The probe’s expanding scope triggered swift criticism from Jones. He filed a motion in Fulton County Superior Court seeking to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis, citing a recent fundraiser she hosted to boost Charlie Bailey, an ex-Fulton prosecutor who is Jones’ Democratic opponent.
Shafer, Jones and Beach were involved with the appointment of a slate of 16 Republican electors who cast fake Electoral College ballots for then-President Donald Trump in a sham ceremony at the Georgia Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020.
Shafer and Jones served as electors, while Beach was a key intermediary between the Trump campaign and the electors, according to one of the sources. Beach, for example, was named in a Trump campaign email that directed the electors to keep their plans secret.
The Republicans’ actions have become a major point of interest of the Fulton County special grand jury examining whether Trump or his allies broke any state laws as they sought to reverse Democrat Joe Biden’s win in Georgia. Some legal experts say those GOP electors may have violated election fraud and forgery statutes, among others.
Investigators in Washington, both for the select committee examining the Jan. 6 attack and at the Justice Department, have also taken notice. Federal prosecutors recently subpoenaed Shafer and others for information about the fake electors.
Shafer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. Beach said: “I cannot respond to any questions about the grand jury.”
Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC
Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC
A spokesman for Willis declined to comment on the targets but said Jones’ motion to disqualify the veteran prosecutor was “without merit.”
Willis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that her office had informed the lawyers of multiple people that their clients were targets of the investigation.
“We have informed some that they are being looked at as a target — or let me say more clearly, we’ve told people’s lawyers that,” Willis said.
One of the AJC’s sources said they were expecting others to receive target letters.
After the GOP electors cast their ballots, Shafer told reporters who discovered the meeting that the vote was necessary to protect Trump’s legal rights in pending litigation. But documents and testimony made public by congressional investigators show the electors were a key part of Trump’s effort to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory in Congress on Jan. 6, a plan hatched by attorney John Eastman.
Credit: Nathan Posner
Credit: Nathan Posner
Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the official Biden electors in Georgia and six other states and to accept the alternative Trump electors under the pretext that Democrats had stolen the election. Alternatively, Trump wanted Pence to delay congressional certification to allow Republican-controlled legislatures in the affected states to endorse the fake electors.
Numerous state and federal investigations have shown Trump’s election fraud claims were false. And legal experts from across the political spectrum say Pence didn’t have the authority to reject the Biden electors.
Jones has been hammered by Bailey, his Democratic opponent, for his involvement in the electors scheme. Bailey said Friday that the target letter should signal to voters that his opponent is “unfit to serve in office” and that his actions are “anti-American and unpatriotic.” He called Jones’ motion to disqualify Willis an attempt to “distract from the fact he attempted to overthrow the United States Government.”
The Republican’s campaign said he had nothing to hide.
“This is clearly a politically motivated attack from the same district attorney who just weeks ago hosted a political fundraiser for Burt’s opponent,” said Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Jones. “Burt is more than happy to perform his civic duty and answer questions — but not from a prosecutor with such blatant conflicts of interest.”
Willis spokesman Jeff DiSantis said the DA “supports Charlie Bailey because she worked with him as a prosecutor and knows he will support law enforcement as Lieutenant Governor.”
“Her support for Mr. Bailey has nothing to do with his opponent, nor does her fulfillment of her oath of office to investigate and prosecute crimes occurring in Fulton County have anything to do with anyone else’s campaign for elected office,” he said. “The District Attorney will respond to Mr. Jones’ motion in court.”
The target letters show the rapid escalation of the Fulton County criminal investigation.
The special grand jury recently subpoenaed several members of Trump’s inner circle, including Eastman, attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Graham is challenging his subpoena in federal court — a hearing is scheduled next week in Charleston — and several others are expected to follow suit, citing attorney-client or executive privilege.
Prosecutors have asked several witnesses who have come before the grand jury about their knowledge of the alternative electors scheme before they met in the Capitol.
David Ralston, the speaker of the Georgia House who received calls from Trump and Giuliani in late 2020, testified before the special grand jury on Thursday.
Randy Evans, a Republican lawyer who once served as Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, said the target letters have helped change his opinion about the special grand jury investigation.
“It’s unfortunate because it really de-credentials the process,” he said. “Even though many of my colleagues thought this was a witch hunt, I was actually one of those people who said transparency, sunshine are always good to have in a republican democracy.
“But the moment you start with target letters on something which virtually everyone knows is not a crime, then it becomes obvious that its once again just about politics.”