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Thursday, August 18, 2022

OPINION CHARLES M. BLOW Republicans Are America’s Problem


Republicans Are America’s Problem

Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

“Tuesday’s primary in Wyoming delivered Liz Cheney a resounding defeat. She is one of the few Republicans in Congress willing to resist Donald Trump’s election lies, and Republican voters punished her for it.

First, let me say, I have no intention of contributing to the hagiography of Liz Cheney. She is a rock-ribbed Republican who supported Trump’s legislative positions 93 percent of the time. It is on the insurrection and election lies where she diverged.

In a way, she is the Elvis of politics: She took something — in this case a position — that others had held all along and made it cross over. She mainstreamed a political principle that many liberals had held all along.

Excuse me if I temper my enthusiasm for a person who presents herself as a great champion of democracy but votes against the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Situational morality is better than none, I suppose, but I see it for what it is, and I am minimally moved.

However, her loss does crystallize something for us that many had already known: that the bar to clear in the modern Republican Party isn’t being sufficiently conservative but rather being sufficiently obedient to Donald Trump and his quest to deny and destroy democracy.

We must stop thinking it hyperbolic to say that the Republican Party itself is now a threat to our democracy. I understand the queasiness about labeling many of our fellow Americans in that way. I understand that it sounds extreme and overreaching.

But how else are we to describe what we are seeing?

Of the 10 Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in fomenting the insurrection, four didn’t seek re-election and four lost their primaries. Only two have advanced to the general election, and those two were running in states that allow voters to vote in any primary, regardless of their party affiliation.

Polls have consistently shown that only a small fraction of Republicans believe Joe Biden was legitimately elected. He was, of course. (That fact apparently can’t be repeated often enough.)

And in fact, according to a Washington Post analysis published this week, in battleground states, nearly two-thirds of the Republican nominees for the state and federal offices with sway over elections believe the last election was stolen.

This is only getting worse. Last month, a CNN poll found that Republicans are now less likely to believe that democracy is under attack than they were earlier in the year, before the Jan. 6 committee began unveiling its explosive revelations. Thirty-three percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the party should be very accepting of candidates who say the election was stolen; 39 percent more said the party should be somewhat accepting of those candidates.

Furthermore, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll published in January found that the percentage of Republicans who say that violence against the government can sometimes be justified had climbed to 40 percent, compared with just 23 percent of Democrats. It should also be noted that 40 percent of white people said that violence could be justified compared with just 18 percent of Black people.

We have to stop saying that all these people are duped and led astray, that they are somehow under the spell of Trump and programmed by Fox News.

Propaganda and disinformation are real and insidious, but I believe that to a large degree, Republicans’ radicalization is willful.

Republicans have searched for multiple election cycles for the right vehicle and packaging for their white nationalism, religious nationalism, nativism, craven capitalism and sexism.

There was a time when they believed that it would need to be packaged in politeness — compassionate conservatism — and the party would eventually recommend a more moderate approach intended to branch out and broaden its appeal — in its autopsy after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss.

But Trump offered them an alternative, and they took it: Instead of running away from their bigotries, intolerances and oppression, they would run headlong into them. They would unapologetically embrace them.

This, to many Republicans, felt good. They no longer needed to hide. They could live their truths, no matter how reprehensible. They could come out of the closet, wrapped in their cruelty.

But the only way to make this strategy work and viable, since neither party dominates American life, was to back a strategy of minority rule and to disavow democracy.

Pew Research Center poll found that between 2018 and 2021, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents gradually came to support more voting restrictions.

In a December NPR/Ipsos poll, a majority of Democrats, independents and Republicans all thought that American democracy, and America itself, was in crisis, but no group believed it more than Republicans.

But this is a scenario in which different people look at the same issue from different directions and interpret it differently.

Republicans are the threat to our democracy because their own preferred form of democracy — one that excludes and suppresses, giving Republicans a fighting chance of maintaining control — is in danger.

For modern Republicans, democracy only works — and is only worth it — when and if they win.“

Allen Weisselberg, a Top Trump Executive, Pleads Guilty in Tax Scheme

Allen Weisselberg, a Top Trump Executive, Pleads Guilty in Tax Scheme

“Mr. Weisselberg refused to cooperate in the Manhattan district attorney’s broader investigation into Donald J. Trump and his family business.

