Rudy Giuliani, the one-time New York City mayor who spearheaded former President Donald Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election outcome, began testifying Wednesday before a special grand jury in Georgia investigating the Trump team’s suspected election meddling scheme in the state.
Georgia is one of six battleground states where Trump was defeated in his bid for reelection and then mounted a legal and political pressure campaign to change the results in his favor. But it is the only state where a local prosecutor has been investigating people involved in the scheme.
Giuliani, who served as Trump’s personal lawyer during the campaign, was ordered by a judge last month to appear as a witness before the special purpose grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, but was recently informed that he is now a “target” of the fast-moving investigation, his lawyer disclosed on Monday.
The change in Giluani’s status does not mean that the long-time Trump friend is about to be charged but it raises the likelihood of his criminal liability, making him the closest person to the former president to face potential indictment so far for his role in seeking to subvert the election outcome, according to legal experts.
Being labeled a target of an investigation suggests the “prosecutor believes there’s substantial evidence that person has committed a crime,” said Kimberly Wehle, a former federal prosecutor, now a professor of law at the University of Baltimore.
Giuliani is not the only Trump confidant ordered to testify before the Georgia grand jury, which was formed earlier this year and has received testimony from several other witnesses. Several other lawyers tied to the Trump effort in Georgia have also been asked to testify.
Another influential subpoenaed witness is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s closest allies. Prosecutors want to question him about two phone calls he had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in November 2020 to inquire whether certain mail-in ballots could be thrown out. Graham, who says the calls served a legislative purpose, has been ordered to testify before the grand jury next week.
In addition, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis last month informed 16 people who falsely claimed to be “electors” for Trump after the state had certified Joe Biden the winner that they were targets of her investigation.
All of this has raised the legal stakes for Trump. While Willis hasn’t publicly identified the former president as a target of her investigation, Trump appears to be the principal target, said John Malcolm, a former federal prosecutor in Georgia who is now vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“The critical person in this investigation is pretty clearly Donald Trump, not Rudy Giuliani, [former Trump lawyer] Cleta Mitchell, or alternative electors [or anyone else she labels a target],” Malcolm said, referring to Willis.
Drew Findling, one of the lawyers representing Trump in Georgia, did not respond to a question for comment.
A long-time Trump friend from New York, Giuliani emerged as Trump’s most powerful advocate during the former president’s failed effort to stay in office after Democratic challenger Biden’s win in key battleground states catapulted him to victory.
One such state was Georgia, which Biden won by 11,779 votes.
In December 2021 Giuliani traveled to the state to tell a hearing of Georgia lawmakers that the state’s election was marred by widespread voting fraud and urged them to appoint an alternate slate of presidential electors for Trump.
A viral video played during the hearing allegedly showed suitcases of ballots being pulled from under a table to be counted in secret after Republican watchers had left.
Giuliani’s claims were roundly debunked by state and federal officials. But that did not stop Trump from calling Raffensperger, the state’s top election official, in early January and asking him to “find” him 11,780 votes, one more vote than Biden’s margin of victory.
All this appears to be under investigation in Georgia. Willis, the Georgia prosecutor, has largely kept mum about her investigation but in a letter to state officials last year, she revealed that she was investigating several possible Georgia law violations: solicitation of election fraud, making false statements to local officials, conspiracy, racketeering, violations of oath of office and involvement in violence or threats of violence.
Clark Cunningham, a professor of law at Georgia State University, said Giuliani’s allegedly false statements to the Georgia legislature would be one reason for scrutinizing his conduct.
“He made lots of statements about election fraud, and if he knew those statements contained false information, then he would have committed a felony under Georgia law,” Cunningham said in an interview.
In addition, Giuliani could face charges under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute for his role in pushing the fake electors’ scheme, Cunningham said.
Recent court filings by the DA’s office suggest that prosecutors believe “Giuliani was directly involved in encouraging this so-called fake electors’ scheme here in Georgia,” Cunningham said.
If Willis decides to pursue RICO charges, Trump could be implicated, Wehle said.
“Trump called Raffensperger asking that he find 11,780 votes, so he’s ensnared in that— in more ways than one,” Wehle said.
But Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation scoffed at the notion that Trump and his associates could be charged under RICO.
“These aren’t Mafia dons and consiglieres,” Malcolm said. “These are the president of the United States and attorneys. Now, Rudy Giuliani — and for that matter, John Eastman and Sydney Powell — may have been giving the president horrifically bad advice, but it’s still advice.”
Trump has defended his call to Raffensperger and denied any wrongdoing. In a statement to the Law & Crime website, the Trump lawyer Findling called the Georgia special grand jury investigation “misguided and overblown.”
The Fulton County D.A.’s office has subpoenaed virtually every major player involved in the Trump campaign’s alleged attempt to overturn the election outcome in Georgia, Cunningham said.
“That suggests that it’s a very sweeping and energetic investigation that’s being conducted here in Atlanta,” Cunningham said.
The “special purpose” grand jury does not have the authority to return an indictment, but it may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecutions.
Once Willis receives the recommendations, she can then turn to a regular grand jury to issue indictments.