US Senator Lindsey Graham questioned in Georgia election investigation

ATLANTA (AP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham testified Tuesday before a special grand jury investigating whether President Donald Trump and others illegally interfered in Georgia’s 2020 election.

The South Carolina Republican’s appearance before the panel came after a protracted legal battle that culminated in the US Supreme Court when Graham tried to avoid testifying. He had argued that his position as a senator protected him from questioning. The courts rejected his claim but ruled that prosecutors and a grand jury could not question him about protected legislative activity.

Graham’s office said in a statement that he spent just over two hours with the special grand jury and “answered all the questions.”

“The senator feels he is being treated with respect, professionalism and courtesy,” the statement said.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launched the investigation early last year. It is considered one of the most significant potential legal threats facing the former president, who announced a third run for the White House last week. Graham is one of several high-profile Trump allies whose testimony has been sought.

When Willis filed documents soliciting Graham’s testimony in July, she wrote that she wanted to ask him about a phone call he had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger shortly after the election.

Raffensperger said Graham asked if he could opt out of certain absentee ballots, which the Secretary of State interpreted as a suggestion that votes cast legally be discarded. Graham has called the idea “ridiculous.”

Willis said in August she hopes to send the special grand jury home by the end of the year. But that schedule could be complicated by the fact that some of the testimony she seeks involves appeals.

For witnesses residing outside of Georgia, Willis must rely on a process that mandates a judge in the state where a potential witness resides to direct that person to travel to Atlanta to testify.

Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser, was ordered Tuesday to testify, but a Florida judge issued a temporary stay of that order after Flynn appealed. Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich was ordered by a judge in Virginia to testify on November 29, but that was stayed pending appeal. And an appeal against the order of former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to appear on Nov. 30 is pending in the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Former Meadows assistant Cassidy Hutchinson, who previously testified before the US House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, answered questions from the special jury last week.

Special grand jury proceedings are classified, but some related public court filings have shed light on the scope of the investigation.

Willis has said from the start she was interested in a January 2, 2021 call between Trump and Raffensperger. The Republican president called on the state’s top election official to “find” the votes needed to reverse his narrow loss in the state to Democrat Joe Biden.

It’s also become clear that she’s interested in several other areas, including: filing a fake list of Georgia Republican voters who falsely declared that Trump won the state; false statements about the election of former New York City Mayor and Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani and others to state legislatures; efforts to pressure a Fulton County poll worker into admitting wrongdoing; Voting Equipment Violations in Rural Coffee County; the abrupt departure of the US attorney in Atlanta in January 2021.

Willis has informed Giuliani, who testified before the special jury in August, and the bogus Georgia voters that they could be prosecuted in the investigation.

Special grand juries in Georgia are generally set up to investigate complex cases involving many witnesses. They can coerce evidence and subpoena testimony, but they cannot press charges. Once the investigation is complete, a special grand jury can recommend action, but it remains up to the prosecutor to decide whether to then bring an indictment from a regular grand jury.