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Trump’s Chief of Staff Could Face Scrutiny in Georgia Criminal Probe

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In late December, as former U.S. President Donald Trump falsely accused widespread voter fraud that led to his loss of the Georgia election, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows made a unexpected visit to a suburb of Atlanta, expected to observe the audit of thousands of voter signatures

The Georgia secretary of state’s office said there was only 45 minutes notice of Meadows’ arrival in Cobb County, and barred him from the room where state investigators were checking ballot signatures that were missing. The other day, Trump publicly complained that the audit acted too slowly after baseless claims that Georgia’s signature verification system was rife with fraud.

Meadows ’trip was set in a series of meetings and talks in a campaign under pressure by Trump and his allies that ended with a phone call on Jan. 2 in which Trump told Georgia’s secretary of state that “find” the votes he needs to win. That call, joined by Meadows and others, is now the central focus of an investigation in Atlanta into whether Trump and his allies criminally disrupted the 2020 election in an attempt to overturn his loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe. Biden, according to two people familiar with the matter

The Meadows trip also highlights the prominent role of the lead aide in the events investigated by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. He was among eight participants who met on the call on Jan. 2, according to a translation of the record, and he began the call with the introduction of everyone here. Meadows forced Georgia officials to call for access to legally private voter information, a request they denied, the transcript shows.

A person with direct knowledge of the district attorney’s investigation told Reuters that the office would likely issue subpoenas for evidence to most or all of the call participants.

A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment. Willis, a Democrat, declined to comment on his investigation.

The Atlanta probe is one of two well -known criminal inquiries against Trump, who also faces many other legal threats. The Manhattan Attorney’s office is investigating Trump’s private business venture for possible fraud. Reuters identified four more ongoing investigations involving Trump and at least 17 active lawsuits.

Since launching his inquiry in February, Willis has added several senior lawyers to his team, including John Floyd, a national pride authority. Willis is investigating potential racket charges associated with Trump’s campaign to pressure state officials, and Floyd has consulted on that investigation as well as other racket cases, the Reuters on March 6.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, launched a review of Cobb County following allegations that the county had not properly audited signatures in the June primary election. The analysis followed two statewide recounts that confirmed Trump defeated Biden in Georgia by about 12,000 votes, a dramatic shift in politics to the traditional Republican state. State officials have found no evidence to back Trump’s fraud allegations.

During a visit to Meadows on Dec. 22, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs, a Republican, greeted him in the hallway of the Cobb County Civic Center in the city of Marietta. He was prevented from entering the room where the signature audits were conducted, the secretary of the state office told Reuters.

Meadows also spoke with secretary of state chief investigator Frances Watson, who is conducting an audit of approximately 15,000 signatures with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Meadows gathered contact information from both Watson and Fuchs, including their cell phone numbers.

Trump called Watson the next day, urging him to look for the “infidelity” he claimed, without evidence, was spent on him in the election.

“When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” Trump told Watson, according to audio of the call reviewed by Reuters and first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

After his visit to Georgia, Meadows called Fuchs to request a call between Trump and the secretary of state, according to someone with direct knowledge of the matter. When Fuchs asked Meadows what Trump wanted to talk about, Meadows did not give clear direction, the source said.

Trump’s Jan. 2 call to Raffensperger was one of 18 calls the White House attempted to make to the secretary of state’s office after the November election, a state official said. Raffensperger initially avoided calls out of concern that they caused a conflict of interest, his office said.

In the Jan. 2 call, Trump forced Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” the number Trump needed to win Georgia.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump said, according to a translation of the call.

Others on the call included three attorneys advising Trump – longtime Republican attorney Cleta Mitchell and Georgia -based attorneys Kurt Hilbert and Alex Kaufman – along with Fuchs and the secretary general’s counsel. state that Ryan Germany.

Mitchell declined to comment. Hilbert, Kaufman and Germany did not respond to requests for comment.

When Willis announced his investigation in February, Jason Miller, a representative for Trump, said there was “nothing wrong or should not be done” about the Jan. 2 call.

PRESSURE TO ACCESSEMBER VOTER DATA

Fifty-seven minutes into the conversation, Meadows urged Germany, the general counsel for Raffensperger’s office, to give Trump access to the secretary of state’s voter data to “verify or substantiate” the claims. in fraud.

When Germany refused to share the data, noting it was protected by state law, Meadows pressed him again, urging lawyers for Trump and Raffensperger to work together on a plan to grant access. “When we get this phone call, if you can come together and make a plan to address some of what we’ve got with your lawyers where we can actually look at the data,” Meadows said, according to the call transcript .

Raffensperger has a duty under state law to protect confidential voter information. Lawyers familiar with Georgia law say prosecutors could argue that Meadows committed a crime by attempting to interfere with the secretary of state’s performance of that duty.

“They clearly forced the secretary of state to share some data,” said Kurt Kastorf, an Atlanta attorney and former Justice Department prosecutor. “If the data sought is confidential, that would be a strong argument that it is interference with election operations.”

Prosecutors are likely to review Trump’s six -minute call on Dec. 23 with Watson, the election investigator. During the call, Watson acknowledged the meeting with Meadows on Dec. 22 with a visit by the Cobb County chief of staff. Trump told Watson he called him at Meadows’ request before being forced to investigate allegations of voter fraud.

Watson declined to comment.

Clark Cunningham, a law professor at Georgia State University, said prosecutors are likely to know the reason for Meadows’ Georgia visit and what he told state officials conducting the election audit.

“Obviously, there’s some kind of interaction between Meadows and Watson that Trump is using for the call,” he said.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

A week after Meadows ’Georgia trip, his legislative adviser Cassidy Hutchinson reached out to Fuchs, according to an email obtained by the American watchdog ethics group that oversees Georgia’s open records law. In a phone call, Hutchinson asked Fuchs if there was anything the White House could do to show appreciation to the people conducting the audit, according to a source knowledgeable in their discussion.

Hutchinson did not respond to requests for comment.

At the time, investigators conducting signature checks – who work up to 15 hours a day through their holidays – were discouraged by Trump’s tweet saying officials were “too slow” to audited, the source said.

Meadows, the source said, is “just trying to smooth that out.”

(Reporting by Linda So; Editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)

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