Trump probe: Cobb elections chief to testify, legislators await subpoenas

Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler speaks during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol Building, on Monday, March 16, 2020. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler speaks during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol Building, on Monday, March 16, 2020. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The election chief in Cobb County, which was at the center of an extraordinary audit of absentee ballots cast in the disputed 2020 presidential race, has been subpoenaed to testify before a special grand jury.

Janine Eveler, director of elections and registration, is slated to speak Thursday to the panel that’s investigating whether former President Donald Trump acted illegally when he and his allies tried to overturn election results in Georgia. In the days ahead, several state legislators also are expecting to receive subpoenas from the 23-person jury.

The developments come as the nation’s attention is turned to Trump’s efforts to maintain power following the 2020 elections. The congressional committee examining the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol began broadcasting its findings Thursday, the first in a series of high-profile hearings.

Eveler, one of the longest-serving elections directors in metro Atlanta, said she isn’t sure why the special grand jury wants to speak with her. But in December 2020, Cobb drew the national spotlight as investigators pored over more than 15,000 voter signatures, comparing those made on absentee ballot envelopes to those on file from when voters registered. They ultimately didn’t find a single fraudulent absentee ballot, countering sweeping claims made by Trump.

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The audit, ordered by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to help restore public confidence in the state’s elections infrastructure, was closely watched by Trump. His White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, made a surprise visit to the Cobb County Civic Center where the ballot review was taking place and questioned elections officials.

That was where Meadows met Frances Watson, then the chief investigator for Georgia’s Secretary of State’s office, and got her phone number, paving the way for the six-minute call that Trump placed to Watson. That phone call is now of interest to the special grand jury.

Watson, along with four other current and former aides to Raffensperger, was subpoenaed by the special grand jury and is expected to testify in the weeks ahead.

Cobb was also named in an elections lawsuit brought by Trump and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer as part of a wave of litigation as they sought to overturn Georgia’s election results.

The suit, which was based on data that elections experts said was riddled with false information, was withdrawn in January 2021, shortly after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Following the election, Eveler and the Cobb Board of Elections was also sued by the Cobb County GOP for allegedly using procedures that unfairly prevented the party’s poll monitors from viewing absentee ballots that were being processed. The parties quickly reached a consent agreement.

Eveler’s testimony will occur behind closed doors, as does all grand jury proceedings.

Her appearance comes amid a surge of activity from the grand jury, which was seated on May 2.

In the coming weeks, members are also slated to hear from Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and at least two state senators, in addition to the secretary of state’s aides. They are also expected to issue a flurry of new subpoenas to state legislators who may have relevant information.

“My understanding is a lot of subpoenas are being issued this week, and we will respond accordingly,” said Don Samuel, a veteran defense attorney who is being retained by the state legislature to represent its members during the grand jury proceedings.

Samuel declined to name which legislators are expecting to receive subpoenas. The top aide to Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller said that his boss has not been summoned by the panel, and a spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston declined to comment.

“Speaker Ralston respects the privacy of grand jury proceedings,” said Kaleb McMichen, Ralston’s communications director.

The grand jury appears to be homing in on members of the Georgia Senate Judiciary and House Governmental Affairs committees, which heard testimony from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani in late 2020 that was filled with falsehoods and conspiracy theories. Two Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Elena Parent and Jen Jordan, confirmed that they’ve been called to testify.

The other members of those panels said they had either not received a subpoena or an interview request or did not respond to requests for comment from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week.

Many legislators are expected to cite legislative privilege and immunity — which shields members of the statehouse from most judicial scrutiny for actions carried out as part of their official duties — and try to quash any subpoenas.

Invoking privilege isn’t about hiding something, stakeholders say. Instead, they argue, it’s crucial for defending how the legislative branch functions, particularly the free flow of ideas in committees and among colleagues.

Staff writers Bill Rankin, Ben Brasch and David Wickert contributed to this article.