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By Kate Brumback | Associated Press

ATLANTA — 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. Sen. 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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Brazil: Bolsonaro Seeks Abuse of Power Probe Against Judge Ordering Fake News Raids

Brazil’s conservative President Jair Bolsonaro turned to the Prosecutor General’s office to investigate top judge Alexandre de Moraes for abuse of power on Wednesday in response to de Moraes ordering violent raids against comedians, journalists, and Youtubers over alleged dissemination of “fake news.”

De Moraes formally holds one of 11 seats on the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), Brazil’s top court. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, the STF has far broader authority than simply being the federal court of last resort – it can order arrests and prosecute individuals.

With de Moraes on the bench, it has expanded its own powers to silence and imprison Brazilians for what de Moraes has branded “criminal speech,” most recently sentencing a Congressman to eight years in prison over a Youtube video in which the lawmaker, Daniel Silveira, condemned the STF for abusing its power. De Moraes is in charge of a sprawling operation against alleged “fake news” following the election of Bolsonaro in 2018.

Silveira, a fellow conservative from Rio de Janeiro, was released after Bolsonaro pardoned him following the STF’s sentencing on “criminal speech” grounds.

Bolsonaro reportedly requested on Tuesday that the STF itself investigate de Moraes for abuse of power. The STF almost immediately rejected the petition.

STF Minister (the formal title for supreme court justices in Brazil) Dias Toffoli handed down the ruling rejecting the investigation, claiming that nothing that de Moraes had done “constitutes a crime.” Being in charge of a criminal probe into “fake news,” Toffoli wrote, was “no reason to conclude that he [de Moraes] would have any special interest in relation to the regular exercise of his jurisdiction” – meaning that his status of investigating “fake news” did not inherently mean he was beyond the limits of judicial powers.

Toffoli claimed that Bolsonaro was attacking de Moraes “for the simple fact of being a judge.”

File/A supporter of Bolsonaro poses for a picture wearing a mask of Minister Alexandre de Moraes of the Supreme Federal Court at Copacabana beach on September 07, 2021 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazilians have taken the streets as they commemorate their Independence Day to show both support and rejection for Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. (Wagner Meier/Getty Images)

Bolsonaro’s legal team reportedly responded to the rejection by filing a complaint with the Prosecutor-General of the Republic (PGR) office that remains pending at press time. The left-wing Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper noted this week that Bolsonaro had already tried to impeach de Moraes through a Senate petition and have him removed from public office for at least eight years.

Contrary to Toffoli’s conclusion that Bolsonaro was targeting de Moraes solely for “being a judge,” de Moraes had ordered significant violent action against civilians for crimes of expression that would defy the legal codes of many democratic countries. In May 2020, for example, de Moraes ordered police raids against the homes of 29 people, including journalists and comedians, on dubious “fake news” grounds.

 “The operation’s targets were an eclectic and influential cast of hardcore Bolsonaristas including a former Femen activist-turned-anti-abortion-militant;” the U.K. Guardian listed at the time, “a comic and musician whose repertoire includes a sexually explicit JK Rowling parody called “Harry Fucker”; a gun-toting, communist-bashing congressman; a hard-right blogger; and a multimillionaire retail magnate famed for placing giant replicas of the Statue of Liberty outside his stores.”

One of the individuals targeted, comedian Rey Biannchi, published a mobile phone video of the police operation on his home, apparently taken by his sobbing wife as police raided the home at 6 a.m.

De Moraes also ordered a raid on the head of the now defunct conservative news outlet Terça Livre, Allan dos Santos, who was forced into exile in the United States for running a media outlet. De Moraes has since ordered dos Santos’ arrest and extradition and attempted to file for an Interpol red notice, or call for arrest, but his request was rejected.

The most high-profile persecution case de Moraes has pursued, however, has been against Silveira, the Congressman. Police arrested Silveira in February 2021 after he published a video on Youtube in which he called for the removal of de Moraes and nearly every other STF minister from the court, accusing them of having “no character, no scruples, no morals.” De Moraes claimed that the video was evidence of the crime of  “incitement of the population to the subversion of the political and social order.”

After spending 11 months in prison, de Moraes’ probe resulted in another attempt to arrest Silveira in March that resulted in the lawmaker barricading himself in his office, where he enjoys legislative immunity. Silveira ultimately left the office when de Moraes imposed thousands of Brazilian reais in fines per day, an act Silveira said was too onerous on his family’s finances to allow him to  continue.

The STF ousted Silveira from his legislative seat in April and sentenced him to another eight years and nine months in prison for criticizing it.

“Freedom of expression exists for the manifestation of opposing opinions, jokes, satires, for wrong opinions, but not for criminal opinions, hate speech, an attack on the democratic state of law,” de Moraes said in his ruling.

“This Court and the world in general agree that freedom of expression is not an absolute right,” another STF minister, Luis Roberto Barroso, said at the time.

Bolsonaro condemned the ruling as unacceptable and released Silveira with a presidential pardon. The STF is expected to challenge the idea that the pardon would also restore Silveira’s Congressional seat, which he won in a free and fair election.

“It is very easy to say, ‘Daniel Silveira, take care of your own business. I am not going to say that,” Bolsonaro said, announcing the pardon. “I was a Congressman for 28 years and, in that House, with all its possible defects, that is where the essence of democracy is, too.”

Brazilian conservatives convened free speech rallies nationwide on April 1; Silveira spoke at the Rio de Janeiro event, again condemning the STF.

“Brazil today has political prisoners,” Silveira asserted. “That is unacceptable in a country that demands democracy, that speaks of democracy, but acts like a dictatorship. Do not bow before state arbitrariness. Those who rule Brazil are us.”

Attendees held signs personally condemning de Moraes; one participant in Rio de Janeiro dressed up as de Moraes, holding up a toilet seat reading “fake news factory.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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