Allen Weisselberg, left, appeared in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday to plead guilty to 15 felonies.
Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times

Allen H. Weisselberg, one of Donald J. Trump’s most trusted lieutenants, stood before a judge in a Lower Manhattan courtroom on Thursday and admitted that he had conspired with the former president’s company to commit numerous crimes.

Mr. Weisselberg’s guilty plea, which followed more than a year of the Manhattan district attorney’s office pressuring him to cooperate in a broader investigation of Mr. Trump, painted a damning picture of the beleaguered company, which now faces significant financial penalties if it loses its own trial on similar charges.

But for prosecutors who have long sought to indict Mr. Trump, Thursday’s hearing was something of a consolation prize. Mr. Weisselberg refused to turn on Mr. Trump himself, something prosecutors had hoped he would do since they charged him with 15 felonies last July.

Under the plea deal, Mr. Weisselberg must pay nearly $2 million in taxes, penalties and interest after accepting lavish off-the-books perks from Mr. Trump and his company, including leased Mercedes-Benzes, an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and private school tuition for his grandchildren.

He also must point the finger at his longtime employer, the Trump Organization, at its trial in October. In exchange, Mr. Weisselberg, who was facing years in prison, is likely to receive a five-month jail sentence, and with time credited for good behavior, he might serve as little as 100 days.

The deal emerged after weeks of pitched back-and-forth negotiations. They culminated in a crucial meeting on Monday, Mr. Weisselberg’s 75th birthday, when his lawyers gathered with prosecutors in the judge’s chambers, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyers, Nicholas A. Gravante Jr. and Mary E. Mulligan, pressed for leniency, emphasizing their client’s age, frail health and past service in the National Guard and arguing that the district attorney’s demand for a six-month jail term was excessive.

The judge had previously warned that Mr. Weisselberg’s only chance for probation was cooperating with the broader investigation into Mr. Trump’s business practices. With that off the table, he proposed a compromise: Over the objections of the district attorney’s office, the judge would agree to the five-month sentence.

An examination of how the deal took shape, based on interviews with a half-dozen people knowledgeable about the plea negotiations, underscores Mr. Weisselberg’s bottom line: He would not betray Mr. Trump. For now at least, that unflinching loyalty to a family he has served for nearly a half-century has helped stymie the larger effort to indict the former president.

The interviews also highlight the intense negotiations between Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyers and the district attorney’s office — and the previously unknown role played by the judge, Juan Merchan, to guide the talks — once it became clear that the Trump Organization would refuse to sign a plea deal of its own. Had the company agreed to plead guilty, the judge had offered to impose an even shorter sentence on Mr. Weisselberg, the people said.

Understand the Cases Against Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization

Who is Allen H. Weisselberg? Mr. Weisselberg was the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer and for decades, one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most trusted executives. He entered the Trump orbit as a junior bookkeeper for Mr. Trump’s father and climbed the ranks in the decades that followed.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Gravante said, “In one of the most difficult decisions of his life, Mr. Weisselberg decided to enter a plea of guilty today to put an end to this case and the yearslong legal and personal nightmares it has caused for him and his family.”

He added: “Rather than risk the possibility of 15 years in prison, he has agreed to serve 100 days,” and said, “We are glad to have this behind him.”

Ms. Mulligan declined to comment.

In a statement, the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, emphasized how the plea “directly implicates the Trump Organization in a wide range of criminal activity,” adding, “We look forward to proving our case in court against the Trump Organization.”

The district attorney’s investigation into Mr. Trump and his family business began with Mr. Bragg’s predecessor in 2018 and was stalled while Mr. Trump fought a subpoena for his tax returns — a battle that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

But even before the Supreme Court ruled, a new avenue in the investigation opened for prosecutors. Bloomberg News reported that Mr. Weisselberg and his family had received luxury perks, leading prosecutors to focus on him in the hopes of pressuring him to cooperate. When he balked, they indicted Mr. Weisselberg and the company in the tax scheme, bringing charges in July 2021.

