ATLANTA — A federal judge on Friday turned down a request by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to avoid testifying next week before a special grand jury investigating attempts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn his November 2020 election loss in Georgia.
The order, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May, means that Mr. Graham, a South Carolina Republican and staunch Trump ally, is on track to appear in a closed-door session of the special grand jury on Tuesday at a downtown Atlanta courthouse. However, Mr. Graham already has taken his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which has the ability to step in to postpone his appearance.
Judge May had earlier issued an order forcing the senator to give testimony, but Mr. Graham asked the judge to stay the order while he pursued his appeal in the case. On Friday, the judge wrote that “the public interest would not be served” by granting a stay and delaying Mr. Graham’s testimony.
“In this context, the public interest is well-served when a lawful investigation aimed at uncovering the facts and circumstances of alleged attempts to disrupt or influence Georgia’s elections is allowed to proceed without unnecessary encumbrances,” the judge wrote.
Mr. Graham is one of a number of Republican witnesses who have fought subpoenas to appear in person before the grand jury. So far, most have lost.
Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, spent hours before the same special grand jury earlier this week, after initially saying that health conditions prevented him from flying to Atlanta from New York. Two other Trump team lawyers who unsuccessfully fought their subpoenas, Jenna Ellis and John Eastman, are scheduled to appear before the grand jury this week.
And a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court has been scheduled for Thursday to consider Gov. Brian Kemp’s efforts to quash a subpoena compelling his testimony. In a motion this week, the Georgia Republican argued that he had been mistreated by the office of Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, and claimed that she had subpoenaed him “for improper political purposes.”
Lawyers for Mr. Graham have said that he was informed by Fulton County prosecutors that he was a witness, not a target, in the case.
Even so, prosecutors want Mr. Graham’s testimony for a number of reasons. Among them are two phone calls that he placed just after the 2020 election to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, in which Mr. Graham inquired about ways to help Mr. Trump by invalidating certain mail-in votes.
They also want to ask him other questions about what they have called “the multi-state, coordinated efforts to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.” Prosecutors have said in court documents that they expect Mr. Graham’s testimony “to reveal additional sources of information” related to their investigation.
Mr. Graham’s lawyers have argued, among other things, that he should be shielded from testimony under the Constitution’s speech and debate clause, which bars questioning of members of Congress about their legitimate legislative activities. They argue that he made the phone calls to Mr. Raffensperger as part of his work as a senator and a former chair of the Judiciary Committee.
But they were unable to persuade the judge that they had enough of a case to earn a stay. She noted that there were “multiple areas of proper inquiry” in the case that were not related to Mr. Graham’s work as a senator.
And the judge agreed with Ms. Willis’s office that waiting for his appeal to be resolved could cause serious delays and potentially have a negative effect on the special grand jury’s work — particularly when it came to revealing “new categories of information and witnesses, thereby compounding the total delay and hampering the grand jury as it attempts to carry out its investigation expeditiously.”