New subpoena in probe of Georgia election subversion focuses on right-wing media smear

Rudy Giuliani, Trump's former attorney, was among those subpoenaed by a grand jury looking into potential criminal interference in the 2020 election certification

On Tuesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a special grand jury investigation into former President Donald Trump’s 2020 efforts to pressure Georgia officials into stealing the election has now subpoenaed Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani, among several others, to provide witness testimony. The investigation is looking at Giuliani’s role in a smear that spread far and wide in right-wing media.

Giuliani’s exploits during the post-election period spanned multiple areas including disastrous court appearances, spreading conspiracy theories about voting machines, plotting to create fake electoral votes, and seeking to disrupt the election certification on January 6, 2021 — a series of events that have culminated in the suspension of his law license. But in this instance, the investigation in Georgia has based the subpoena on an initially narrow ground.

The subpoena focused on an appearance Giuliani made on December 3, 2020, during a Georgia state legislative hearing, at which he falsely claimed that a video from State Farm Arena in Atlanta had shown election workers bringing out hidden ballots from suitcases. Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling explained the same day that nothing illegal had taken place, and tweeted the next morning that state investigators had reviewed the entire surveillance video.  (Sterling also later explained that the video promoted by the Trump campaign had been misleadingly clipped, accusing the Trump legal team of having “intentionally misled the State Senate, the voters and the people of the United States about this.”)

The subpoena explains that Giuliani continued spreading these claims even after state election officials had disproven the allegation:

Within 24 hours of the December 3, 2020, legislative hearing, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office debunked the State Farm video and explained that its investigation revealed no voter fraud of any kind had taken place at State Farm Arena. Despite this, the Witness made additional statements, both to the public and in subsequent legislative hearings, claiming widespread voter fraud in Georgia during the November 2020 election and using the now-debunked State Farm video in support of those statements. There is evidence that the Witness’s appearance and testimony at the hearing was part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.

The debunk by state officials did not deter Fox News, either, as the network continued to promote the tale of alleged suitcase ballots and called into question the processes by which the state officials (themselves Republicans) had debunked the story. The network’s repetition of the smear continued for days, in addition to airing a Trump campaign ad based on the deceptive video.

As another example of Giuliani’s further public statements about the debunked claims of election theft being caught on video, he appeared on the December 11, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Hannity, during which he castigated the Supreme Court for rejecting the lawsuit filed by the state of Texas (and heavily promoted in right-wing media) that sought to overturn the election results in multiple swing states.

“In the case of, for example, of the state of Georgia, there's the videotape that in and of itself shows the election stolen right in front of your eyes, live on tape. You can't just discount that,” Giuliani said.

“And that film in Georgia is going to be like the Zapruder film was to the Kennedy assassination,” he later added. “It's going to stand the test of time as, ‘well, how can they say there was no cheating? Look at them cheating on tape. They're stealing enough votes right on that tape to steal the election, right there, right in front of your eyes.”

Later in the interview, Fox host Sean Hannity described the supposed litany of election fraud, echoing Giuliani’s false claims about the Georgia video: “How about the suitcases under the table, after you kick out the media and you kick out observers, and then you start counting when you say no more counting is going to happen?”

Video file

Citation From the December 11, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Hannity

At a recent hearing by the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss testified on the racist threats and other harm done to their lives as a result of Giuliani and Trump’s media tour targeting them. Fox News, however, gave scant coverage to that hearing, rather than face the personal damage that the network had aided in addition to the public impact of spreading election lies.

In addition to Giuliani, the special grand jury has subpoenaed Trump lawyer John Eastman, the disgraced former law professor who has become notorious for his efforts to convince then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the election results, which has also become a critical focus of the January 6 committee’s work. Also subpoenaed is former Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, who worked closely with Giuliani and spread election lies through right-wing media, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for his reported role in pressuring Georgia election officials to reject all mail-in votes from select counties in the state.