Sen. Lindsey Graham received a temporary victory early on Sunday when a federal appeals court ruled that he is not currently required to abide by an Atlanta grand jury’s subpoena requiring him to testify on Tuesday regarding his role in an effort to pressure Georgia officials to alter the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Graham asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to quash the subpoena on his behalf after a federal district court judge in Atlanta denied his appeal to avoid testifying on the grounds that the local grand jury was violating his rights as a member of Congress.
In a two-page decision, the appeals court stated both Graham’s attorneys and the prosecution team for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis needed to develop their arguments regarding Graham’s eligibility to request that the federal courts impose legal restraints on any possible questioning. The U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May issued a decision last week rejecting the arguments Graham’s team raised under the Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which shields lawmakers from the majority of legal consequences for actions related to their lawmaking responsibilities. The 11th Circuit panel’s order stated that those arguments should be presented first to May.
Investigators have stated that they want Graham to provide information regarding two phone calls he made to Georgia election officials in late 2020, while Trump was seeking to sabotage his defeat. Graham has admitted to discussing the state’s absentee ballot counting procedure with the authorities.
His lawyers claimed that such discussions related to his official responsibilities as a senator, but May said that there were signs that the discussions went beyond “legislative fact-finding.”
According to May’s judgement last Monday, “Senator Graham had unique firsthand knowledge regarding the content and circumstances of the phone calls with Georgia election officials, as well as the practicalities of setting them up and his activities subsequently.
“And even while it is claimed that other Georgia election officials were present on these calls and have publicly commented on the content of those talks, Senator Graham has substantially (and indeed publicly) questioned their accounts of the calls’ nature and what was said and suggested. As a result, Senator Graham would be the only one giving testimony on these topics.
The subpoena would basically be placed on hold while the prospect of limitations on the scope of interrogating Graham is worked out at the district court, according to the appeals court, which described its decision on Sunday morning as a “limited remand.”
May was admonished by the appeals court to move quickly even though it is unclear whether the order will result in further oral arguments before her or just the filing of more legal filings.
According to the 11th Circuit’s ruling, “the district court shall accelerate the parties’ briefing in a manner that it deems appropriate.”
A three-judge panel made up of Judges Charles Wilson, Kevin Newsom, and Britt Grant at the conservative-leaning appeals court in Atlanta reviewed Graham’s stay request. Wilson was chosen by former President Bill Clinton, whilst Grant and Newsom were both chosen by Trump. When the appeals court hears the case again, they’ll probably keep it, at least for any pressing matters.
During arguments in her court on August 10, May briefly pondered the possibility of “partial quashal” of the subpoena but stated that she would need more details to determine whether there were legitimate areas of questioning that wouldn’t be subject to speech or debate clause immunity. She mentioned the collaboration between Graham and the Trump campaign before to Graham’s phone calls with Georgia election officials as one illustration.
Graham was denied relief by May, who noted in her judgement that Graham’s lawyers had only requested a “complete” rejection of the subpoena and that their request for a partial victory had been made much later in the proceedings. She concurred that the grand jury’s investigation into alleged criminal activity aimed at influencing the 2020 election must go quickly.
May wrote last week in her order rejecting Graham’s federal case, “The Court finds that the District Attorney has shown extraordinary circumstances and a special need for Senator Graham’s testimony on issues relating to alleged attempts to influence or disrupt the lawful administration of Georgia’s 2022 elections.”
Similar worries were voiced by the DA, who said that more briefing sessions might necessitate delaying Graham’s already postponed testimony for weeks or perhaps months, severely impeding the criminal investigation. According to Willis’ attorneys, they expect Graham’s evidence will open up fresh lines of inquiry that are critical to the investigation as a whole.
Graham’s legal team maintained that as a U.S. senator, he was entitled to protection from federal courts and that May’s decision last week left up the possibility for Graham to refuse to answer particular questions in front of the grand jury and obtain decisions on those matters from a county judge.
An attorney for Graham did not immediately reply to a request for comment, while a representative for Willis declined to comment on the appeal court’s ruling.
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