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Rudy Giuliani is now a target of a Georgia probe into 2020 election interference

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A special grand jury in Georgia has been investigating efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election results there. And today, two big developments. Today - first, Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has been informed he is now a target in the criminal investigation, and a federal judge ruled that South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham must testify as a witness.

Georgia Public Broadcasting political reporter Stephen Fowler is here with the updates. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: All right. So development No. 1 - this shift that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, is now a target of the probe instead of just a witness. He's going to appear behind closed doors in Atlanta on Wednesday. What changed?

FOWLER: So Rudy Giuliani is one of the central figures to understanding the monthslong effort to overturn Joe Biden's victory in Georgia. One big component is his involvement with these unofficial hearings before Georgia lawmakers after the election as part of an effort to convince them to reverse Trump's defeat using fantastical and false claims of fraud. Here's some of what he said back in 2020.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUDY GIULIANI: It's your responsibility if a false and fraudulent count is submitted to the United States government. And it's clear that the count you have right now is false.

FOWLER: There's also questions around what role Giuliani played in orchestrating alternate slates of GOP electors in battleground states like Georgia. So there's a lot the grand jury would probably want to discuss with him. Now, Giuliani and other Trump lawyers were subpoenaed as witnesses to appear before the grand jury earlier this summer, and his attorneys tell NPR it wasn't until today they knew he was considered a target. They received a phone call from the Fulton County DA's office saying he's under investigation and not just part of the investigation. Now, he's slated still to appear this Wednesday to testify behind closed doors. We don't yet know whether this revelation will affect what he says.

KELLY: OK. Let's go to development No. 2 - this involving Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. What does the grand jury want from him?

FOWLER: First of all, he's being sought as a material witness. Unlike Giuliani, he's not a target. They want to learn more about several calls Graham made to Georgia's Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, after the 2020 election. Graham allegedly asked about absentee ballot rejections and signature matching, and Brad Raffensperger said he felt like the senator was trying to get him to toss out ballots already counted.

Now, Lindsey Graham tried to quash a request to testify, saying that call was protected by the speech or debate clause of the Constitution and that as a high-ranking government official, he shouldn't have to testify. But a federal judge ruled today the speech or debate clause doesn't protect political actions like efforts to, quote, "cajole or exhort officials to alter their practices." Also, the ruling says the grand jury actually has questions for Graham beyond those calls. So he's got to answer to that. And, of course, Senator Graham says he will appeal.

KELLY: So just quickly, Stephen, put both these developments into context for us in terms of the broader investigation in Georgia and all the other inquiries into Trump's legal issues.

FOWLER: Sure. The Georgia case has slowly been building towards Trump inner circle as the DA appears to be building a case that state laws were broken in the failed attempt to undo his defeat. Who gets indicted and what crimes they committed won't come out for a while. Also, there are several other investigations into Trump, so there's a lot of pressure points as he weighs whether to run for president again in 2024.

KELLY: That is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler in Atlanta. Thank you, Stephen.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.