 2020.

We chat more about the Kemp-Loeffler dynamic in the latest edition of the Politically Georgia podcast.

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LEGAL FEE FRACAS. A Politico article documenting how U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock used his campaign funds to represent him in a lawsuit involving his work as a church minister is sure to be featured in a pro-Herschel Walker ad imminently.

The story documents the bizarre lawsuit by Melvin Robertson making claims that date back as far as 2005 that allege Warnock and multiple other public figures conspired to entrap him – and include an allegation involving the loss of some of his belongings in a storage locker.

The initial lawsuit was filed in 2019 but dismissed by a federal judge. It was refiled in 2021 after Warnock was elected, and he enlisted his campaign lawyers to defend against the claims.

Initial coverage didn’t mention that Gov. Brian Kemp and other officials were also named in the lawsuit. Warnock’s top aide Quentin Fulks added that the lawsuit wasn’t specific to the senator, but a “frivolous lawsuit filed against multiple public figures and handled according to the law.”

Documents show the hand-written lawsuit was delivered to Warnock’s official Senate office.

The other officials targeted in the lawsuit – a group that includes several federal judges – used government lawyers to defend them. Warnock’s aides say that’s proof these weren’t considered personal matters.

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ROCKY ROAD. “Jesus, guns and babies.” That was the tagline of far-right Republican Kandiss Taylor’s campaign. But if there was a fourth word, it could have been “rocks.”

That’s because she seemed obsessed with calling for the destruction of the Georgia Guidestones, a Stonehenge-like cluster of granite slabs near Elberton that was the source of bizarre conspiracy theories from Taylor and others who demanded its destruction.

She got her wish on Wednesday when someone apparently blew up a piece of the controversial monument. Authorities later removed the rest of the stone structures for safety reasons.

Taylor celebrated the explosion on Twitter, claiming as she often does the stones were “satanic.” She later posted a video that boasted the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions involving abortion, school prayer and the Second Amendment bolstered her campaign mantra.

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SUPREME DREAM. On the opposite side of the issues, Georgia Democrats are turning to the U.S. Supreme Court as an emerging foil to motivate supporters with Donald Trump off the ballot this election cycle. Read more about it here.

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WORK FRIENDS. Georgia politicos will see familiar faces in Stacey Abrams latest ad for governor, which features former state House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, along with state Reps. Sam Park, Mary Margaret Oliver, and Carolyn Hugley.

The lawmakers talk about the Abrams they grew to know in her years in the Capitol. “Stacey is exactly what Georgia needs right now,” Porter says.

A second Abrams ad out today features the candidate’s plans for Medicaid expansion, which she says would not only expand coverage, but also keep rural hospitals open and create tens of thousands of jobs.

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SOROS MEGA-SUMS. Democratic mega donor George Soros is all in for Stacey Abrams. The financier who Republicans love to hate already donated $1 million to Abrams’ leadership committee in March through a political action committee run by his son.

The PAC’s latest report shows he gave another $1.5 million to Abrams’ leadership committee near the end of June, our AJC colleague James Salzer reports.

That makes Soros the largest individual donor to any leadership committee since GOP lawmakers created the fundraising vehicles that allow candidates to raise unlimited funds.

The structure was created last year to help Kemp, but Abrams’ national fundraising network may wind up giving her a big fundraising edge.

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ON SECOND THOUGHT. Speaking of leadership committees, state Sen. Burt Jones was one of a handful of Republicans to vote against creating the committees, which some conservatives on the outs with the governor at the time said would give him an unfair advantage over a future GOP primary challenger.

Now that he’s the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, Jones has created his own leadership committee for the effort.

Asked about his change of heart, spokesman Stephen Lawson said, “While Sen. Jones had some initial objections to the bill, now that it’s the law of the land, it’s important for our campaign to be on the same level playing field as the other candidates in this race- and this move helps ensure that.”

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UNITED STATES OF…UKRAINE? We told you yesterday that Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker launched his first campaign ad of the general election cycle, replete with patriotic images including a picture of soldiers on a battlefield.

It appears the image of the four soldiers with weapons raised in a forest was actually a picture of Ukrainian soldiers.

Speaking of the line “peace through strength” invoked in the ad, a tipster noted that Walker recently said Republicans should stop recycling that Reagan-era mantra.

“I’m like, make up your own line. Quit making up someone else’s line. Come up with something yourself,” he said to laughter at a May 14 event in north Georgia.

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 people, including gymnast Simone Biles, late U.S. Sen. John McCain, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and actor Denzel Washington.
  • The House and Senate are out this week.

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GREENER PASTURES. Kate Bedingfield has announced that she will leave her role as the top communications aide to President Joe Biden at the end of this month.

Bedingfield, who grew up in Sandy Springs, said she wants to spend more time with her husband and young children after three years as Biden’s communications director. She also served as Biden’s communications director during his tenure as vice president.

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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