ATLANTA (AP) — A federal appeals court on Sunday agreed to temporarily stay a lower court’s order requiring U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham to testify before a special grand jury investigating possible illegal efforts to overturn the loss. President Donald Trump’s 2020 election in Georgia.
A subpoena had ordered the South Carolina Republican to appear before the special grand jury on Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May last Monday denied Graham’s request to quash his subpoena and on Friday rejected his attempt to stay his decision while he appeals. Graham’s lawyers then appealed to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
READ MORE: Senator Lindsey Graham challenges Georgia 2020 election subpoena
On Sunday, a three-judge appeals court panel issued the order temporarily staying May’s order refusing to overturn the subpoena. The panel returned the case in May to decide whether the subpoena should be partially overturned or modified due to protections afforded to members of Congress by the US Constitution.
Once May decides that issue, the case will return to the 11th Circuit for further review, according to the appeals court’s order.
Representatives for Graham did not immediately respond to messages on Sunday seeking comment on the appeal decision. A spokesperson for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis declined to comment.
Willis opened the investigation early last year, following a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During that conversation, Trump suggested that Raffensperger might “find” the votes needed to undo his short loss in the state.
Willis and his team said they wanted to ask Graham about two phone calls they allegedly made to Raffensperger and his team shortly after the 2020 general election. During those calls, Graham asked to “review certain absentee ballots filed in Georgia to explore the possibility of a more favorable outcome for former President Donald Trump,” Willis wrote in a petition seeking to compel his testimony.
Graham also “referenced allegations of widespread voter fraud in Georgia’s November 2020 election consistent with public statements made by known Trump campaign affiliates,” she wrote.
Republican and Democratic state election officials across the country, the courts, and even Trump’s attorney general found there was no evidence of voter fraud sufficient to affect the election outcome.
At a hearing earlier this month into Graham’s motion to have his subpoena quashed, Willis’ team said Graham may be able to provide some insight into the extent of any coordinated effort to influence the results of the 2020 general elections in Georgia.
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The Speech or Debate Clause of the US Constitution protects members of Congress from being questioned about official legislative acts. The 11th Circuit court assigned May to determine whether Graham “is entitled to a partial rescission or modification of the subpoena” as a result.
Graham’s attorneys have argued that the calls were made as part of his legislative duties and that this provision gives him absolute protection from being compelled to testify in the case.
In her order last week, May noted that the clause does not protect political rather than legislative actions. Even if she agreed that the appeals would be “entirely legislative inquiries,” and therefore protected, “there would still be significant areas of potential testimony related to the grand jury investigation about which Senator Graham might be questioned that would not would in no way fall under the protections of the Clause,” she wrote.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.