Georgia prosecutors investigating Trump's efforts to overturn 2020 election lose subpoena fight with Illinois pastor
By Jason Morris and Sara Murray, CNNUpdated: Fri, 11 Nov 2022 22:12:12 GMTSource: CNNAn Illinois judge has ruled that the Atlanta-area district attorney currently investigating efforts by supporters oBy Jason Morris and Sara Murray, CNN
Updated: Fri, 11 Nov 2022 22:12:12 GMT
An Illinois judge has ruled that the Atlanta-area district attorney currently investigating efforts by supporters of former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election did not provide enough evidence to prove that an Illinois pastor needed to come testify as a witness in the probe.
Rev. Stephen Cliffgard Lee, a pastor at a Lutheran church in suburban Chicago, was allegedly involved in efforts to attempt to pressure a Georgia election worker to falsely admit election fraud in 2020, according to court filings in Fulton County where District Attorney Fani Willis has empaneled a special purpose grand jury to look into the matter.
Kendall County, Illinois, Circuit Court Judge Robert Pilmer ruled in Lee's favor earlier this week that there was "insufficient evidence to determine that Lee was material and necessary," according to Lee's attorney David Shestokas.
"There is not a shred of admissible evidence that can be used in a courtroom," Shestokas told CNN about the certificate filed by a Superior Court of Fulton County judge for Lee to appear as a witness before the grand jury.
"If Georgia is going to try to enforce the law, I think it's appropriate that Georgia follow the law. And at the moment, at least in the filing here in Illinois, Georgia has failed to follow the law," Shestokas said.
Pilmer's decision provided Fulton County an additional 30 days of opportunity to provide additional information or evidence to be re-considered.
A spokesperson for Willis told CNN they decline to comment on Lee's case "at this point."
Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman called 911 after Lee knocked on the front door of her house on December 15, 2020. When a police officer confronted Lee in his car, he identified himself as a pastor who was prior law enforcement and said he was "working with some folks who are trying to help Ruby out," according to police body camera footage obtained by CNN. "And also get some truth on what's going on," Lee told the officer. Lee has not been charged with any crime.
Freeman and her daughter, who testified before the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, were among the election workers Trump and his campaign had targeted by baselessly claiming she was counting fake mail-in ballots in Fulton County.
Willis and her team also lost a legal challenge in September to force podcaster Jacki Pick to testify when a panel of judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas noted the deadline for her subpoena had passed. But the court losses in Texas and Illinois have been rare defeats for Fulton County prosecutors, at least among their publicly known witnesses. Judges across various states have largely ruled that out-of-state witnesses must appear before the grand jury.
The Georgia probe -- set off by an hour-long January 2021 phone call from Trump to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to "find" the votes necessary for Trump to win the Peach State -- has steadily expanded. It now covers presentations on unfounded election fraud claims to state lawmakers, the fake elector scheme, efforts by unauthorized individuals to access voting machines in one Georgia county and a campaign of threats and harassment against lower-level election workers.
The special purpose grand jury investigating in Atlanta returned this week after a roughly one-month hiatus for the midterm election and two attorneys with ties to Trump say they appeared as witnesses this week and answered questions.