Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis made clear to her staff she wanted that letter – the original copy, complete with the envelope – as part of her probe into Trump’s efforts to upend Georgia’s 2020 election results, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Trump, still stewing over his 2020 loss and eying a run in 2024, has continued to bellow complaints about the results of the last presidential election and insert himself into Peach State politics. And his antics have provided new fodder for Fulton County investigators as they examine whether his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results were criminal.
At a recent campaign stop in the state, Trump also offered investigators more insight into his interactions with another potentially relevant witness: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
Trump regaled his adoring fans at a September rally with a reenactment of his attempts last December to convince Kemp to hold a special election in the state, one of Trump’s last-ditch efforts to try to reverse the Georgia results.
After Kemp rebuffed multiple Trump aides who apparently tried to convince him to announce a special election, Trump said, he decided it was time to step in.
“So I said, ‘Let me handle it. This is easy.’ I got this guy elected,” Trump told the rally crowd, while insisting he wasn’t looking for a quid pro quo. “I said, ‘Brian, listen, you have a big election integrity problem in Georgia. I hope you can help us out and call a special election and let’s get to the bottom of it for the good of the country.’”
Kemp, in the December call with Trump, refused.
“He’s a disaster,” Trump told the crowd.
Meanwhile, investigators were quietly taking notes, a person familiar with the matter said, of the repeated attempts Trump and his allies made to try to pressure Kemp to announce another election – all recounted in Trump’s own words.
As Willis has delved into her Trump investigation, which she opened in February, she has made clear that she is looking into his activities surrounding the Georgia election. But she also plans to examine actions taken by Trump allies, including his former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham and others, that may have aided his efforts.
The sprawling probe, which may soon be on a collision course with the upcoming midterm elections, has at times proved daunting even to those inside the district attorney’s office. But newly public records – including the Trump letter, a new book by Raffensperger and testimony released by a Senate panel investigating Trump’s election meddling – has helped define the road map for Georgia investigators.
“All relevant information, whether gathered by our office, another investigative body or made public by witnesses themselves, is part of the ongoing investigation,” said Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney’s office.
‘It was nothing but an attempt at manipulation’
Raffensperger’s new book, “Integrity Counts,” includes an annotated blow-by-blow of his now-infamous January call with the then-President, in which Raffensperger – a fellow Republican – notes at various points that he felt Trump was threatening him.
At one point in the call Trump insisted, inaccurately, that some ballots were corrupt and then baselessly suggested the secretary of state’s office wasn’t reporting the corrupted ballots.
“It is more illegal for you than it is for them, because, you know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer,” Trump said in the call, the audio of which CNN obtained earlier this year.
Raffensperger writes that in that moment, “Now President Trump is using what he believes is the power of his position to threaten [General Counsel Ryan Germany] and me with prosecution if we don’t do what he tells us to do. It was nothing but an attempt at manipulation.”
In an interview with CNN, Raffensperger said he worried about whether Trump could somehow weaponize the Department of Justice or the FBI against him and others in his office.
“I could hear that he thought that he could have some kind of pressure to bear from outside forces to make our life miserable,” Raffensperger said. “They didn’t care about one person. That person was in their way. Didn’t mean to be in their way, I’m just doing my job, just reporting the facts.”
Raffensperger’s clear perception that he was being threatened was “very helpful” for investigators, according to a person familiar with Willis’ probe.
“That’s like having an ace in the hole,” said Michael J. Moore, a former US attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “I think that it’s a much better day for the prosecution if you can say: And he was threatened and he felt – clearly felt threatened in his job – whether that was with a criminal offense or something else. He felt like the President was trying to threaten him to change votes.”
Investigators still haven’t spoken directly with Raffensperger, although he said he would be willing to appear before a grand jury if summoned.
“I don’t know where that really goes,” Raffensperger said. Still, “I’ll be there to give her my vision, my opinion or my comments on what I saw.”
As for Trump’s September missive asking him to decertify the election, Raffensperger says it doesn’t feel quite so threatening now that Trump is no longer in the Oval Office.
“I think more and more people – many of the people that I’m talking to – wish we could just move on, realizing that it’s not productive, it’s not useful, and it hurts the brand,” Raffensperger told CNN, expressing his belief Trump was damaging the GOP.
‘We all know what the calendar is’
As the 2022 midterm elections draw nearer, the landscape is likely to grow more complicated for witnesses and investigators alike. And Willis’ slow-moving investigation could soon run up against the electoral calendar.
“I think that a prosecutor’s job is not to be political, but I don’t think you can divorce yourself from political reality,” said Moore, the former US attorney. “And we all know what the calendar is.”
Moore said that ideally Willis would have an announcement to make by early spring about whether she has sought an indictment for Trump.
“I think that gives her a pretty good window before the election,” Moore said. “But it is fodder for the candidates and the ad buyers to use for many months leading up to November of 2022. And that’s just the reality of where we’re at with time.”
For Trump’s part, he has already begun hinting that he is being unfairly targeted in Fulton County.
“Even the Fulton County DA, district attorney, is after me,” Trump told rallygoers in Perry in September.
For many Republicans in Georgia, Willis’ ongoing investigation, Trump’s preoccupation with 2020 and his vendetta against Republicans who failed to assist his efforts to cling to office have amalgamated into one giant political headache.
Raffensperger faces a tough reelection fight. He’ll be up against Rep. Jody Hice – who contends Trump was the true victor in Georgia and who has the backing of the former President – in the GOP primary. But Raffensperger has made clear he has no intention of whitewashing the events surrounding the 2020 election.
“I wanted to tell the facts about what happened in the 2020 election. There’d been so much misinformation, disinformation, so this is to set the record straight,” Raffensperger said of his new book.
As for his reelection bid: “I’m comfortable where I’m sitting now,” Raffensperger said.
Other Republicans aren’t so sanguine. Some have privately fretted that the Willis investigation could act as a drag on Republicans who thwarted Trump’s election meddling as the midterms approach.
Kemp, who declined to comment for this story, has remained essentially silent about Trump’s election meddling attempts and signed a restrictive new voting law as he tries to repair his image with the GOP base. Trump, in the meantime, has been searching for a GOP primary challenger to take him on.
Demonstrating the extent to which he dislikes Kemp, the former President has even suggested Democrat Stacey Abrams may be a preferable governor. And he has vowed to defeat the Republicans who refused to go along with his plans to upend the 2020 election.
“They attacked and cheated on our elections,” Trump told Georgia rallygoers in September, as he tore into Kemp and Raffensperger. “Now the people of Georgia must replace the RINOs and weak Republicans who made it all possible.”