Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani testified on Wednesday before a special grand jury in Atlanta, Georgia, investigating former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in the state.
Georgia is one of six battleground states that Trump lost to Democratic challenger Joe Biden and then falsely claimed he had won, filing legal challenges and pressing local officials to set aside official results.
The top prosecutor in Fulton County, which covers the city of Atlanta, has been investigating whether Trump and his associates illegally meddled in the election in Georgia.
Bill Thomas, a lawyer for Giuliani, declined to comment on Giuliani’s six-hour, closed-door testimony.
“I can tell you that we were ordered to be here, we showed up, we did what we had to do,” Thomas told reporters outside the Fulton County Courthouse. “The grand jury process is a secret process, and we’re going to respect that.”
Before the testimony, another Giuliani lawyer had indicated that Giuliani would refuse to answer questions about his conversations with Trump by claiming attorney-client privilege. Giuliani also could have invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
The former personal lawyer to Trump was ordered by a judge last month to appear as a witness before the special purpose grand jury but was recently informed that he is now a target of the fast-moving investigation, his lawyer disclosed on Monday.
The change in Giuliani’s status does not mean the long-time Trump friend will 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 who is 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 Trump ally who has been subpoenaed to testify is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. 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, asked a judge on Wednesday to block his appearance 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 as the winner that they were targets of her investigation.
All of this has raised the legal stakes for Trump, who recently retained a local [Georgia] law firm to represent him in connection with the investigation.
While Willis hasn't publicly identified the former president as a target of her probe, 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,” Malcolm said, referring to Willis.
Drew Findling, one of the lawyers representing Trump in Georgia, did not respond to a question for comment.
A longtime Trump friend from New York, Giuliani emerged as one of Trump’s most vocal advocates after the November 2020 presidential election as Trump sought to challenge election results in key states that catapulted Biden to victory.
One such state was Georgia, which Biden won by 11,779 votes.
In December 2020, Giuliani traveled to the state to tell 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. He showed the lawmakers a video allegedly showing suspicious suitcases of ballots at a vote counting center.
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 2021 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 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 Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute for his role in pushing the fake electors' scheme, Cunningham said.
Recent court filings by the district attorney’s office suggest that prosecutors believe “Giuliani was directly involved in encouraging this so-called fake electors' scheme here in Georgia,” Cunningham said.
The “special purpose” grand jury does not have the authority to return an indictment, but it may recommend criminal charges.
Once Willis receives the special grand jury’s report, she can then turn to a regular grand jury to issue indictments.
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, Findling called the Georgia special grand jury investigation “misguided and overblown.”
The Fulton County District Attorney'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.