Unique-Georgia probe into Trump examines chaplain’s position in election meddling By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, former Elections Division worker in Fulton County, Georgia, is sworn-in to testify, as her mom, Georgia election employee Ruby Freeman seems on, in the course of the fourth public listening to of the U.S. Home Choose Committee to

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By Linda So, Jason Szep and Peter Eisler

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Georgia election employee Ruby Freeman didn’t acknowledge the person who banged on her door. Terrified, she known as 911. She had motive to worry.

By the morning of Dec. 15, 2020, when she noticed the stranger’s pink sedan parked in her driveway, she had obtained tons of of threats from supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Two weeks earlier, Trump’s marketing campaign had falsely accused Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, of pulling pretend ballots from suitcases at Atlanta’s State Farm Enviornment to rig the 2020 election for Democrat Joe Biden.

The person had already handed a message to Freeman by way of a neighbor: Freeman’s time was working out, he stated, and he might assist her and her daughter. When a police officer responded and questioned the person outdoors Freeman’s dwelling, he launched himself as Steve Lee, a police chaplain from Illinois.

Now Lee is underneath scrutiny in a legal investigation into alleged election interference by Trump and his allies in Georgia, based on a supply with direct information of the probe.

Lee performed a central position in a failed effort to strain Freeman to confess to an election fraud that by no means occurred, based on a Reuters examination of police physique digicam footage and court docket paperwork, in addition to interviews with key members. After being rebuffed by Freeman, Lee contacted Harrison Floyd, who had run outreach to black voters for Trump’s 2020 marketing campaign. Floyd organized one other go to to Freeman on Jan. 4, 2021, this time from Chicago publicist Trevian Kutti, who threatened Freeman with jail until she offered data on election fraud, Reuters reported final December.

Lee’s id has not been beforehand reported. The investigation by the Fulton County District Lawyer’s workplace is inspecting Lee’s coordination with Floyd and Kutti as Trump’s marketing campaign was desperately in search of proof of vote-rigging to justify overturning his election loss. On Jan. 6, two days after Kutti’s go to to Freeman, Congress licensed Biden’s victory, regardless of the lethal riot on the U.S. Capitol that day by Trump supporters attempting to halt the proceedings.

Fulton County District Lawyer Fani Willis stated in a Sept. 2 court docket submitting that she was in search of testimony from Floyd, who detailed his involvement in pursuing Freeman in a prolonged interview with Reuters final December. The prosecutor’s submitting famous that Floyd informed Reuters he had organized Kutti’s assembly with Freeman on the request of an unidentified man, whom Floyd described as a chaplain with federal regulation enforcement connections.

Reuters recognized that chaplain as Lee by way of beforehand unreported police information and physique digicam footage displaying police talking with Lee outdoors Freeman’s dwelling. Lee previously labored as a policeman in California and later served as a chaplain comforting officers and others after the Sept. 11 assaults in New York. A New York Metropolis Police Division spokesperson confirmed Lee’s work with its officers.

As Reuters reported on Dec. 10, Freeman informed police that Kutti tried to get her to falsely implicate herself in voting fraud. Shedding new gentle on the incident, the district lawyer’s court docket submitting final week stated Kutti warned Freeman that “an armed squad” of federal officers would method her and her household inside 48 hours and that Kutti had entry to “very high-profile individuals that may make explicit issues occur … in an effort to defend your self and your loved ones.”

A supply with direct information of the Georgia investigation stated Lee, Kutti and Floyd are all “topics of curiosity” of the legal probe. Willis has beforehand sought testimony from Kutti.

No expenses have been filed within the case. A spokesperson for Willis’ workplace didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Lee, in a quick interview at his dwelling in Montgomery, Illinois, didn’t dispute that he visited Freeman however declined to debate why or whether or not somebody had despatched him.

Floyd and Kutti didn’t reply to requests for remark. They’ve beforehand denied they tried to strain Freeman to falsely confess to election fraud, saying they had been attempting to assist her.

‘I’M NOT INTERESTED’

Freeman was so shaken by Lee’s makes an attempt to contact her that she known as 911 thrice on Dec. 15, 2020, the morning he parked in her driveway. Two Cobb County Cops responded, one among whom interviewed Lee outdoors her dwelling. Lee stated he needed to talk with Freeman and produced his Illinois driver’s license, based on beforehand unreported physique digicam footage obtained by way of a public-records request.

