Gov. Brian Kemp testified for roughly three hours Tuesday before the Fulton County special grand jury examining whether former President Donald Trump and his allies criminally meddled in Georgia’s 2020 elections.
The Republican, who cruised to re-election last week, is the highest-ranking state official to appear before the 23-person grand jury, which was convened in May to aid Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis with her criminal investigation.
Kemp’s closed-door testimony came hours before a Florida judge rejected an attempt from another witness, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, to kill his grand jury summons.
Sarasota County Circuit Judge Charles Roberts ruled Flynn is a “necessary and material” witness to the Fulton probe and that he should report to the county courthouse on Nov. 22, though Flynn’s lawyer said he will ask an appellate court to stay the order to allow his client to appeal.
The maneuvering came as the grand jury ramped up its public activities following a month-long quiet period before the November elections.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and former White House counsel Eric Herschmann are expected to testify in the days ahead, and CNN reported Wednesday that former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson is slated to appear Wednesday. Hutchinson’s attorney did not return requests for comment.
Meanwhile, another witness, former Georgia Congressman and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, moved to appeal a recent Virginia judge’s ruling that compelled him to testify in Georgia.
In downtown Atlanta, Kemp entered the Fulton courthouse through an underground entrance Tuesday, bypassing the reporters assembled in the brisk, drizzly weather. His office declined to make him available afterwards for an interview.
His blockbuster appearance represented a hard-fought victory for the DA’s office, which had been angling for Kemp’s testimony for a year-and-a-half.
Kemp had been ordered to appear “some date soon after” the election by a Fulton Superior Court judge in August.
He’s considered a central witness to the investigation, which Willis launched after she heard the leaked audio from Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021 conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
In late 2020, Kemp faced a barrage of attacks from Trump and his allies after he refused their calls to illegally convene a special session of the state legislature to undo Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia. Kemp said that state law barred him from “interfering.”
Kemp subsequently became a frequent punching bag at Trump rallies. The president said he was “ashamed” to have endorsed Kemp in 2018, and recruited former U.S. Sen. David Perdue to wage an ultimately doomed primary challenge against him.
But unlike Raffensperger, whose phone call with Trump was recorded, the details of Kemp’s behind-the-scenes interactions with the commander-in-chief are largely unknown.
Fulton prosecutors previously said they were interested in questioning Kemp about the identities of the people who tried to get in touch with him following the 2020 elections; the contents of phone calls Kemp had with Trump or his associates; evidence the Trump campaign provided in support of its theory that Georgia’s election was rigged; whether Trump specifically sought a special election or other relief; and any threats that might have been made.
A spokesman for the Fulton DA’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
With his re-election campaign behind him — a victory he secured without Trump’s help — some observers suggested that Kemp might have been more open to answering questions from jurors and prosecutors. Just how forthcoming he was, however, isn’t known since grand jury proceedings are secret.
Kemp’s testimony on Tuesday was the result of a contentious court battle with the Fulton DA’s office earlier this summer.
The governor had initially cooperated voluntarily with the investigation. But communications soured between his team and prosecutors over the summer, according to internal emails shared in August court filings, and Kemp was eventually subpoenaed.
The day before Kemp was scheduled to appear before the grand jury on Aug. 18, the governor’s attorney moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that it was a politically-motivated summons designed to hurt Kemp less than 90 days before the election by Willis, a Democrat.
Fulton Judge Robert McBurney, who is overseeing the grand jury and has worked to insulate it from appearing overly partisan, rejected Kemp’s argument that he shouldn’t have to testify. But he delayed the governor’s appearance until after the election.
McBurney also clarified in August that Kemp is facing no accusations of criminal activity as part of the investigation.
Flynn, meanwhile, was summoned to testify by the grand jury last month.
A former U.S. Army lieutenant general, Flynn served briefly as national security adviser under Trump in early 2017. But later that year, he pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump granted Flynn a full pardon in 2020.
Flynn’s summons cites comments he made during an appearance on Newsmax a month after his pardon. During the interview, he said Trump “could order — within the swing states, if he wanted to — he could take military capabilities, and he could place them in those states and basically re-run an election in each of those states.”
In the material witness certificate, which essentially functions as a subpoena now that it’s been approved by Roberts, Fulton prosecutors noted that the day after the Newsmax interview Flynn was at the White House meeting with Trump campaign officials and attorney Sidney Powell. Media reports have said the meeting focused on invoking martial law, seizing voting machines and appointing Powell as special counsel to investigate the 2020 election, none of which happened.
Because Flynn lives in Englewood, Fla., the request for his out-of-state summons was sent to the local Sarasota County courthouse. Flynn appeared at the hearing with his two attorneys.
Jason Greaves, one of Flynn’s lawyers, argued that because the special grand jury is civil in nature, not criminal, Flynn did not have to honor the out-of-state summons. The attorney also said the reasons given for Flynn’s testimony amounted to “innuendo, speculation and supposition” and for that reason Fulton prosecutors had not adequately shown why Flynn would be a material witness.
Assistant Fulton DA Will Wooten, who argued his office’s case remotely, noted that McBurney, in an order addressing a motion by Kemp, had found the special purpose grand jury to be a criminal proceeding. Even so, Wooten said, Florida law only states that “a grand jury” — with no distinction that he had to be civil or criminal — has to be in operation for an out-of-state summons to be in play.
Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.