Almost every week, we seem to learn about a new tentacle of the brazen attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, especially in Georgia.
The latest surfaced in rural Coffee County. Surveillance video obtained by CNN shows a Republican county official escorting two Trump-connected operatives into the local election office on Jan. 7, 2021.
On that same day, a voting system in the county was breached. As CNN notes, the operatives in the video have already acknowledged that they gained access to a voting machine at the behest of Sidney Powell, a former Trump lawyer.
The story unfolding in Coffee County only shines the spotlight brighter on Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, who is conducting a criminal investigation of interference in the 2020 election.
The people of Georgia can be thankful that she’s on the case.
As a former acting district attorney in neighboring DeKalb County and a former assistant U.S. attorney here in Georgia, we both understand that a prosecutor’s most basic responsibility is to follow the facts wherever they may lead.
In fact, district attorneys in Georgia swear an oath to discharge their duties “without fear, favor, or affection.” Willis is doing exactly that.
As you may have seen in the news in recent weeks, there have been a number of challenges to grand jury subpoenas as the district attorney goes about her work. And there’s been a lot of overheated rhetoric about the investigation.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), for example, claimed Willis was trying to mess with his reelection campaign. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he’s “never been more worried about the law and politics as I am now.” A group of fake presidential electors even tried to have Willis thrown off the case because of supposed political bias.
But don’t be distracted. Willis is running a fair and methodical investigation. She’s ignoring the politics and pursuing accountability — just as the people of Georgia deserve. This investigation is a clear example of the power and importance of state and local leaders in our broader justice system and our democracy.
For starters, the investigation is being conducted by a special grand jury. As a result, Willis had to get the approval of a court before the grand jury could even be seated. That should put to rest any thought of a political motive.
Proceedings before special grand juries are generally secret, but we know a lot about this case from the public record, including motions and orders posted online by the Fulton County Superior Court clerk’s office.
And what we know tells us a great deal about how seriously Willis takes her duty to pursue every thread.
We know she’s looking into former President Trump’s infamous phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after the election, demanding that he “find” enough votes to reverse President Biden’s win in the state.
Willis is also looking into the plot to appoint a fake roster of pro-Trump electors, calls by Trump to Georgia’s governor and attorney general, and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s trips to Atlanta to peddle lies in front of state lawmakers, and harassment of Georgia election workers.
Now, there’s also the trail in Coffee County. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported last week that the special grand jury is “increasingly interested” in the security breach there.
According to the AJC, the panel has already approved a subpoena for documents from an Atlanta tech services company in its communications with Powell and Lin Wood, two Trump-aligned lawyers.
These are not the steps of an impetuous prosecutor who’s out to score cheap political points. This is a thorough investigation — and it should be.
Tampering with a presidential election is high stakes. The people of Georgia, and the country, are entitled to a full uncovering of the facts.
That’s why judges have repeatedly brushed aside attempts by public officials, Trump-connected lawyers and other potential witnesses to avoid testifying.
In one of those attempts, 11 of the fake electors sought to disqualify Willis, arguing that she was playing politics. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who was appointed to supervise and help the special grand jury, easily dismantled that argument.
He wrote, “These electors have provided no evidence that the District Attorney (or any member of her staff) has done anything that suggests a possible political motivation for investigating them, beyond the banal observation that they are Republicans and she is not.”
Particularly noteworthy was a footnote addressing their argument that Willis is targeting “only Republicans.” McBurney wrote that it eludes him how “an investigation into allegations of Republican interference in the 2020 general election in Georgia would have any other list of targets than Republicans.”
So, let politicians and potential targets of the investigation make their predictable claims. Willis is doing her job with a quiet competence, and at risk to her own safety. She’s given us no reason to expect that will change.
Two weeks ago, she announced the indictments of 26 people accused of being part of a criminal gang carrying out rampant home invasions in the Atlanta area, some of them violent.
“We have a message,” she said. “Get out of this county or expect to see all sentences that go life-plus.”
Hardly the words of a single-minded prosecutor distracted by an obsession with red and blue politics.
We don’t know where the election interference investigation will lead. Willis said recently that she has brought about 60 percent of the people she wants to have testify before the special grand jury. As many legal observers have pointed out, her investigation may ultimately ensnare Trump himself. No one is above the law, including former presidents.
But this is a prosecutor who takes her work step by step, and that is several steps down the road. For now, we can all be confident that Willis is committed to following the facts, wherever they may lead.
She expects the special grand jury to finish its investigation by the end of the year, at which point she will turn over its report to McBurney. A special grand jury can’t indict anyone. Only a regular grand jury can do that.
In the meantime, as Willis said just the other day, “We will continue to fight to make sure that the grand jury and the public gets the truth.” That’s just what a prosecutor should do, and the people of Georgia should expect nothing less.
Amy Lee Copeland is a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia and currently an attorney at Rouse + Copeland LLC.
Javoyne Hicks is former acting district attorney for DeKalb County and currently a senior attorney at Lawrence & Bundy LLC.