More than 100 potential witnesses identified in Trump investigation, Atlanta-area DA says
The size of the slate of potential witnesses indicates the inquiry into Trump has grown substantially.
- Willis declined to identify any of the witnesses, saying only that the number is "well in excess of 100."
- The district attorney said she met in December with attorneys representing the former president.
- Willis indicated local prosecutors would also be examining the submission of an alternate slate of electors.
ATLANTA – More than 100 potential witnesses have been identified by local prosecutors leading an investigation into election interference by former President Donald Trump, indicating that the inquiry has grown substantially since it was publicly disclosed nearly a year ago.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, in a wide-ranging interview with USA TODAY, said a "significant" number of those witnesses require subpoenas to compel their appearances, prompting her to seek a special grand jury to assist in the investigation.
"There is a significant enough number of people, who when we're calling ... politely to say we'd like an opportunity to sit down and talk to you about matters related to this (investigation), refrained from wanting to do that. And some even specifically requested subpoenas," she said.
Local judges granted the grand jury request last month, indicating that the panel would be seated by May, for a term of one year.
Willis declined to identify any of the witnesses, including whether they would include former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows or other members of the former president's administration, saying only that the number is "well in excess of 100."
The district attorney said that she met in December with attorneys representing the former president who sought information on the status of the inquiry.
Willis described the meeting as "very cordial" but brief and that the discussions did not address details of the investigation or the prospect of Trump's cooperation. She said that she told the lawyers that they "could rely on" a decision on possible charges by the end of this year.
"That's my full expectation," Willis said, referring to a tentative timetable. "Obviously, I now have a grand jury that carries over to April 30 (2023), but I still believe that...even though you have that time, I don't necessarily think we'll need it."
Although the investigation was launched nearly a year ago, Willis said she has made no preliminary judgments.
"I am not privy to ... enough information to even say whether charges will or will not be brought," she said. "You don't go into investigations like that, with the end in mind; you go in seeking information that leads you to the truth ... I can foresee any of the possibilities, but my mind is completely open."
Last year, Willis disclosed that local prosecutors had launched a wide-ranging investigation of possible election fraud, false statements, conspiracy, oath of office violations, racketeering and violence associated with threats to the election process.
A major focus of the inquiry has been Trump's Jan. 2, 2021, telephone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which the former president urged the state official to tilt the 2020 statewide vote in his favor.
"So look, all I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state," Trump told Raffensperger, according to audio of that call.
Separately, Trump also urged a Georgia election investigator in a phone call in December to "find the fraud."
Willis also is examining a November 2021 call in which Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a prominent Trump ally, allegedly asked Raffensperger whether he had the authority to disqualify mail-in ballots from certain areas of the state.
Graham has denied making such a request.
On Thursday, Willis indicated that local prosecutors would also be examining the submission of an alternate slate of electors by Republicans in Georgia, one of seven states in which officials allegedly sought to reverse Trump's defeat.
Last week, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco told CNN the agency was weighing whether to press criminal charges over fake Electoral College certifications in the 2020 election.
“Our prosecutors are looking at those and I can’t say anything more about ongoing investigations,"Monaco told CNN.
In Atlanta, Willis said the state investigation is "looking at the total scope" of possible wrongdoing, adding that a review of the alternate Georgia electors "absolutely would not be out of the question."
Willis' investigation is playing out against a backdrop of deep political division across the the state and country, where hundreds of threats have targeted elected officials and election workers, fueled in part by the extreme rhetoric of the former president.
Willis cited Trump's "alarming" recent claims about the Fulton County investigation and others that continue to shadow him, requesting that the FBI assess the security of the local government complex as authorities prepare to empanel the special grand jury.
"I am asking that you immediately conduct a risk assessment of the Fulton County Courthouse and Government Center, and that you provide protective resources to include intelligence and federal agents," Willis said in a letter to Atlanta FBI chief J.C. Hacker.
Willis said her request was prompted by Trump's Saturday appearance in Conroe, Texas, where he referred to "radical, vicious, racist prosecutors" and called on his supporters to stage the "biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt.”
While Willis is leading an investigation into Trump's interference in Georgia, authorities in New York are conducting a sweeping investigation into the operations of Trump's family business and a special House committee in Washington is reviewing Trump's role in the deadly Capitol attack on Jan. 6 of last year.
"We must work together to keep the public safe and ensure that we do not have a tragedy in Atlanta similar to what happened at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021," Willis wrote.
Willis said Trump's rhetoric was especially "alarming" since he suggested at the same event that if he won reelection, he would consider pardoning those convicted in the Capitol attacks.
“If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly," Trump told supporters at the Texas rally. "We will treat them fairly. And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”
The FBI has acknowledged receiving Willis' letter, but declined to comment on the substance of the request. The district attorney said Thursday that within 48 hours of the Sunday request, her staff was meeting with federal authorities to discuss the security concerns.
The FBI doesn't generally conduct the kind of security assessment sought by the district attorney. Yet Willis' request underscores concerns raised by the Justice Department related to potential threats against elected officials.
Earlier this month, federal authorities charged a Texas man with threatening state officials in Georgia in the aftermath the 2020 election, including his call to "exterminate" authorities who he labeled "lawless traitors."
The case against Chad Stark, 54, marked the first enforcement action brought by the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force, launched by Attorney General Merrick Garland and Monaco last summer.
Willis said she has "an obligation" to safeguard her employees and those who work in and around the Fulton County office complex.
"My staff and I have already made adjustments to accommodate security concerns during the course of this investigation, considering the communications we have received from persons unhappy with our commitment to fulfill our duties," the district attorney wrote in her letter to the FBI. "We are also working with Fulton County officials about the need for additional security measures as the investigation progresses."
Those security measures also include her personal protection.
In recent months, leaders of her county security detail requested additional personnel, given a wave of disturbing communications.
In the 48-hour period following Trump's weekend remarks, Willis said her office was inundated with 270 calls.
Some of the calls, Willis said, offered support, "but there was a significant enough number that we have to bring them to the attention of my security team."
"They're drunk, they're irrational," she said. "They're saying very, very ugly things. Some of it is just racial slurs. Too many of them are racial slurs to even count or care about.
"I signed up to do this job and to do a very good job, and to work very hard," Willis said. "I did not sign up to die, though."