• Sat. Sep 23rd, 2023


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Brad Raffensperger testifies for Fulton County grand jury.

ATLANTA — Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, testified on Thursday before a Fulton County special grand jury as part of an investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.

Mr. Raffensperger is the first of roughly 50 witnesses asked to appear in front of the grand jury over the next several weeks. His wife, Tricia, and several of his staff members, including Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office, have also been called to testify.

Mr. Raffensperger, who testified for nearly five hours, and his wife left the courthouse on Thursday without answering questions from reporters.

The special grand jury was impaneled in May and its 23 members have been directed to determine whether Mr. Trump or his allies broke state law in their efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia.

After Mr. Trump lost in Georgia, he, along with several lawyers and politicians, made unfounded accusations of voter fraud and discrepancies, sued to conduct additional reviews of the vote and ultimately tried to delay final certification of the election, among other actions. The panel has one year to complete its investigation before providing a report to the Fulton County district attorney, Fani T. Willis, on whether to pursue criminal charges.

Mr. Raffensperger was expected to face questions about a January 2021 phone call between his office and Mr. Trump in which the former president asked the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to flip the election in his favor. The investigation is also expected to scrutinize state officials’ interactions with several Trump associates, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former Trump lawyer, and the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Ms. Raffensperger was expected to detail the multiple death threats that she and other members of her family received from far-right groups in the weeks after the 2020 election. They grew so dangerous, Ms. Raffensperger told Reuters in 2021, that the couple went into hiding for more than a week and canceled visits from their young grandchildren.

Last week, Mr. Raffensperger won his primary against Representative Jody Hice, a Trump-endorsed challenger who argued that the secretary of state had not done enough to investigate Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraud in 2020. Mr. Raffensperger defeated Mr. Hice by nearly 20 points, delivering a blow to the wing of the Republican Party that still harbors resentment toward election officials they believe were disloyal to Mr. Trump.

In an interview with The New York Times last week, Ms. Willis said she was also considering bringing other charges, including racketeering, that could widen the scope of people who will be subpoenaed in the coming weeks.

The investigation will also examine other instances of election meddling in Georgia, including a closer examination of the more than a dozen people who posed as members of the Electoral College in seeking to change state election results. Several have already been issued subpoenas.

Elections experts say Mr. Raffensperger’s testimony could help jurors determine whether Mr. Trump’s words on the phone call were interpreted as a directive to Mr. Raffensperger’s office to overturn the election results.

“In terms of Trump actually trying to reverse the outcome of the election in the state, one might make the case that he leaned on Brad Raffensperger more than anybody else,” said Charles S. Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia.

But during the call with Mr. Trump, Mr. Bullock pointed out, Mr. Raffensperger made clear that the election fraud the former president claimed caused his loss in Georgia did not take place and that he could not “find” extra votes in his favor.

“The challenge that you have,” Mr. Raffensperger told the former president in 2021, “is the data you have is wrong.”

Mr. Trump later blamed Mr. Raffensperger — who certified the presidential election for Joseph R. Biden Jr. — for his and other Republicans’ losses in 2020. Mr. Trump described his conversation with Mr. Raffensperger as a “perfect” phone call.