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Sen. Lindsey Graham must testify before a grand jury in Georgia

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The U.S. Supreme Court today said that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina must testify before a grand jury in Georgia. A Fulton County, Ga., grand jury subpoenaed Graham to testify later this month about allegations that then-President Trump tried to interfere with the state's ballot count after the 2020 election.

Joining us now to talk more about this court's action is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Hi, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: OK, can we just step back for a moment? Remind us why Lindsey Graham is getting pulled in front of a grand jury in the first place.

TOTENBERG: Well, after the 2020 election, Trump, as you might recall, was desperate to overturn the election and tried to get Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to, quote, "find enough votes" to put him over the top in the state, which he had lost to Joe Biden.

CHANG: Right.

TOTENBERG: And at the time, Graham also made calls to Raffensperger. And Graham reported - and Raffensperger reported that the senator had contacted him to suggest that mail-in ballots from certain counties should not be counted - all the mail-in ballots, not just the ones where the signature might be questioned. Graham argued that the actions he took following the election were legislative in nature and were related to his role as the then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said he was immune to being called even just as a witness because of the Constitution's speech and debate clause, and that clause is meant to protect legislators from unwarranted intrusions into their legislative duties by other branches of government.

And then the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which included two Trump appointees, disagreed with Graham and his broad assertion of immunity, and it ordered him to testify, but it limited the kinds of questions he could be asked. So Graham then went to the Supreme Court asking it to block the subpoena. And today, he lost. The justices, without any noted dissent, ruled against him, letting the lower court's order stand.

CHANG: OK. So after all those twists and turns, Senator Graham is now due to testify on November 17. What do you think he'll be asked to talk about?

TOTENBERG: The lower court said Graham doesn't have to answer questions about informal legislative activity related to the election in 2020. But he will have to answer questions about his communications and coordination with the Trump campaign regarding its post-election efforts in Georgia to pressure election officials into nullifying large numbers of votes cast.

CHANG: All right. Well, meanwhile, can you just, Nina, help us keep track of all the other Trump-related cases before the court? Like, what else is out there?

TOTENBERG: The court's also considering whether to block a subpoena from the House January 6 committee seeking phone records of Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward. She was one of the so-called alternate electors who falsely claimed that Trump had won the 2020 election in her state. And earlier today, the Supreme Court, responding to a request from Trump himself, temporarily blocked the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining Trump's tax returns. And this kind of a stay is called an administrative stay. It just freezes things to let the other side respond, but they don't have to respond until after the election. So the tax records cover the years of 2015 through 2020, but I suspect we won't be hearing about them until, as I said, well after the election.

CHANG: That is NPR's Nina Totenberg. Thank you so much, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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