Georgia prosecutor opens criminal investigation into Trump’s “attempts to influence” election result

The Fulton County DA asked state officials to preserve documents related to Trump’s pressure on secretary of state

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published February 11, 2021 11:59AM (EST)

Brad Raffensperger and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Brad Raffensperger and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Prosecutors in Georgia launched a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump's efforts to "influence" the results of the state's election, the second investigation this week sparked by Trump's call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pressuring him to "find" enough votes to overturn his loss.

Newly-elected Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sent letters to top state officials on Wednesday asking them to preserve documents related to an "investigation into attempts to influence," The New York Times first reported. Though the letter does not mention Trump by name, a state official told the outlet the probe is focused on Trump's attempts to reverse his loss.

"This investigation includes, but is not limited to, potential violations of Georgia's law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election's administration," Willis said in the letters.

The letters were sent to Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and state Attorney General Chris Carr, all of whom are Republicans.

"At this stage, we have no reason to believe that any Georgia official is a target of this investigation," Willis said.

Trump called Raffensperger in January to press him to "find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have." Trump reportedly made 18 previous attempts to reach Raffensperger, who repeatedly refuted Trump's false claims about the election as multiple recounts confirmed Joe Biden's narrow victory in the state.

Trump also unsuccessfully pressed Kemp to call a special session of the state legislature to review unfounded allegations of fraud. A state official told the Times that the investigation would also include a call Trump had with Carr, warning him not to interfere with a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to overturn the election results in Georgia and other states. The probe will also include the abrupt departure of U.S. Attorney B.J. Pak, who stepped down after Trump complained that he was not investigating his claims of fraud. The investigation may also look at Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani's efforts to push his false election claims to the state Senate.

Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for Willis, told the Times that a letter was sent to Duncan, who presides over the state Senate, because the chamber "may have evidence of efforts to interfere with the proper administration of the election."

Anyone involved in those efforts, he added, "is potentially a subject of this investigation, and that would include a variety of people."

Trump adviser Jason Miller argued that the probe was politically motivated and the "timing here is not accidental given today's impeachment trial."

"This is simply the Democrats' latest attempt to score political points by continuing their witch hunt against President Trump, and everybody sees through it," he said in a statement to the Times.

Despite Miller's attempt to frame the probe as political, the Republican secretary of state's office opened its own investigation into the call just two days earlier. Raffensperger's office launched a probe into the call on Monday, which could result in a criminal referral if it concludes Trump may have violated state law.

Former prosecutors told the Times that the call may have violated Georgia laws against solicitation of election fraud, conspiracy and election interference. It's unclear what actions may be connected to the district attorney's review of potential racketeering, a charge typically used to target organized crime. But Georgia State law professor Clark Cunningham told the outlet the charge could also apply to efforts to try to change the results of an election.

Some legal experts said it was unlikely the investigation would go anywhere, but others disagreed.

"I think there's a decent chance we'll see criminal charges," Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "These are serious allegations."

Watchdog groups praised Willis' decision to launch the probe.

"Trump's conduct violates not only the law, but the foundation on which our democracy is built," said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "He may have been able to evade facing criminal charges as president, but he is no longer president."

The Fulton County probe is the second known criminal investigation into Trump. The former president is also under investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who is reportedly reviewing Trump and his businesses' finances for evidence of fraud. Trump also faces a civil fraud investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has said Trump could be charged with a misdemeanor for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"Let it be known that the office of attorney general has a potential charge that it may utilize," Racine warned last month, adding that D.C. law "makes illegal the statements of individuals that clearly encourage, cajole, and otherwise, you know, get people motivated to commit violence."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Brad Raffensperger Brian Kemp Donald Trump Election 2020 Fani Willis Joe Biden Politics