The broader investigation into Mr. Trump continued, and in December, the then-district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., directed his prosecutors to begin presenting evidence about Mr. Trump to a grand jury.

But Mr. Bragg, who was sworn in on Jan. 1, grew concerned about proving that Mr. Trump had intended to commit a crime, a necessary element of any case against the former president. That burden would have been particularly difficult to meet without an inside witness like Mr. Weisselberg.

For that reason, the grand jury presentation about the former president was halted, leading two senior prosecutors to resign and leaving the future of the inquiry — which Mr. Bragg has said continues — uncertain.

Even though he did not secure Mr. Weisselberg’s cooperation, and Mr. Trump appears to be personally unscathed, Mr. Bragg can still declare the plea a victory. Prosecutors now can point to Mr. Weisselberg’s admissions that he conspired with the Trump Organization — weighty evidence against the company — when they face off at trial. And Mr. Weisselberg, an accountant who served a vital role as the company’s financial gatekeeper, will be branded as a felon.

In a statement, the Trump Organization said its two corporate entities under indictment, the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corp., would not plead guilty for “the simple reason that they have done nothing wrong.”

The company also called Mr. Weisselberg “a fine and honorable man who, for the past four years, has been harassed, persecuted and threatened by law enforcement, particularly the Manhattan district attorney, in their never-ending, politically motivated quest to get President Trump.”

Mr. Trump is also the subject of a civil investigation being conducted by the New York State attorney general, Letitia James. That inquiry is focused on whether Mr. Trump fraudulently inflated the value of his hotels, golf clubs and other assets to obtain loans.

In a statement about Mr. Weisselberg’s plea on Thursday, Ms. James, whose office is also participating in the criminal investigation, said, “Let this guilty plea send a loud and clear message: We will crack down on anyone who steals from the public for personal gain because no one is above the law.”

Last week, Ms. James’s office interviewed Mr. Trump under oath, and the former president invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times, which a jury could hold against him if Ms. James decides to file a lawsuit against the former president.

Mr. Trump faces a number of other investigations related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of sensitive documents after he left the White House. Last week, F.B.I. agents searched his Florida home, a stunning move that underscores the extent of Mr. Trump’s legal jeopardy.

In the Weisselberg case, a deal proved elusive for nearly a year after his indictment. But in May, one Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyers, Ms. Mulligan, sent a letter to the prosecutors that helped get the process moving.

Soon after, Mr. Weisselberg added Mr. Gravante to his legal team, and he conveyed a willingness to negotiate behind the scenes.

The first step came in mid-June in the judge’s chambers. Seated around the judge’s conference room table and couch, each side argued the strength of its case, with Mr. Gravante seeking probation for Mr. Weisselberg if he struck a plea deal.

Susan Hoffinger, who is overseeing the case as the head of Mr. Bragg’s investigation division, argued that Mr. Weisselberg would need to serve time in state prison. For the most significant crime he was accused of, the minimum allowable sentence if prison time was imposed was one to three years.

It was then that Justice Merchan, a former prosecutor who has been on the bench for more than a decade, offered a crucial piece of guidance to Mr. Weisselberg’s team: He said he did not think that white-collar criminals deserved to be spared prison time. And if Mr. Weisselberg was convicted, the judge warned that he would order him into custody that same day.

The only way to avoid serving time behind bars, the judge indicated, was if Mr. Weisselberg cooperated and pleaded guilty.

That advice prompted a final attempt to persuade Mr. Weisselberg to provide any details on the way Mr. Trump valued his hotels, golf clubs and other assets.

Mr. Weisselberg insisted that Mr. Trump had done nothing wrong, and that he would rather go to jail than fabricate a story about him. But he did come up with something — that Mr. Trump would occasionally draw a circle around the valuation of an asset on his annual financial statement, adding a question mark beside the number. But Mr. Trump, he said, did not order anyone to inflate the numbers.

When Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyers presented this scant information to the prosecutors in mid-July, they were not impressed.

The negotiations had hit a wall. But Mr. Gravante had a proposal: He offered to try to persuade the Trump Organization lawyers to accept a plea deal, on the condition that Mr. Weisselberg receive a one-month sentence. Justice Merchan, also seeking to break the impasse, agreed to impose a three-month sentence on Mr. Weisselberg if he and the two Trump Organization entities pleaded guilty in the coming weeks.

