Judges Approve Special Grand Jury in Georgia Election Probe

Judges have approved a request for a special grand jury by the Georgia prosecutor who’s investigating whether former President Donald Trump and others broke the law by trying to pressure Georgia officials to throw out Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis last week sent a letter to county superior court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher asking him to impanel a special grand jury. Brasher issued an order Monday saying the request was considered and approved by a majority of the superior court judges. 

The special grand jury is to be seated May 2 for a period of up to a year, Brasher’s order says. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney is assigned to supervise and assist the special grand jury. 

Willis wrote in her letter to Brasher that her office “has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the State of Georgia’s administration of elections in 2020, including the State’s election of the President of the United States, was subject to possible criminal disruptions.” She said her office has “opened an investigation into any coordinated attempts to unlawfully alter the outcome of the 2020 elections in this state.” 

The special grand jury “shall be authorized to investigate any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia, as set forth in the request of the District Attorney,” the order says. 

Willis has declined to speak about the specifics of her investigation, but in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month, she confirmed that its scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger; a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger; the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021; and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election. 

In a statement last week, Trump called his call to Raffensperger “perfect” and said he did not say anything wrong. Graham has also denied any wrongdoing. 

Special grand juries, which are not used often in Georgia, can help in the investigation of complex matters. They do not have the power to return an indictment but can make recommendations to prosecutors on criminal prosecutions. 

Willis wrote in her letter that the special grand jury is needed because it can serve for longer than a normal grand jury term, which is two months in Fulton County. It also would be able to focus on this investigation alone, allowing it to focus on the complex facts and circumstances. And having a special grand jury would mean the regular seated grand jury would not have to deal with this investigation in addition to their regular duties, Willis wrote. 

Willis’ investigation became public last February when she sent letters to top elected officials in Georgia instructing them to preserve any records related to the general election, particularly any evidence of attempts to influence election officials. The probe includes “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration,” the letters said. 

 

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US Capitol Riot Probe Seeks Ivanka Trump’s Cooperation

The congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday asked former President Donald Trump’s daughter to voluntarily cooperate with its probe. 

In a letter to Ivanka Trump, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said the panel wants her to tell them what she knows about her father’s efforts to thwart congressional certification that he lost the November 2020 election. They also want to know what he was doing as his supporters rampaged through the Capitol while lawmakers were in the initial stages of certifying Democrat Joe Biden as the new president.

It was not immediately known whether the former first daughter would cooperate with the investigation.

Thompson said the committee wants to meet with Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser to her father, because she was in direct contact with him at key moments on January 6, 2021, two weeks before Biden was inaugurated and Donald Trump left Washington. 

Thompson said the committee wants to know about the former president’s efforts to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to block congressional certification of election results in key states where Biden outpolled Trump.

“One of the president’s discussions with the vice president occurred by phone on the morning of January 6th,” Thompson wrote in the letter to Ivanka Trump. “You were present in the Oval Office and observed at least one side of that telephone conversation.” 

The committee also said it wanted to learn about Ivanka Trump’s efforts to get her father to call off rioters after they had stormed into the Capitol. At an earlier rally near the White House that day, then-President Trump urged supporters to go the Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 election. 

“Testimony obtained by the committee indicates that members of the White House staff requested your assistance on multiple occasions to intervene in an attempt to persuade President Trump to address the ongoing lawlessness and violence on Capitol Hill,” Thompson wrote. 

Then-President Trump remained publicly silent for more than three hours about the rampage of hundreds of his supporters at the Capitol but late in the afternoon he released a short video urging them to leave. 

As he does to this day, Donald Trump mentioned in the video the false conspiracy theory that he won the election, saying, “I know your pain; I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it. Especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace.” 

After the Capitol was cleared of protesters, Congress certified Biden’s election victory in the early hours of January 7. More than 700 rioters have been charged with an array of criminal offenses, some as minor as trespassing and others with felonies, such as attacking police and vandalizing the Capitol. 

At a political rally last Saturday, Donald Trump called the arrests “an appalling persecution of political prisoners.” 

The investigative committee has interviewed more than 300 witnesses and issued subpoenas to dozens more. This week, they included Rudy Giuliani and other members of Trump’s legal team who filed bogus legal challenges to the 2020 election supporting the former president’s false claim that he had been cheated out of a second term.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the former president’s bid to keep the National Archives from sending hundreds of his White House documents related to the election and day of the riot to the investigative panel.

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Biden Draws Lines With Russian Leader Over Ukraine Moves

President Joe Biden ends his first year in office as tensions with Russia hit a fever pitch. He warned his Russian counterpart to choose a diplomatic resolution and to not invade neighboring Ukraine — a message his secretary of state also is pushing in Kyiv this week. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington.
Producer: Kimberlyn Weeks

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Republican Filibuster Blocks US Voting Bill

Voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights groups argued is vital for protecting democracy was blocked Wednesday by a Republican filibuster, a setback for President Joe Biden and his party after a raw, emotional debate.

