How two US senators ended up in the crosshairs of a Georgia grand jury

Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue narrowly avoided criminal charges surrounding Trump’s post-election scheme, writes Alex Woodward

Wednesday 13 September 2023 20:36 BST

Several current and former elected officials – including Georgia’s two former Republican senators – are on a list of prominent Donald Trump allies who narrowly avoided criminal charges in the state’s sweeping racketeering case against him.

The unsealed report from a special purpose grand jury tasked with investigating Trumpworld attempts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results revealed a much wider picture of the subsequent criminal case against the former president and his 18 co-defendants.

That report – the product of an eight-month investigation separate from an Atlanta grand jury’s indictment – revealed that grand jurors recommend criminal charges against 39 people for nearly 160 counts of violations against more than a dozen state laws.

The list includes Georgia’s two former Republican US senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, but neither of them were charged by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in a sweeping racketeering indictment.

How did Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler – who were sitting members of Congress during the time of the alleged crimes – end up in the crosshairs of the sprawling investigation?

Mr Perdue was first elected to office in 2014 and lost his bid for re-election in a closely watched runoff against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff in the smoldering aftermath of the 2020 election. Ms Loeffler – who was appointed to the seat in 2019 following the retirement of her predecessor – lost a runoff election to Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock.

Following Mr Trump’s election loss, all eyes were on Georgia for two races that would determine the balance of party power in Congress – high-stakes elections in which the GOP campaigns were intertwined with Mr Trump’s spurious attempts to claim victory in a state he decisively lost.

Former US Senator David Perdue of Georgia (AP)

On the campaign trail leading up to the runoff election day on 5 January, 2021, both candidates promoted their Trump links, refused to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory, and called for the resignation of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was baselessly accused of election “failures” following Mr Trump’s loss in the state.

One week after the 2020 election, Governor Brian Kemp issued a joint statement with Lt Governor Geoff Duncan and the state’s House Speaker David Ralston – all Republicans – declaring that any effort to reverse the results through the legislature would lead to “endless litigation.”

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At a fundraiser on 3 December 2020, Mr Perdue urged the governor to summon lawmakers back to the state Capitol for a special session to overturn Mr Trump’s loss.

Two days later, then-President Trump called on Mr Kemp to order a special legislative session among state lawmakers to invalidate the election’s outcome. Mr Kemp refused.

At a Georgia rally for the senate candidates that night, Mr Trump baselessly alleged the outcome was manipulated and stolen from him.

The governor said that Mr Trump asked him to order an audit of signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes; audits and full hand recounts of the state’s election results repeatedly confirmed Mr Biden’s victory, which also was affirmed and defended by the state’s Republican election officials.

“Your people are refusing to do what you ask,” Mr Trump said on Twitter at the time, addressing Mr Kemp. “What are they hiding? At least immediately ask for a Special Session of the Legislature. That you can easily, and immediately, do.”

Mr Perdue allegedly spoke daily with Mr Trump before the special election, listening to him unload his gripes, frustrations and bogus allegations surrounding Georgia’s election results and Mr Raffensperger’s refusals to engage Mr Trump.

On 2 January, 2021, Mr Trump spoke with Mr Raffensperger on an hour-long conference call in which then-President Trump urged Georgia’s top elections official to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss. That call is central to the indictment facing Mr Trump and his co-defendants in Georgia, as well as a separate indictment from the US Department of Justice surrounding the former president’s attempts to subvert the election’s outcome.

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Mr Perdue’s term in Congress ended the next day, leaving his seat vacant three days before Congress convened to certify the presidential election results.

“Senator Perdue still owes my wife an apology for all the death threats she got after he asked for my resignation,” Mr Raffensperger told Fox News at the time. “I have not heard one peep from that man since. If he wants to call me, face-to-face, man-to-man, I’ll talk to him, off the record, but he hasn’t done that.”

Ms Loeffler initially supported efforts among GOP lawmakers to reject the election’s outcome during the joint session of Congress on 6 January, 2021, but she reversed her decision after a mob of then-President Trump’s supporters broke into the US Capitol and stormed the halls in an effort to stop the certification of Mr Biden’s victory.

Former US Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia (AP)

The special grand jury report indicates that then-Senator Perdue was involved with the “persistent, repeated communications directed to multiple Georgia officials and employees” between November 2020 and January 2021. Sixteen jurors voted to indict him on a charge of filing false documents, with one juror voting against and one abstaining.

The special grand jury also implicated Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and the national scheme to overturn 2020 election results, “focused on efforts in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania” and Washington DC, according to the report.

Seventeen jurors voted to support a RICO indictment against Mr Perdue, with four jurors voting against charges. In the case of Ms Loeffler, 14 jurors supported the charge, while six voted against and one abstained.

A footnote in the report notes that one of the dissenting jurors voting against recommending indictments against the senators on the RICO charge “believes that their statements following the November 2020 election, while pandering to their political base, do not give rise to their being guilty of a criminal conspiracy.”

In a statement following the release of the special grand jury report, Ms Loeffler said she was “giving voice to millions of Americans who felt disenfranchised in 2020” and that she would not be “intimidated by a two-tiered system of justice that seeks to systematically destroy conservatives across this country.”

In 2022, Mr Perdue was enlisted and endorsed by Mr Trump to run for governor of the state against incumbent Mr Kemp. Mr Perdue lost that race as well.

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