The Jolt: More details on the expanding grand jury probe of Donald Trump

News and analysis from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
201203-Atlanta- Rudi Giuliani listens to testimony during a subcommittee of the state Senate judiciary committee meeting at the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Giuliani brought fellow lawyers and witnesses who alleged serious voting problems in Georgia and asked that the State Legislature chose GeorgiaÕs electors. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

201203-Atlanta- Rudi Giuliani listens to testimony during a subcommittee of the state Senate judiciary committee meeting at the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Giuliani brought fellow lawyers and witnesses who alleged serious voting problems in Georgia and asked that the State Legislature chose GeorgiaÕs electors. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Fulton County probe of potential criminal wrongdoing in Georgia’s 2020 election is accelerating – and has now expanded to include some of Donald Trump’s inner circle.

Our AJC colleague Tamar Hallerman broke the bombshell news yesterday that the special grand jury investigation into Trump’s effort to overturn the election has subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Cleta Mitchell and other lawyers counseling the former president on how to reverse his defeat.

A closer look at the subpoenas unearthed even more developments. Among them:

  • U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made “at least two” calls to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office in late 2020 to urge him to reexamine “certain absentee ballots” to help Trump close the gap.
  • Trump aide Ken Chesebro was apparently intimately involved in the Georgia GOP’s plot to put forth sham electors in December 2020. The subpoena said he worked with chair David Shafer and others to coordinate the slate of phony electors and he drafted at least two memos to back the fraudulent scheme.
  • Prosecutors are intensely interested in the Dec. 3, 2020 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing that then-state Sen. William Ligon held with Giuliani that featured doctored video of Fulton County elections staffers counting ballots, Hallerman observed. That’s why Jenna Ellis and Jacki Pick Deason, a podcaster, were also subpoenaed.

As for the biggest question – will Willis subpoena Trump? – the prosecutor has left open that possibility but it’s still unclear what she will do. Typically, though, prosecutors will start at the bottom of the pyramid before moving to the top – and Willis seems to be closing in on the highest levels.

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LISTEN UP. The newest edition of the Politically Georgia podcast is fresh and ready. We’ve got the latest on the new Fulton grand jury subpoenas in the Trump investigation, Stacey Abrams’ kitchen table issues, and what Kelly Loeffler has been doing since she lost her Senate race in 2021.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast for free at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

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MONEY BALL. It’s that time again: Over the next few days, a splurge of fundraising disclosures will help paint a clearer financial picture of where the marquee races in Georgia stand. Here’s a closer look at what we’re watching:

Democratic edge: Despite a late start, Stacey Abrams has already neutralized Gov. Brian Kemp’s financial lead, and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has cemented himself as one of the nation’s elite fundraisers. Democrats are almost certain to extend their fundraising edge this quarter.

Can Kemp and Senate hopeful Herschel Walker raise enough to stay in the same orbit?

Burn rate: Abrams spent roughly 90% of the money she collected in the three-month span between February and April, reflecting a confidence that she can keep up the torrid fundraising pace even though she ran unopposed in the May primary.

A media buyer calculated that Abrams has already spent $15.5 million on digital, radio and TV ads while Warnock has spent roughly $16 million. Both are expected to be so flush with cash they can stay on air through November. Will they maintain their high rate of spending?

Fifty-state strategy: Gone are the days when Georgia Republicans can paint Democrats as the only beneficiaries of out-of-state interests. As Georgia emerges as a premier battleground state, Republicans are also embracing a national fundraising strategy. Walker epitomizes the trend: He boasted last year of collecting contributions from donors in all 50 states – Alaska included.

A new model: We should get a clearer look at the impact of so-called “leadership committees,” the Kemp-backed fundraising vehicles that allow certain candidates to raise unlimited donations and coordinate with campaigns. While the system was designed to boost Kemp, it could prove to be an inadvertent boon for Abrams, too.

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‘MY FAMILY.’ Herschel Walker launched the first TV ad of the general election campaign this morning, pledging to “bring people together” in a 30-second spot that doesn’t mention Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

The ad instead focuses on the Republican’s frequent talking points: A pledge to bring” peace through strength,” a promise to “back the blue” and a vow to uphold the Constitution.

