ATLANTA (AP) — The judge presiding over a special grand jury that’s investigating possible illegal attempts to influence the 2020 election in Georgia is wading right into a fight over whether Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has to testify before the panel.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s supervising the special grand jury, scheduled a hearing for Thursday morning after a dispute between lawyers for the governor and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ team of prosecutors escalated from tense emails to court filings in recent weeks.
The increasingly heated rhetoric is playing out because the Republican governor, who’s looking for reelection in the autumn, seeks to avoid chatting with a special grand jury looking into whether former President Donald Trump and his allies broke any laws as they tried to overturn Trump’s narrow election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. Kemp’s lawyers have accused Willis, a Democrat, of pursuing his testimony for “improper political purposes,” an allegation the district attorney strongly denies.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at The Neighborhood Lot on July 29, 2022, in McDonough, Ga. The judge presiding over a special grand jury that is investigating possible illegal attempts to influence the 2020 election in Georgia is wading right into a fight over whether Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has to testify before the panel.
AP Photo/Megan Varner, File
Willis’ investigation was prompted by a January 2021 phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during which the then-president suggested the state’s top election official could “find” the votes needed to overturn his loss.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., whose telephone calls to Raffensperger and his staff within the weeks after the election are of interest to prosecutors, was speculated to testify earlier this week, but a federal appeals court put that on hold while he fights his subpoena.
A judge in Texas last week ordered Dallas-based lawyer and podcaster Jacki Pick to travel to Atlanta to testify, and her try and challenge that order was denied Tuesday by an appeals court. Pick, who’s also referred to as Jacki Deason, gave a presentation before a Georgia legislative committee in December 2020 wherein she alleged fraud by election staff at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Willis has said she’s considering summoning Trump himself to seem before the grand jury, a step that will surely set off a legal fight. The high-stakes investigation is one in a string of great legal threats the previous president is facing.
Willis told Kemp attorney Brian McEvoy in a June email that she and her team desired to ask the governor, amongst other things, in regards to the call between Trump and Raffensperger. Trump also called Kemp in December 2020 asking him to order a special legislative session to secure the state’s electoral votes for him.
After an agreement to have the governor sit for a recorded interview fell apart, the district attorney’s office got a subpoena to have the governor testify on Aug. 18, based on court filings. The day before he was to testify, Kemp’s lawyers filed a motion to quash that subpoena.
During Thursday’s hearing, McBurney will determine whether Kemp has to abide by the subpoena.
Kemp’s lawyers argue that he’s shielded from testifying about his official duties by “sovereign immunity,” a principle that claims the state can’t be sued without its consent. In addition they cited executive privilege, saying any material related to the governor’s deliberative process and communications is protected. And so they raised attorney-client privilege, saying the governor routinely sought advice from his office’s attorneys in relation to the 2020 election and shouldn’t need to testify about that.
Willis’ team has argued that sovereign immunity and executive privilege don’t apply on this case and that they’d avoid any topic that could be subject to attorney-client privilege.
Associated Press author Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.