By Zachary Cohen, Sara Murray and Jason Morris, CNN
A state judge singled out Georgia Republican Party chairman David Shafer, one of the fake electors for Donald Trump, for the unique role he played in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the Peach State as part of a ruling on Wednesday.
Judge Robert McBurney, who is overseeing the special purpose grand jury investigation into 2020 election interference in Fulton County Superior Court, ruled that two attorneys for 11 of the so-called “alternate electors” in Georgia can’t represent all of them. McBurney cited Shafer’s central role as an organizer in efforts to overturn the election results.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, has already informed the entire group of 16 Republicans who served as pro-Trump electors — even though Trump lost the state in 2020 — that they are targets of her probe. The new ruling puts a spotlight on Shafer’s role in particular.
Willis, who is spearheading the investigation into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the election, had attempted to disqualify Holly A. Pierson and Kimberly Bourroughs Debrow, who are representing the subset of 11 fake electors, saying their “simultaneous” representation is “rife with serious ethical problems” and conflicts of interest that violate the Georgia state bar’s rules of professional conduct.
In Wednesday’s ruling, McBurney said that Shafer is the “exception” and should be viewed differently than the other electors, and so it is “impractical and arguably unethical for Pierson and Debrow to represent all eleven together.”
“Given the information before the Court about his role in establishing and convening the slate of alternate electors, his communications with other key players in the District Attorney’s investigation, and his role in other post -election efforts to call into question the validity of the official vote count in Georgia, the Court finds that he is substantively differently situated from the other ten clients jointly represented by Pierson and Debrow,” McBurney wrote.
The judge cites evidence — including emails and other records in the case — that underscores Shafer’s unique role, but the nature of those supporting documents remains unclear as they were not detailed in the ruling itself.
As a result, McBurney said the two attorneys will need to either represent 10 in the group or Shafer, but not both.
The lawyers for the group of 11 pro-Trump electors said their clients did not commit any crimes and are unified in their defenses. CNN previously reported that Shafer, who has denied any wrongdoing, has nonetheless been bracing for the possibility he’ll be indicted, according to a source familiar with the matter.
CNN also previously reported that Willis had hit a roadblock in her effort to gain testimony from some of the state Republicans who signed on as fake electors in order to thwart Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia.
Her initial tactic of subpoenaing some of the electors and labeling all of them targets who could face indictment appears to have undermined her ability to obtain potentially crucial testimony from the people who could provide inside accounts of the post-election efforts, including what if any role the former president played.
Willis recently attempted to lower the temperature by floating the possibility of immunity for some of the electors if they agree to appear before the grand jury, according to people familiar with the matter.
Separately, Willis was disqualified from investigating one of those electors, Burt Jones, who was elected Georgia’s next lieutenant governor.
Shafer played a key role in organizing Georgia’s fake slate of electors. He convened Republicans in the Georgia state capital in December 2020 to pull together an alternate elector certification, and he served as one of the fake electors, signing on to the document. Shafer also was the plaintiff in a longshot lawsuit, as he and Trump attempted to overturn the state’s election results.
Shafer coordinated at least some of his efforts with the Trump team, telling the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol that he put forward the fake elector slate at the direction of the Trump campaign.
While Shafer’s attorneys have insisted he never committed any crimes — and he wasn’t organizing the GOP electors in secret — federal and Georgia investigators obtained an email from a former Trump campaign aide asking the alternate electors for “complete secrecy and discretion” and encouraging them to misdirect security guards when they arrived at the state capital.
The aide who sent the email told CNN he was working at the direction of the Trump campaign and Shafer. Shafer’s attorney told CNN that his client did not try to keep things secret.
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