“I believe that everybody should have a chance to have their faith,” he said. “Do we have problems? Yes. Can we solve them? Yes. Georgia is my family. The United States is my family. So I’m going to fight and take care of them.”

Media buying records show the feel-good ad is backed by at least $400,000 in spending, though Republican officials say the tally will grow to seven-figures.

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ANOTHER JAN. 6 HEARING. The U.S. House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection has scheduled its next hearing on Tuesday morning.

The committee did not say who will be testifying or what the focus of the hearing will be, but the committee has been interested in the involvement of the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and other extremist groups that were supporting then-President Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 election.

CNN also reported Tuesday that Sarah Matthews, who was Trump’s deputy press secretary at the time, was subpoenaed by the committee and has agreed to testify at an upcoming hearing. Matthews was among the former White House aides who backed up Cassidy Hutchinson after conservatives tried to undermine her testimony during last week’s hearing.

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DANGEROUS DWELLINGS. The Atlanta City Council on Tuesday formally urged law enforcement officials to pursue charges against negligent apartment landlords, a direct response to The AJC’s investigation into the issue.

Our colleagues Willoughby Mariano and J.D. Capelouto wrote that the resolution asks Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to “investigate opportunities to criminally charge property owners/landlords” who violate the city’s housing code and provide poor maintenance and security. It also urges the Atlanta Police Department and the city solicitor’s office to “diligently pursue all complaints against neglectful landlords.”

The AJC’s year-long “Dangerous Dwellings” investigation found more than 250 of the area’s apartments were persistently dangerous, beset by violent crime and often horrific living conditions. Meanwhile, the owners of the properties are enriched by offering substandard housing to thousands of residents.

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AIRPORT WOES. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams is trying to get airline passengers some relief from rising numbers of delays and canceled flights.

Alongside Democratic colleague Rick Larsen of Washington, Williams has written a letter to the president of Airlines for America, which represents 10 of the largest U.S.-based airlines, including Delta. Larsen is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation of which Williams, D-Atlanta, is a member.

“Recently, too many travelers have been left frustrated and scrambling to rearrange their schedules in response to widespread air travel difficulties,” they wrote.

The duo asked for more information “to identify and evaluate the ongoing issues” and said, “Airlines must take all appropriate steps to ensure the flying public receives the safe and reliable services we have come to expect and deserve.”

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • The President will travel to Cleveland, Ohio, to make a speech about the economy and provisions in the American Rescue Plan to help keep pensions solvent.
  • The House and Senate are out this week.

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HARD NO. We told you recently about several district attorneys around Georgia who have said they won’t prosecute future violations of the state’s pending six-week abortion ban.

Now the Athens Banner-Herald reports four Athens-Clarke County commissioners are considering a motion to ban city funds from being used to enforce the law, which is held up in federal appeals court.

The AJC’s J.D. Capelouto reported in June that the Atlanta City Council passed a nonbinding resolution instructing Atlanta police to make enforcement of the ban “the lowest possible priority” and asking that no city funds be used to report, record or track abortions.

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SELLING THE FARM. A farm owned by former Gov. Roy Barnes has become the subject of intense scrutiny in south Cobb County, as a developer’s plans to build 130 homes there has neighbors hot and bothered.

The county planning commission put the developer’s plan on hold Tuesday and The Marietta Daily Journal reports, “(One neighbor) promised that were the project advanced without significant changes, the next hearing would be “flooded with the neighbors” who would be “highly pis---.”

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RUNAWAY MAYOR? No, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens didn’t manage to somehow run Monday’s Peachtree Road Race in less than 31 minutes with a fractured foot.

Even though the 10K results showed that Dickens ended the race with a blistering 30:54 time, City Hall let it be known that since the injured mayor had to sit the race out, he instead hitched a ride from the starting line to the finish to greet the winners of the wheelchair division.

The time-tracking chip embedded in his bib apparently clocked his time anyway, leading to the scorching result.

City Hall says “we’ll have to wait until 2023 for a fully recovered Dickens to run the course.” Our question: Can he beat U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who finished with a 1:26:15 time?

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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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