Democrats were poised to immediately pivot to voting on a Senate rules change as a way to overcome the filibuster and approve the bill with a simple majority. But the rules change was also headed toward defeat, as Biden has been unable to persuade two holdout senators in his own party, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to change the Senate procedures for this one bill.

“This is not just another routine day in the Senate, this is a moral moment,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

The initial vote was 49-51, short of the 60 votes needed to advance over the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., voted no for procedural reasons so Democrats can revisit the legislation.

The nighttime voting capped a day of piercing debate that carried echoes of an earlier era when the Senate filibuster was deployed in lengthy speeches by opponents of civil rights legislation.

Voting rights advocates are warning that Republican-led states nationwide are passing laws to make it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of identification and ordering other changes.

Vice President Kamala Harris presided, able to cast a potentially tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate.

Democrats decided to press ahead despite the potential for defeat at a tumultuous time for Biden and his party. Biden is marking his first year in office with his priorities stalling in the face of solid Republican opposition and the Democrats’ inability to unite around their own goals. But the Democrats wanted to force senators on the record — even their own party’s holdouts — to show voters where they stand.

“I haven’t given up,” Biden said earlier at a White House news conference.

Sinema and Manchin have withstood an onslaught of criticism from Black leaders and civil rights organizations, and they risk further political fallout as other groups and even their own colleagues threaten to withdraw campaign support.

Schumer contended the fight is not over and he ridiculed Republican claims that the new election laws in the states will not end up hurting voter access and turnout, comparing it to Donald Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 presidential election.

The Democrats’ bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, would make Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots — which have become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic — and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter interference, among other changes. It has passed the House.

Both Manchin and Sinema say they support the legislation but are unwilling to change Senate rules. With a 50-50 split, Democrats have a narrow Senate majority — Harris can break a tie — but they lack the 60 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.

Instead, Schumer put forward a more specific rules change for a “talking filibuster” on this one bill. It would require senators to stand at their desks and exhaust the debate before holding a simple majority vote, rather than the current practice that simply allows senators to privately signal their objections.

But even that is expected to fail because Manchin and Sinema have said they are unwilling to change the rules on a party-line vote by Democrats alone. 

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Biden: Federal Reserve Should ‘Recalibrate’ Policy as Prices Rise 

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said it was appropriate for the Federal Reserve to recalibrate the support it provides to the U.S. economy, in light of fast-rising prices and the strength of recovery. 

“Given the strength of our economy and recent price increases, it’s appropriate, as … Fed Chairman [Jerome] Powell has indicated, to recalibrate the support that is now necessary,” Biden told a news conference. 

“The critical job of making sure that the elevated prices don’t become entrenched rests with the Federal Reserve, which has a dual mandate: full employment and stable prices,” the president said. 

At the same time, he said, the White House and Congress could help contain inflation by moving to fix supply chain failures, encourage competition, and pass his Build Back Better spending bill that he says would cut child care and other costs for families. 

Fed policymakers have signaled they will raise interest rates several times this year, likely starting in March, to try to rein in inflation that’s rising at its fastest pace in nearly 40 years. A reduction in the Fed’s $8 trillion balance sheet could soon follow. 

At his renomination hearing earlier this month, Powell told lawmakers that he would not allow inflation to become entrenched and said a tighter policy stance was necessary to keep the economy growing. 

Biden also called on the U.S. Senate to confirm his recent nominations for key roles on the Federal Reserve Board “without any further delay.” 

Biden earlier this month nominated former Fed Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin for the Fed’s top regulatory post and two Black economists, Lisa Cook and Philip Jefferson, to round out the Fed’s seven-member board. 

Late last year Biden renominated Powell to lead the Fed for another four years and nominated Fed Governor Lael Brainard to serve as Fed vice chair. The picks would remake the Fed Board to be the most diverse in the central bank’s 108-year history.

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Biden Confirms Harris Would Be Running Mate in 2024 

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate in the 2024 presidential election if he stood for office again.

“She’s going to be my running mate,” Biden said of Harris during a press conference held to mark the first year of his presidency.

In mid-December, Harris said she and Biden had not yet discussed the 2024 election, amid speculation she might not be in the running for the White House if Biden chose not to stand again.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, when asked about the possibility of Biden, 79, running again, Harris said: “I don’t think about it, nor have we talked about it.”

Harris, the first woman and first Black and Asian American person ever sworn in as vice president, initially seemed to be the heir apparent.

But her halo has slipped amid negative press alleging dysfunction among her staff, doubt on her standing within the administration and her frustrations over thorny assignments, such as minority voting access and the migration crisis at the southern border.

Biden defended Harris’ record on tackling voting rights, saying, “I did put her in charge. I think she’s doing a good job.” 

Biden is pressing Congress to pass two major bills broadening access to the ballot box, placing more onerous conditions on states attempting to change voting laws and protecting election officials from undue influence.

Democrats and voting rights activists have championed the measures as a necessary response to Republican efforts to restrict voting, especially among Black and Latino Americans.

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