But Mr. Trump’s company refused to consider pleading guilty to felony charges.

It appeared as if a deal might not materialize until a breakthrough came in recent days. The prosecutors made a new offer: They would be willing to seek only a six-month sentence for Mr. Weisselberg if he pleaded guilty to all 15 felonies, including that he conspired with the company — a move that would tip the scales against the Trump Organization at its October trial. The prosecutors also asked that Mr. Weisselberg’s sentence be imposed after the Trump Organization’s trial, providing them with continuing leverage over him.

When Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyers met with the prosecutors and the judge on Monday, Mr. Gravante pushed for an even shorter sentence, arguing that the Trump Organization’s refusal to plead guilty should not be held against his client. The judge proposed five months, of which Mr. Weisselberg would probably serve 100 days.

The deal was accepted later that day.

While the agreement might hurt the company, it appeared to spare Mr. Trump. And just hours after the deal was made, the Trump Organization threw Mr. Weisselberg a birthday party at Trump Tower.

Maggie Haberman and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.“

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Cheney says she is considering a White House run after drubbing in Wyo. primary

Cheney says she is considering a White House run after drubbing in Wyo. primary

“In Alaska, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Trump-backed GOP rival Kelly Tshibaka advanced to the general election

JACKSON, Wyo. — Rep. Liz Cheney — the once-high-ranking Republican who defied her party to wage a lonely crusade against former president Donald Trump — hinted Wednesday about a White House bid after losing her Wyoming primary in a landslide.

Harriet Hageman, a lawyer with Trump’s endorsement, ousted Cheney on Tuesday, clinching the GOP nomination for deep-red Wyoming’s only House seat. Cheney fell in defeat despite her appeals to Democrats and independents to re-register as Republicans and vote for her. The race marked the last primary challenge to a small group of House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year and are mostly set to leave Congress after withering backlash.

With more than 99 percent of the vote tallied, Hageman had about 66 percent to Cheney’s nearly 29 percent, according to the Associated Press, which projected Hageman’s win. Hageman headed into the day as the clear favorite, and close observers had anticipated her victory for weeks.

Cheney raised the prospect of taking on the task of stopping Trump if he runs in 2024, saying she is considering a White House bid.

“It is something I’m thinking about, and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” Cheney said during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show in which she said her priority will be “doing whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.”

The 45th president also loomed large Tuesday in two high-profile races in Alaska: Moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) faced a Trump-backed GOP challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, and both advanced from an all-party primary to the general election, the AP projected. Former governor Sarah Palin — an anti-establishment Republican backed by Trump — advanced in the all-party primary to November’s election in Alaska’s lone congressional district.

Palin, Democrat Mary Peltola and Republican Nick Begich will be on the ballot to replace the late congressman Don Young (R). Palin also vied for Alaska’s lone seat in the House in a special election that does not yet have a projected winner.

Rep. Liz Cheney vowed to continue her fight against former president Donald Trump after losing Wyoming’s Republican primary on Aug. 16. (Video: AP)

In Wyoming, Cheney said she plans to focus on the remainder of her congressional term — serving constituents in Wyoming and fulfilling her role as vice chairwoman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Cheney filed early Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission to establish a leadership PAC with the name “The Great Task” — a signal that her role in politics is not ending despite her losing her primary.

Cheney’s singular focus on denouncing the former president made her an especially high-profile target. House Republicans ousted Cheney from their No. 3 leadership position last year after she refused to stop criticizing Trump, and she took a prominent role on the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and the conduct of Trump and his aides on that day and in the lead-up to it.

The result in Wyoming’s primary reflected Trump’s enduring influence on Republican primary voters, who in many races this year have rallied behind those embracing his grievances and false claims, even as his preferred candidates have not always won. The defeat of a Republican from a once-powerful political family with deep ties to the Bush-era party establishment that was dominant two decades ago underlined the shift in the GOP, which is now largely led by officials and candidates prioritizing loyalty to Trump.

In a victory speech punctuated by raucous cheers, Hageman said Wyoming had “spoken on behalf of everyone who understands that our government is a government of, by and for the people.”

