By KATE BRUMBACK Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — A judge said Tuesday that Rudy Giuliani must appear in Atlanta in person to testify before a special grand jury that’s investigating whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the 2020 election in Georgia and set his appearance for next week.
The former New York mayor and Trump attorney had originally been ordered to appear Tuesday. But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, excused him after his lawyers filed a motion seeking to delay his appearance.
Giuliani’s lawyers have argued that a recent medical procedure to place two heart stents has left him unable to travel by plane. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her team have rejected Giuliani’s attorneys’ suggestions that he appear virtually, for example by Zoom, or do an interview with prosecutors rather than appearing before the special grand jury.
McBurney set Giuliani’s appearance for Aug. 17. The judge said that would give Giuliani, his legal team and his doctors a chance to raise any concerns and would also allow him more time to figure out how to travel from New York to Atlanta by some method other than by plane.
If a doctor says his health won’t allow it, the date will be changed, McBurney said. But he told Giuliani attorney Bill Thomas that if they plan to ask to bump the date, they should do it sooner rather than later.
Thomas raised concerns during the hearing that Willis’ team had not responded when asked if Giuliani is a target of the investigation, meaning he could face criminal charges. McBurney said that was a fair question and said he “would implore” prosecutors to address that with Giuliani’s lawyers before he gets to Atlanta.
“Don’t leave them hanging on that front,” the judge said, noting that it would affect the questions that Giuliani would be asked and would be willing to answer, as well as the amount of time he’d be likely to spend before the special grand jury.
Willis began the investigation early last year. A special grand jury was seated in May at her request and began hearing from witnesses in June.
She has confirmed from the start that she was interested in a phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During that January 2021 conversation, Trump suggested that Raffensperger could “find” the votes needed to overturn his narrow loss in the state.
It has also become clear that Willis’s team is looking into statements that were made by Trump allies during Georgia legislative committee meetings in December 2020.
Willis last month filed petitions seeking to compel testimony from seven Trump associates and advisers. Because they don’t live in Georgia, she had to use a process that involves asking a judge in the state where they live to order them to appear.
In a petition seeking Giuliani’s testimony, Willis identified him as both a personal attorney for Trump and a lead attorney for his campaign. She wrote that he and others appeared at a state Senate committee meeting and presented a video that Giuliani said showed election workers producing “suitcases” of unlawful ballots from unknown sources, outside the view of election poll watchers.
Within 24 hours of that Dec. 3, 2020, hearing, Raffensperger’s office had debunked the video. But Giuliani continued to make statements to the public and in subsequent legislative hearings claiming widespread voter fraud using that debunked video, Willis wrote.
Evidence shows that Giuliani’s appearance and testimony at the hearing “was part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere,” the petition says.
Willis is also seeking testimony from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close Trump ally. He has asked a federal judge to quash his subpoena, and the judge has set a hearing for Wednesday.
Asked about the Fulton County investigation during a news conference in Columbia, South Carolina Tuesday, Graham said he intended to continue his fight.
“I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I had to vote on certifying an election. This is ridiculous. This weaponization of the law needs to stop,” he said. “So I will use the courts, and we’ll go as far as we need to go, and do whatever needs to be done, to make sure that people like me can do their job without fear of some county prosecutor coming after you.”
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard contributed reporting.