ATLANTA — When Rudolph W. Giuliani traveled to Georgia’s capital city in December 2020 to make fanciful public accusations of election fraud on behalf of President Donald J. Trump, he was greeted in a manner befitting the emissary of the most powerful man on earth, and posed for photos with admirers and sympathetic state politicians.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Giuliani was back in Atlanta, this time under very different circumstances.
The former New York City mayor, who was serving as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer after the November 2020 election, showed up shortly before 8:30 to appear before a Fulton County special grand jury conducting a criminal investigation into postelection meddling by Mr. Trump and his associates. Local prosecutors informed Mr. Giuliani’s lawyers this week that he was a “target” of that investigation, meaning that his indictment was possible.
Instead of visiting the elegant gold-domed State Capitol — where he and a pro-Trump group made a number of false claims about election fraud, raising concerns about untrustworthy voting machines and suitcases of illegal ballots — Mr. Giuliani appeared a few blocks away at the Fulton County court complex, where Atlantans go to resolve real estate disputes, file for divorce or be arraigned for armed robberies.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis has asked the F.B.I. to provide stepped-up security at the downtown courthouse, after Mr. Trump called prosecutors like her “vicious, horrible people.”
Mr. Giuliani’s lawyers fought to keep him from having to travel to Atlanta. Instead, they offered to have him appear via videoconference, and argued that he was too feeble to travel by air after having a pair of cardiac stents inserted in early July. But Judge Robert C.I. McBurney ruled last week that Mr. Giuliani could always travel “on a train, on a bus or Uber.” On Monday, a lawyer for Mr. Giuliani declined to say how his client planned to get to Atlanta from New York.
Mr. Giuliani is not the only high-profile member of Mr. Trump’s team who is less than thrilled about having to show up in Georgia to be asked about what prosecutors call “a multistate, coordinated plan by the Trump campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Senator Lindsey Graham was ordered by a federal judge on Monday to appear before the special grand jury, after Mr. Graham tried to find a way out of it. Mr. Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he would take the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, arguing that under the Speech and Debate clause of the Constitution, his status as a senator shielded him from having to testify.
“This weaponization of the law needs to stop,” Mr. Graham said in a statement. “So I will use the courts. We will 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 jobs without fear of some county prosecutor coming after you.”
Two other lawyers on the Trump team, Jenna Ellis of Colorado and John Eastman of New Mexico, were scheduled to have hearings in their home states after Ms. Willis’s office filed “petitions for certification of need for testimony” concerning them. Such petitions are typically filed only when a potential witness refuses to testify or cannot be reached by prosecutors.
In Ms. Ellis’s hearing on Tuesday, a court in Colorado ordered her to appear and testify before the special grand jury in Atlanta on Aug. 25. Mr. Eastman is expected to appear at a court in Santa Fe.
It seems unlikely that Mr. Giuliani, 78, will say much to the grand jury when he is called to testify behind closed doors. “I just can’t imagine, at this point, him cooperating,” said Michael J. Moore, an Atlanta lawyer who served as a U.S. attorney in Georgia. “He’s got several avenues that he can take. One is to claim that he can’t answer questions because of attorney-client privilege. Another is because he’s been identified as a target, and he’s going to invoke the Fifth Amendment.”
Still, the visit may be of use to the prosecutors leading the Georgia investigation, which Ms. Willis has said may result in racketeering or conspiracy charges against several defendants.
Though it is not clear what charges Mr. Giuliani might face, witnesses who have already gone before the grand jury have said that the jurors were particularly interested in two appearances by Mr. Giuliani in December 2020 before state legislative panels, where he made a number of false assertions about election fraud.
Unlike a trial jury, which would be instructed not to make any inferences about a criminal defendant’s silence, a grand jury is allowed to draw its own conclusions when witnesses or targets invoke their Fifth Amendment rights in declining to answer questions. (The special grand jury in Georgia cannot indict anyone; its job is to write a report saying whether the jurors believe crimes occurred. A regular grand jury could then issue indictments based on the special jury’s report.)
Page Pate, a veteran Atlanta trial lawyer, said that prosecutors may also try to argue to a judge that attorney-client privilege does not apply to some questions asked of Mr. Giuliani, because of the “crime fraud exception” to the privilege, which essentially states that lawyers cannot be shielded from testifying if they helped their clients commit a crime.
Even if Mr. Giuliani is successful in dodging questions much of the time, Mr. Pate said, important information about the scope of the scheme to reverse Mr. Trump’s election loss might still be divulged in the course of questioning.
“Why not just grill him and see what happens?” Mr. Pate said.
Outside the grand jury room, Mr. Giuliani has been talkative. In an interview on Monday with Newsmax, a far-right news channel, he said the Fulton County inquiry amounted to a “desecration of the Sixth Amendment,” which guarantees the right to a public trial and a lawyer, among other things.
“I was his lawyer of record in that case,” Mr. Giuliani said, referring to Mr. Trump and his concerns about the election results. “The statements that I made are either attorney-client privileged, because they were between me and him, or they were being made on his behalf in order to defend him.”
In total, 18 people are known to have been identified as targets of the investigation, including 16 pro-Trump “alternate electors” in Georgia who were sworn in on the same day as the state’s legitimate presidential electors. On Tuesday afternoon, 11 of the alternate electors began an effort to potentially disqualify Ms. Willis and her office from handling the case — an attempt connected to Ms. Willis’s previous disqualification from one portion of the investigation.
In July, Judge McBurney prohibited Ms. Willis and her office from developing a criminal case against Georgia State Senator Burt Jones, a Trump ally and alternate elector, citing a conflict of interest — namely, that Ms. Willis, a Democrat, had headlined a fund-raiser for a fellow Democrat running against Mr. Jones in the race for lieutenant governor.
Judge McBurney ruled that the decision to bring charges against Mr. Jones must be left to a different prosecutor’s office.
On Tuesday, a lawyer for 11 of the alternate electors asked the court to disqualify Ms. Willis and her office from the entire proceeding, or to at least let the 11 electors be part of the “carve out” affecting Mr. Jones, on the grounds that all of the electors “have significant roles” in the state Republican Party, and that most of them had supported Mr. Jones’s campaign for lieutenant governor.
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