Judge: Georgia probe prosecutor can’t question state senator

Jul 25, 2022, 10:50 AM | Updated: 9:28 pm
FILE - Fulton County Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a photo in her office in Atlan...

FILE - Fulton County Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a photo in her office in Atlanta, Jan. 4, 2022. Willis last year opened a criminal investigation "into attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia General Election." A special grand jury with subpoena power was seated in May at her request. A group of Georgia Republicans who have been informed that they are at risk of being indicted in an investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally interfered in the 2020 election in Georgia are fighting subpoenas to testify before the special grand jury. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

(AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — The prosecutor who’s investigating whether former President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to interfere in the 2020 election in Georgia cannot question a lawmaker who signed a certificate falsely stating that Trump won the state, a judge ruled Monday.

Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney agreed with Republican state Sen. Burt Jones that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had a conflict of interest because she hosted a fundraiser last month for Jones’ Democratic opponent in November’s election for lieutenant governor. McBurney said during a hearing last week that Willis’ decision to host the fundraiser was “a ‘What are you thinking?'” moment with “horrible” optics.

Willis can still ask other witnesses about Jones, the judge said, but will not be able to bring charges against him. It is now up to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, a nonpartisan association of Georgia district attorneys, to appoint another prosecutor to determine whether any charges should be brought against Jones, one of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed the certificate falsely asserting Trump won the state and claimed to be the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors, McBurney wrote.

“Today’s ruling is a huge win for our campaign — but more importantly, for due process and the rule of law in Georgia,” Jones said in an emailed statement.

Willis’ office was still reviewing the order and didn’t have an immediate comment, spokesperson Jeff DiSantis said.

The judge’s decision disqualifying Willis from questioning Jones likely has no real bearing on the future of Willis’ overarching investigation into what she has called “a multi-state, coordinated plan” by Trump’s campaign to influence the results of the 2020 election. But it served as a rebuke of Willis and provided ammunition to her critics who have accused her of pursuing a politically motivated case.

A number of high-ranking state officials have already been questioned before the special grand jury investigating the case. Willis is also seeking to compel testimony from some close Trump associates, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as state lawmakers and the 15 other Republicans who served as fake electors. Rudy Giuliani, the Trump attorney and former New York mayor, has been ordered to testify next month.

In other developments in the case Monday, a federal judge in Georgia said she would not quash a subpoena to compel testimony from U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who was among the GOP lawmakers who attended a December 2020 meeting at the White House in which Trump allies discussed various ways to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.

And Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, was scheduled to appear at Willis’ office on Monday to record video testimony to be shown to the special grand jury. In early December 2020, Trump called Kemp and urged him to order a special legislative session to appoint electors who would vote for Trump. Kemp has said Trump also asked him to order an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes.

Meanwhile, speaking at a news conference Monday in Greenville, South Carolina, Graham said he would continue to fight efforts to subpoena him in the investigation. Willis has indicated she wants to question him about phone calls he made to the Georgia secretary of state.

“I think this is a constitutional overreach, and I’m confident the courts will take care of it,” Graham said.

In ruling for Jones on Monday, McBurney said that Willis was within her rights to host the fundraiser but that her decision “has consequences.”

“She has bestowed her office’s imprimatur upon Senator Jones’s opponent. And since then, she has publicly (in her pleadings) labeled Senator Jones a ‘target’ of the grand jury’s investigation,” the judge wrote. “This scenario creates a plain — and actual and untenable — conflict. Any decision the District Attorney makes about Senator Jones in connection with the grand jury investigation is necessarily infected by it.”

The order says Willis and her team cannot subpoena Jones or seek to obtain any records from him, may not publicly categorize him as a subject or target of the special grand jury’s investigation and may not ask the special grand jury to include any recommendations about him in its final report.

Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, said that since the special grand jury can’t issue criminal indictments it may be premature to appoint another prosecutor to handle the matter. His office is reviewing the order and case law and will make a decision at the appropriate time, he said in a statement.

McBurney denied a request from 11 of the other people who signed the false electoral certificate to disqualify Willis from matters regarding them and also declined to quash subpoenas for them.

In Hice’s failed bid to avoid testifying, he argued that any actions he took to investigate “alleged irregularities” in the election were within his authority as a member of Congress and are shielded by the U.S. Constitution from any legal proceedings and inquiry. He also cited a doctrine that excludes high-ranking officials from having to testify.

The judge in his case, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May, said she would send the matter back to Fulton County Superior Court and instruct the parties to come up with a process to handle objections by Hice on the basis of those federal principles. If disagreements arise that they can’t settle, Hice can bring the federal issues back to her to settle, she said.

Hice will leave office in January after an unsuccessful campaign, backed by Trump, to unseat Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who rejected the then-president’s entreaties to “find” 11,870 votes — enough to beat Biden in Georgia by one vote.

___

Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A sign marks the water line from 2002 near Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Sat...
Associated Press

More human remains discovered as drought dries Lake Mead

More human remains have been found at drought-stricken Lake Mead National Recreation Area east of Las Vegas, authorities said Sunday.
15 hours ago
Associated Press

North Carolina sheriff stocking schools with AR-15 rifles

MARSHALL, N.C. (AP) — When schools in one North Carolina county reopen later this month, new security measures will include stocking AR-15 rifles for school resource officers to use in the event of an active shooter. Spurred by the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead in May, […]
15 hours ago
Republican Kentucky State Representative Savannah Maddox addresses the audience gathered during the...
Associated Press

Kentucky candidates struggle when describing 2020 election

FANCY FARM, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Republicans came to the state’s premier political event this weekend intent on winning elections in November and beyond, but some candidates aspiring to become governor had a hard time coming to terms with Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020. They gave parsed or tortured responses when asked if Democrat Joe […]
15 hours ago
FILE - Miss America 2018 Cara Mund poses for photographers on the 86th Floor Observation Deck of th...
Associated Press

Former Miss America Cara Mund plans to run for Congress

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Cara Mund, a former Miss America who gained attention by criticizing the organization near the end of her reign in 2018, plans to run for Congress in North Dakota as an independent. Mund announced her candidacy Saturday and said she would start gathering the 1,000 signatures she needs to get on […]
15 hours ago
Jan Longone, Curator of American Culinary History, holds up a book from the exhibit titled "The Old...
Associated Press

Janice Longone, chronicler of US culinary history, dies

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Janice Bluestein Longone, who is credited with collecting thousands of items chronicling the culinary history of the United States, including cookbooks, menus, advertisements and diaries, has died at age 89. Longone died Wednesday, according to Nie Family Funeral Home in Ann Arbor. The cause and location of death weren’t announced. […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Coroner: Smoke inhalation killed at least 5 of 10 in fire

NESCOPECK, Pa. (AP) — Authorities say at least half of the 10 people found dead after an early morning fire in northeastern Pennsylvania died of smoke inhalation. The Luzerne County coroner’s office said autopsies on the victims of the early Friday blaze in Nescopeck began Saturday. Examinations by Dr. Gary Ross were completed on three […]
15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Judge: Georgia probe prosecutor can’t question state senator