Campaigning in a state that Trump won by more than 40 percentage points, Cheney used her last ads to take aim at the former president’s “poisonous” false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, stoking speculation that she might run for president just to continue condemning Trump on a national stage.

Waiting in line to vote Tuesday — with her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, at her side — the congresswoman told reporters she hoped to build her campaign into a national movement across party lines to defeat Trump’s influence. Tuesday night, after calling Hageman to concede, Cheney told a crowd that “now, the real work begins” and promised that she “will do whatever it takes to ensure Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office.”

She warned that the survival of American democracy is “not guaranteed” and that those — including her opponent — who deny the legitimacy of fair elections could derail future votes. And she forcefully denounced Trump’s evidence-free accusations of wrongdoing by FBI agents who searched his residence last week to retrieve top-secret documents. Cheney warned that it’s “entirely foreseeable” that ensuing threats of violence against law enforcement will escalate.

“Our nation is barreling once again towards crisis, lawlessness and violence,” she said. “No American should support election deniers for any position of genuine responsibility.”

“I’m a conservative Republican,” she said. “I believe deeply in the principles and the ideals on which my party was founded. … But I love my country more.”

Her Tuesday-night event had the feel of a presidential announcement speech in many ways — right down to its precise timing, with the sun setting behind Cheney on the Teton mountains. The crowd included her parents and longtime Wyoming Republican supporters as well as Democrats who organized on her behalf. People cheered as she left the stage to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

Cheney is the fourth House Republican to lose a primary after voting to impeach Trump last year on charges that he incited a riot. The others are Reps. Tom Rice of South Carolina, Peter Meijer of Michigan and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (Wash.), who also voted for impeachment, advanced to the general election this month as a slew of challengers split the GOP vote in an all-party primary. Rep. David G. Valadao prevailed in another all-party primary in a blue-leaning California district where Trump declined to endorse an opponent. Four others who voted to impeach have declined to seek reelection.

While others in the GOP have sought distance from Trump and competed for influence, few have been willing to oppose him as publicly as Cheney has.

“There will come a point when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain,” she told GOP colleagues this summer as she helped open congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Hageman used to support Cheney and in 2016 opposed Trump, calling him “racist and xenophobic.” But she has since come to embrace Trump and baselessly claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” against him, as many successful Republican candidates around the country have claimed. A Washington Post analysis found that in battleground states, candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 vote have won GOP nominations this year for nearly two-thirds of state and federal offices with power over elections.

Hageman has campaigned on her legal career fighting the federal government and its conservation efforts in Wyoming, while also attacking Cheney as unrepresentative of conservatives — someone who has “cast her lot with the Washington, D.C., elites.”

“Liz Cheney? She’s made her time in Congress and this election all about her,” Hageman says in one ad. Limited pre-primary polling in the race showed Cheney trailing Hageman by a wide margin.

Hageman will be heavily favored in November against Lynnette Grey Bull, who won the Democratic nomination.

Cheney has built a staunchly conservative voting record over nearly six years in Congress; when Trump was in office, she voted with him more than 90 percent of the time. Her family is Republican royalty in Wyoming.

That history has made her a strange ally to Democrats who admire her anti-Trump mission and her work on the Jan. 6 committee. Thousands of Democratic and independent voters poured into the GOP primary, along with moderate Republicans who might have previously shied away from Cheney.

“I just want to shake your hand,” Kathy Tompkins told Cheney on Tuesday in Teton County, where Jackson is the county seat. Teton was the only county in Wyoming to support President Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of the nearly 4,000 votes cast early in Teton County, 190 came in the Democratic primary.

Then she thanked Dick Cheney. “You raised a good daughter,” said Tompkins, who said she considers herself a liberal but also a “strategic” Republican, voting whenever there is a moderate option.

Loring Woodman, a longtime Democrat and the retired host of a guest ranch, was reluctant to back Cheney even after her vote to impeach Trump. But then the Jan. 6 committee hearings began, and he decided he would do whatever he could to support her.

Alli Noland, who runs a public relations firm, said she fears all the focus on crossover voters has driven away conservatives. “It really fired up all the Republicans,” she said.

