By Linda So, Reuters
Prosecutors in Georgia’s biggest county have opened a criminal investigation into former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to influence the state’s 2020 election results, ordering government officials on Wednesday to preserve documents in the second known criminal probe facing Trump.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sent letters to state officials, including Republicans Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp notifying them of the investigation and seeking to preserve “all records potentially related to the administration” of the state’s Nov. 3 election.
“This investigation includes, but is not limited to, potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration,” Willis said in the letters, dated Feb. 10 and reviewed by Reuters.
The letters asked state officials to preserve records, including “those that may be evidence of attempts to influence the actions of persons who were administering that election.”
The investigation by Willis, a Democrat, is the most serious probe facing Trump in Georgia after he was recorded in a Jan. 2 phone call pressuring Raffensperger to overturn the state’s election results based on unfounded voter fraud claims.
Although the letters do not specifically name Trump, a spokesman for Willis said the investigation would include the former Republican president’s Jan. 2 call in which he urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn his Georgia loss. The transcript quotes Trump telling Raffensperger: “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” which is the number Trump needed to win.
In addition to the January phone call, Trump made another call in December to Georgia’s chief elections investigator, Raffensperger’s office has said.
In a statement, Jason Miller, a senior Trump adviser, accused Democrats of attempting “to score political points by continuing their witch hunt against President Trump,” adding “everybody sees through it.”
A divided U.S. Senate voted largely along party lines on Tuesday to move ahead with Trump’s impeachment trial on a charge of inciting the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The letters were first reported by The New York Times.
On Monday, Raffensperger opened his own fact-finding investigation into the call.
“This matter is of high priority,” Willis wrote. “I am confident that as fellow law enforcement officers sworn to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and Georgia, our acquisition of information and evidence of potential crimes via interviews, documents, videos and electronic records will be cooperative.”
Raffensperger’s office declined to comment.
Prosecutors in New York have also opened criminal and civil investigations into Trump over his businesses.
Fulton County is Georgia’s most populous county and home to the state capital Atlanta.
The Georgia probe highlights the growing legal cases Trump faces after leaving the White House and losing the presidential protections that shielded him from prosecution. An investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr into Trump’s business dealings has intensified in recent months, Reuters reported this week.
Legal experts say Trump’s phone calls may have violated at least three state criminal election laws: conspiracy to commit election fraud, criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, and intentional interference with performance of election duties. The possible felony and misdemeanor violations are punishable by fines or imprisonment.
If Trump were prosecuted, he would likely argue that he genuinely believed the election was rigged against him, the experts said, noting that criminal laws generally require a guilty state of mind or a deliberate intent to carry out a crime – and that this may be a high hurdle to clear in this case.