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Georgia lieutenant governor to be investigated in Trump case. But by whom?

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

Since former President Donald J. Trump and 18 of his allies were indicted last summer for election interference in Georgia, a delicate question has remained unanswered: Would criminal charges also be filed against the lieutenant governor Burt Jones, a longtime Trump supporter and one of the Southern Swing State’s most ambitious politicians?

Mr. Jones was one of 16 Republicans who acted as fake voters for Mr. Trump in Georgia in an effort to overturn his 2020 defeat. Three of them are charged with crimes, including violating the national racketeering law.

But in 2022, a judge blocked the Fulton County prosecutor who led the investigation, Fani T. Willis, from developing a case against Mr. Jones, citing a conflict of interest because she had led a collection of funds for his Democratic rival in the United States. race for lieutenant governor.

It is now up to a state agency called the Georgia Council of Prosecutors to find a special prosecutor to investigate Mr. Jones, who has denied any wrongdoing. The agency’s director, Peter J. Skandalakis, remained silent for months about the selection process.

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Skandalakis, a Republican and former district attorney, confirmed that he would unilaterally choose the prosecutor for the Jones case. He said he has already ruled out some district attorneys, either because their staffs were too small to take on the extra work or because their choice might seem too partisan.

This week, the Augusta, Georgia, district attorney became the first to publicly declare interest in the position. Jared T. Williams, a Democrat, said in an interview on Tuesday that he was prepared to investigate Mr. Jones’s actions after the 2020 election “if asked.”

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Mr Williams’ announcement highlighted the conundrum facing Mr Skandalakis. Georgia Republicans may howl if he chooses a Democrat for the job. But Democrats will likely do the same if he chooses a Republican.

“I don’t deny that it’s a difficult position,” Mr. Skandalakis said, “but it doesn’t bother me. I have held similar positions on difficult cases throughout my career. He added, however, that few of these cases have such potential for partisan fury. Mr Jones said he can run for governor in 2026.

Mr. Skandalakis said he thought highly of Mr. Williams, a first-term district attorney who ran on a criminal justice reform agenda, and would talk to him about his work.

But he also expressed concern that Mr. Williams was a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the creation of a local prosecutor oversight commission. Mr. Jones, who presides over the state Senate, had supported the new commission. The suit was recently withdrawn by the plaintiffs after a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court. actually blocked the commission to operate.

Mr. Skandalakis said he had already excluded some other prosecutors because they were plaintiffs in the suit. He declined to identify them by name, but the plaintiffs included a Republican prosecutor from a central Georgia judicial district, Jonathan Adams, and two Democrats from more populous suburban districts near Atlanta, Sherry Boston of DeKalb County and Flynn D. Broady Jr. of Cobb County.

On Wednesday, District Attorney Tasha M. Mosley of Clayton County, a Democrat, told The New York Times that Mr. Skandalakis had recently asked her if she would be interested in taking on the case. Ms. Mosley said she declined because her office lacked sufficient resources.

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“I can no longer remove prosecutors from the murder cases we have here,” she said. “So I would have to hire an outside lawyer to handle this.” And I don’t have any money.

Georgia’s 50 prosecutors are all elected in partisan contests. Mr. Skandalakis may try to find a private lawyer to take on the case to ease partisan tensions. But the law, he explained, would prevent him from paying an outside lawyer more than $70 an hour.

“It’s almost insulting to find someone who’s willing to do it for $70 an hour,” he said.

Mr. Skandalakis, 67, can also call himself a special prosecutor. This would not be the first time he has led a high-profile case. In 2021, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr appointed him to investigate the fatal police shooting of Rayshard Brooks, who fought with two Atlanta officers in 2020 and was shot in the back as he fled.

Mr. Skandalakis announced in August 2022 that the charges against the police officers would be dropped.

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Jared T. Williams, the Democratic district attorney in Augusta, Georgia, said he was prepared to investigate Mr. Jones’s actions after the 2020 election “if called upon.”Credit…via YouTube

Mr. Jones did not respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday. But in the past, he has called the investigation into Georgia’s election interference “aabuse of power,” arguing that people like him are not breaking laws but are “just asking questions about the election.”

Mr. Jones, 44, is the scion of a wealthy Georgia family that often reminds voters that he is a former captain of the University of Georgia football team. He belongs to the pro-Trump faction of the state Republican Party, which has been damaged and dramatically divided by Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat.

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In addition to serving as a bogus elector for Mr. Trump in December 2020, Mr. Jones, then a state senator, advocated for a special session of the state legislature to overturn Mr. .Trump in Georgia, and signed a failed lawsuit. seeking to do the same. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Mr. Jones traveled to Washington on January 5, 2021 to convince Vice President Mike Pence to delay the certification of the Electoral College votes, although Mr. Jones told the outlet that he ultimately did not do.

In December 2022, a special grand jury examining election interference in Georgia recommended indicting Mr. Jones on counts including forgery. Jurors also recommended indictment of others who were ultimately indicted, including Mr. Trump.

Mr. Jones’ recent moves suggest he may seriously consider running for governor in 2026. The current governor, Brian Kemp, a Republican, is term-limited and has a frosty relationship with Mr. Trump.

In November, Mr. Jones revealed an attack ad against a potential Republican primary rival, Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who Mr. Trump lobbied in January 2021 to help him “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat election in Georgia.

Mr. Jones separately faces a civil suit filed by four Georgia electors seeking to remove him from office on the grounds that he “participated in insurrection and rebellion” when he filed documents falsely claiming to be an elector Georgian.