ATLANTA – The Georgia prosecutor investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to interfere in the 2020 election filed paperwork Friday seeking to compel testimony from a new batch of Trump allies, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed petitions in court seeking to have Gingrich and Flynn, as well as former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann and others, testify next month before a special grand jury that's been seated to aid her investigation.
They join a string of other high-profile Trump allies and advisers who have been called to testify in the probe. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump attorney who's been told he could face criminal charges in the probe, testified in August. Attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro have also appeared before the panel. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's attempt to fight his subpoena is pending in a federal appeals court. And paperwork has been filed seeking testimony from others, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Flynn didn't immediately respond to email and phone messages seeking comment, and his lawyer also didn't immediately return an email seeking comment. Gingrich referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment. Herschmann could not immediately be reached.
Willis has said she plans to take a monthlong break from public activity in the case leading up to the November midterm election, which is one month from Saturday.
Each of the petitions filed Friday seeks to have the potential witnesses appear in November after the election. But the process for securing testimony from out-of-state witnesses sometimes takes a while, so it appears Willis is putting the wheels in motion for activity to resume after her self-imposed pause.
Compelling testimony from witnesses who don't live in Georgia requires Willis to use a process that involves getting judges in the states where they live to order them to appear. The petitions she filed Friday are essentially precursors to subpoenas.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, signed off on the petitions, certifying that each person whose testimony is sought is a “necessary and material” witness for the investigation.
The petition for Gingrich’s testimony relies on “information made publicly available” by the U.S. House committee that’s investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
It says he was involved along with others associated with the Trump campaign in a plan to run television ads that “repeated and relied upon false claims about fraud in the 2020 election” and encouraged members of the public to contact state officials to push them to challenge and overturn the election results based on those claims.
Gingrich was also involved in a plan to have Republican fake electors sign certificates falsely stating that Trump had won the state and that they were the state’s official electors even though Democrat Joe Biden had won, the petition says.
The petition seeking Flynn's testimony says he appeared in an interview on conservative cable news channel Newsmax and said Trump “could take military capabilities” and place them in swing states and “basically re-run an election in each of those states."
He also met with Trump, attorney Sidney Powell and others at the White House on Dec. 18, 2020, for a meeting that, according to news reports, “focused on topics including invoking martial law, seizing voting machines, and appointing Powell as special counsel to investigate the 2020 election,” Willis wrote.
Willis in August filed a petition seeking testimony from Powell.
Herschmann, who featured prominently in the House committee hearings on the Capitol attack, was a senior adviser to Trump from August 2020 through the end of his term and “was present for multiple meetings between former President Trump and others related to the 2020 election,” Willis wrote in the petition seeking his testimony.
She wrote that the House committee also revealed that Herschmann had “multiple conversations” with Eastman, Giuliani, Powell “and others known to be associated with the Trump Campaign, related to their efforts to influence the results of the November 2020 elections in Georgia and elsewhere.” Specifically, he had a “heated conversation” with Eastman “concerning efforts in Georgia,” she added.
Willis also filed petitions Friday to compel testimony from Jim Penrose and Stephen Cliffgard Lee.
She identified Penrose as “a cyber investigations, operations and forensics consultant” who worked with Powell and others known to be associated with the Trump campaign in late 2020 and early 2021.
He also communicated with Powell and others regarding an agreement to hire data solutions firm SullivanStrickler to copy data and software from voting system equipment in Coffee County, about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta, as well as in Michigan and Nevada, Willis wrote. Penrose did not immediately respond to an email and phone message seeking comment.
Willis wrote in a petition seeking Lee's testimony that he was part of an effort to pressure elections worker Ruby Freeman, who was the subject of false claims about election fraud in Fulton County. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Special grand juries are impaneled in Georgia to investigate complex cases with large numbers of witnesses and potential logistical concerns. They can compel evidence and subpoena witnesses for questioning and, unlike regular grand juries, can also subpoena the target of an investigation to appear before it.
When its investigation is complete, the special grand jury issues a final report and can recommend action. It’s then up to the district attorney to decide whether to ask a regular grand jury for an indictment.