Judge Finds Conflict in Fulton County Investigation

https://pagepate.wistia.com/medias/cyktbbsual

Victor:
A closely-watched investigation into former President Trump and his allies’ efforts to overturn the 2020 election, it just hit a big hurdle.
Speaker 2:
A judge in Georgia has blocked the Fulton County District Attorney, Fani Willis, from probing a state senator who was one of the 16 fake Trump electors in that state. Joining us now to explain all of this is CNN’s Kara Scannell and criminal defense and constitutional law attorney, Page Pate. Kara, make sense of all this. Why did the judge do this?
Kara Scannell:
Right. So this came down to the issue of conflicts of interest. This Georgia State Senator Burt Jones, who is the person at issue here, he had asked the judge to disqualify the District Attorney Fani Willis, and here’s why. Jones is one of the fake electors. He’s also a target of the investigation, but he’s also running for Lieutenant Governor of the State. Willis, who is the District Attorney, has held a fundraiser for Jones’s rival, his political opponent, in that race. The judge said that is an untenable conflict of interest, so he has disqualified Fani Lewis and her office from investigating Jones.
Kara Scannell:
He said that she can’t question him, she can’t call him a target, and he can’t be included in the report that will be produced by the special grand jury. However, the judge said that she can continue to ask questions about him, and any potential prosecutorial decision would be made by another district attorney appointed by the Attorney General. This does not have broader implications on the investigation. In fact, 11 other fake electors are scheduled to appear before that special grand jury this week.
Victor:
The judge, Page, called this a what were you thinking moment for DA Willis. Kara says this doesn’t have a broader implication on the investigation. What does this mean then?
Page Pate:
Well, Victor, first of all, it means this could create some serious complications with Fani Willis pursuing her case as it is currently structured. What’s going to happen now is a new District Attorney will be appointed just to consider the evidence against Senator Jones. Now, if that DA cooperates with Fani Willis and has a very narrow investigation, tries to talk to Senator Jones, perhaps has him testify, records that testimony and then provides it to Fani Willis, no problem. But if that new district attorney has a different view of this investigation, maybe strikes an immunity deal with Senator Jones, could do all kinds of things that could disrupt Fani Willis’s investigation. So it really depends on what this new district attorney will do once that part of the case is transferred to him or her.
Speaker 2:
But Page, are district attorneys supposed to be holding fundraisers for political candidates. How commonplace or strange is this?
Page Pate:
Well, in Georgia, it’s not that strange. District attorneys in Georgia are partisan. They carry party labels. Fani Willis is a Democrat. There are other Republicans who hold office. So unlike our judges in Georgia, you have to declare a party affiliation to run as a DA. But I think it was absolutely a bad idea for Fani Willis, during the course of this investigation, to hold this fundraiser for Senator Jones’s Democratic challenger in the election. And I also think it was a mistake to send out this target letter ahead of time. That is not necessary under the law, so it’s a potential conflict that the District Attorney herself created, and it’s unfortunate given her investigation.
Victor:
Speaking of targets, Kara, one of the targets of Trump’s pressure campaign, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is take taping a statement for the special grand jury today. Tell us about that.
Kara Scannell:
Right, Victor. So the Governor is taping this testimony that will be presented to the special grand jury at some point in the future. Kemp was one of those officials that Trump had reached out to after the 2020 election, and he was pressuring Kemp to try to institute a special session and convince the state legislator to overturn Biden’s victory in that state. Trump also wanted Kemp to order an audit of the absentee ballots and their signatures. Now Kemp, a Republican, declined to do either of those things. But his testimony, he’s one of the most high profile people to do this testimony. The reason why he’s doing it via video is because prosecutors said they understood that he is the sitting governor of the state, and so they’re trying to reach this accommodation with him. But he is one of several high profile people that will have evidence presented before this special grand jury.
Speaker 2:
Page, how valuable is his testimony?
Page Pate:
Potentially very valuable. We understand at this point that the nature of that call that Trump made to Governor Kemp was to get him to try to call this special session of the state legislature here in Georgia, which the Governor is authorized to do. Kemp apparently pushed back on that. So to find out exactly what was said during that call, how hard was Trump pushing for this, could certainly show evidence of his intent to interfere with the election results here in Georgia. So I think what was actually said during that call is critical, and it was not recorded and played like the call with the Secretary of State. So his testimony is very important.
Victor:
Page, do they lose something by not having questions, by just accepting this recorded statement?
Page Pate:
Oh, I think they absolutely do, but here it’s a compromise. I think Governor Kemp could have fought the subpoena like some of the other folks have. Maybe ultimately he would have lost that fight. But then, as would the fake electors, probably the DA’s ability to question the Governor would be limited to certain questions. So here, at least this is an attempt to let’s get some of your testimony on the record. I don’t expect you, Governor Kemp, to help us prosecute Trump. But if you’re honest about what was said in this call, that may be all we need. So I think it’s a good idea to go forward with this, keep the investigation moving, and not have the legal battle that would occur if she tried to subpoena him.
Speaker 2:
Okay. Kara Scannell, Page Pate, thank you for explaining all of this.

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