Judge denies challenge to lawmakers to testify before special grand jury in Trump election probe

A Fulton County judge has rejected a motion to challenge subpoenas from two state lawmakers to testify before the special grand jury investigating possible election manipulation by former President Donald Trump.

The special grand jury sat in May at the request of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who said in a letter to the Chief Justice of the County Superior Court that her team believes the 2020 general election was “subject to possible criminal disturbances” and is seeking in β€œall coordinated efforts to unlawfully alter the outcome of the 2020 election in this state.”

Fulton County Superior Court judge Robert McBurney ruled Wednesday that Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and former state senator William Ligon must testify before the grand jury, but also set limits on what grand jurors can ask them and other state legislators who are called.

Duncan and Ligon attorneys tried to say the legislative privilege protected them from having to testify.

Ligon, who was not up for re-election in 2020, presided over the Dec. 3, 2020 committee hearing where Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others spoke. Attorneys Don Samuel and Amanda Clark Palmer, who have been appointed as special assistant legislative counsel, argued on behalf of Ligon and Duncan β€” who also serves as Senate president β€” that the subpoenas should be quashed. The attorneys told the judge they would likely represent other state lawmakers called before the special grand jury.

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Georgia’s constitution says that no member of the General Assembly “shall answer in any other place to anything spoken in either House or in a committee meeting of either House.” McBurney said it is important to allow lawmakers to speak freely with each other while conducting legitimate legislative activity.

As a result, McBurney wrote in his warrant, prosecutors and grand jurors cannot ask a legislator “about anything he said while participating in a session of the legislature, whether on the floor of the body or on a subcommittee.” That includes conversations and documents prepared by a legislator or legislative staff. The motivations of elected officials for actions taken during a legislative session are not examined by a grand jury, he wrote.

Lawmakers should also not be asked to communicate directly with other lawmakers when preparing for a legislative session or drafting legislation or official report, McBurney wrote.

But the legislative privilege does not extend to communications with citizens on topics related to the grand jury investigation, even if that communications took place while performing legislative duties, McBurney wrote.

McBurney also turned down a request from Ligon to postpone his grand jury testimony until September to accommodate his attorney’s trial schedule. The judge said Ligon must be available for two hours to testify while the grand jury meets Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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