A long-awaited Georgia grand jury report released Friday provides a look at how Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) avoided being charged in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s (D) election interference case against former President Trump and 18 other defendants.
The report shows that the jury recommended taking the enormous step of bringing charges against the sitting U.S. senator, as well as two former Georgia senators, both of whom were defeated in runoff elections held the day before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
In fact, a majority of the grand jury — 13 members — backed bringing charges against Graham “with respect to the national effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”
But seven other members voted against doing so, exhibiting for the first time the split in the Fulton County grand jury. In contrast, the report showed 20 of 21 jurors recommended charges against Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
Legal experts The Hill spoke with after the release of the report said the split vote, along with other factors involved in charging a sitting member of the Senate in the interference plot, likely convinced Willis she would have a steep hill to climb to win a conviction.
“That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement that they’re going to be able to prosecute him and get a grand jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed an offense,” said Josh Stanton, an attorney with Perry Law who has penned analyses of various Trump cases.
Graham was a key figure in the case in large part because of his phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who alleged the senator asked him about possibly throwing out votes that were legally cast — a claim Graham dismisses.
That seven grand jury members who didn’t find the charges against Graham convincing would have been a problem for Willis, Stanton said. And that jury, he noted, “heard Lindsey Graham talk about his actions during the election and his effort to maybe speak with Raffensperger, to suggest that he take a particular course of action to help Donald Trump.”
Graham on Friday said he was surprised that charges were even considered.
“I was totally surprised. … I never suggested anybody set aside the election. I never said ‘go find votes.’ I never said anything other than trying to find how the mail-in balloting system worked,” Graham said.
Graham said his call to Raffensperger was “consistent” with his job as a senator and as the then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“At the end of the day, nothing happened,” Graham said. “What I did was consistent with my job as being a U.S. senator, chair of the Judiciary Committee. … I think the system in this country is getting off the rails and we have to be careful not to use the legal system as a political tool.”
The South Carolina Republican added that if he has questions after the 2024 election takes place, “I’ll do the same thing.”
Some legal observers noted that there’s a range of reasons why Graham and those who were listed in the special grand jury report were not charged, including possible cooperation with the investigation, especially for some of the fake electors.
But Clark D. Cunningham, the chair of law and ethics at Georgia State University, said the fact that the special grand jury heard the sitting senator testify and subsequently deemed him to be a criminal was notable.
“That’s astonishing,” Cunningham said.
In addition to Graham, former Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) were also recommended for prosecution. The pair of ex-Senate Republicans called for Raffensperger to resign after the 2020 election.
Special jurors voted 17-4 to recommend an indictment for Loeffler. They also voted to recommend charges for Perdue in a 14-6 vote.
“Trying to jail your party’s leading political opponent ahead of 2024 is election interference. Speaking out in defense of election integrity is not,” Loeffler said in a statement. “I make no apologies for serving my state by giving voice to millions of Americans who felt disenfranchised in 2020 — and I refuse to be intimidated by a two-tiered system of justice that seeks to systematically destroy conservatives across this country.”
As for Graham, one group of individuals that have stayed mum on his situation are his Senate colleagues, including those across the aisle.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee with Graham, declined to comment on the Senate Republicans’ situation during an appearance on MSNBC, adding that he had not yet read the special grand jury’s report.
“Before I talk about one of my colleagues and friends, I’ll take a look [at the report],” Murphy said.