Cheney’s campaign openly sought support from Democrats this summer, mailing instructions on how to switch parties for the primary. But even allies doubted that that could change her luck in a state where earlier this year Republicans held a more than a 4-to-1 edge in voter registration. In 2018, about 115,000 votes were cast in the GOP primary, while 17,000 voted in the Democratic contest.

In Alaska, Tuesday’s vote was in part another test of Trump’s ability’s to boost challengers to those he calls “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only. Despite Trump’s tremendous sway in the GOP, some of his primary picks this year have struggled against incumbents with established reputations in their states.

Murkowski, who has broken with Trump and her party at times, including through her vote to convict Trump last year after the House impeached him, was running slightly ahead of Tshibaka, with about 66 percent of the vote in the Senate primary tallied. Both were well ahead of Democrat Pat Chesbro, a retired school official.

Political analysts expected Murkowski to benefit from Alaska’s new voting system, which uses all-party primaries and a ranked-choice process that boosts candidates with broad appeal. The senator has survived challenges from the right before: In 2010, Murkowski lost the GOP primary but pulled off a remarkable comeback as a write-in candidate.

Murkowski drew particular criticism from the right after voting against Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, with Trump predicting at the time that she would “never recover.” She has also joined with Democrats on key legislation, including last year’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which most Republicans worked to block.

Alaskans also voted Tuesday in a special election to replace Don Young, the Republican who held the state’s House seat for almost half a century and died suddenly in March. Palin got the most votes earlier this summer in a crowded primary that winnowed the field to four candidates, one of whom dropped out.

Alaska leans Republican. But the Democratic candidate, former state legislator Mary Peltola, who if she won would be the first Alaska Native member of the state’s congressional delegation, had a slight lead, with about 65 percent of the vote tallied. Palin and Begich, who were expected to split the conservative vote, were running second and third, respectively. The AP had not projected a winner.

Voters were asked to rank as many candidates as they wanted; if no one wins a majority of the initial votes, the lowest-performing candidate will be eliminated, and their votes will be redistributed. That process could hurt a polarizing figure like Palin.

The results of the special election probably will take weeks to emerge, as state election officials say they will not start counting voters’ second choices until an absentee ballot deadline. Ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day, but those mailed from outside the United States can arrive more than two weeks later and still be counted.

The special election to serve out the rest of Young’s term unfolded the same day as a primary for the following term.

Palin hit the national stage in 2008 as running mate of then-GOP presidential nominee John McCain, exciting the conservative base but also drawing ridicule from others. Palin resigned as Alaska governor after she and McCain lost but remained a celebrity on the right, appearing on Fox News and reality TV.

Some voters criticized Palin on Tuesday as overly focused on national issues and fame. “I hope that she gets run out of this state for good,” said Malcom Ray, an engineer. But others expressed support, citing Trump’s endorsement and Palin’s position on abortion.

Knowles reported from Washington. Nathaniel Herz in Alaska and Scott Clement in Washington contributed to this report.“

Rudy Giuliani to Face Atlanta Grand Jury Investigating Trump Today - The New York Times


Rudy Giuliani to Face Atlanta Grand Jury Investigating Trump Today - The New York Times

Giuliani Appears Before Atlanta Grand Jury Investigating Trump

"The former New York mayor has been told that he is a target in the investigation concerning whether Donald J. Trump and his associates tried to illegally influence the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

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Rudolph W. Giuliani arrived for an appearance before a special grand jury investigating whether former President Donald J. Trump and his associates tried to illegally influence the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.Nicole Craine for The New York Times

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 a.m. 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” in 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.

Mr. Giuliani arrived in a black Yukon Denali with his lawyer, Robert Costello, and Vernon Jones, a prominent Trump supporter in Georgia and a vociferous promoter of the unfounded idea that Mr. Trump won the state in 2020.

Asked what he expected to talk about, Mr. Giuliani told a large crush of reporters outside the courthouse, “They’ll ask the questions, and we’ll see.”

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 of South Carolina was ordered by a federal judge on Monday to appear before the special grand jury.
Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

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 hearing in Santa Fe on Aug. 26.

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 at least to 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."

Rudy Giuliani to Face Atlanta Grand Jury Investigating Trump Today - The New York Times