“I am a pastor, and I am additionally working with some of us who’re attempting to assist Ruby out,” Lee informed the officer, with out figuring out the individuals. “And likewise get to some reality of what is going on on.”

He described himself as “prior regulation enforcement” and a “sergeant out in California.” He stated he had “some professional bono service for her if she’s .”

She wasn’t.

“I am not ,” she informed the officer in a separate interview captured on bodycam, saying she had performed nothing flawed. “I’ve a pastor.”

The identical man had proven up at her home the night time earlier than, Freeman reported. She wasn’t dwelling. Lee spoke with a neighbor, and that’s when Lee handed the message saying he might assist Freeman. She informed police Lee had stated “he knew it was going to worsen. And he needed to assist me earlier than it obtained too late.”

Freeman, who describes herself as a religious Christian, stated she did not acknowledge the person and needed to report him for harassment. The officer replied that he would inform Lee she didn’t wish to communicate with him.

The chaplain then turned to Floyd for assist. Within the December interview, Floyd didn’t establish the chaplain by title however stated his go to was captured on police bodycam video, which Reuters reviewed. The clergyman “was despatched to speak to her,” Floyd added. He declined to say who despatched him, however stated the chaplain had been contacted by “connections that he had in regulation enforcement.” The chaplain reached out to Floyd as a result of he believed Freeman wouldn’t belief a white stranger, Floyd stated. Freeman and Floyd are each Black.

Floyd additionally stated individuals “concerned with the Trump marketing campaign” contacted him and stated they’d heard Freeman needed immunity.

Freeman has repeatedly stated she is harmless and subsequently by no means sought any immunity deal. Prosecutors by no means thought-about providing her immunity as a result of they’d no motive to consider she was concerned in fraud, based on a former Division of Justice official with direct information of the matter.

However, Floyd stated he obtained calls from attorneys in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan who stated a confession from Freeman would assist their litigation efforts. On the time, Trump and his allies went to court docket in these states in search of to overturn his election loss.

Floyd and Lee joined a number of cellphone calls with attorneys who had been “eager about providing immunity,” Floyd stated. He declined to establish the attorneys. Floyd stated he agreed to rearrange the assembly with Freeman after talking with Lee “a number of occasions at size” and reviewing the chaplain’s regulation enforcement credentials.

Georgia election officers rapidly debunked the baseless accusations towards Freeman. The oft-repeated false claims began with the Trump marketing campaign telling Georgia lawmakers at a Dec. 3, 2020 listening to {that a} surveillance video of Freeman and her daughter dealing with ballots at State Farm Enviornment amounted to surprising proof of fraud. In truth, state officers stated, the video confirmed regular poll processing.

‘GROUND ZERO’ CHAPLAIN

Lee had an extended profession in regulation enforcement earlier than he beginning specializing in his ministry as a chaplain. He was a sergeant within the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Workplace, the place he labored from 1980 to 1987. In line with his on-line biography, he additionally served as a particular agent for the U.S. Navy’s law-enforcement arm, now often known as the Naval Felony Investigative Service. In 1996, he based Peace Officer Ministries Inc, a Christian group that serves officers and their households, and served as its govt director till January 2010, based on archived pages of the group’s web site.

From 2016 to 2018, Lee led a “Fast Response Group,” sponsored by an Illinois Lutheran church, that offered chaplaincy assist to regulation enforcement in disaster conditions. On the staff’s Twitter (NYSE:) account, he posted a subject report in February 2017 that included {a photograph} of himself outdoors Trump Tower. He stated he “briefed a Trump transition staff advisor on a volunteer federal regulation enforcement chaplaincy proposal.” He stated Trump had “issued a clarion name to make America nice once more and drain the swamp,” urging assist for “these noble targets.”

In February 2018, his response staff scaled down operations due to a possibility he had discovered “to work extra straight with the federal authorities” in the course of the Trump administration, Lee wrote in a publish to the group’s supporters. Reuters couldn’t verify what work, if any, Lee did for the Trump administration.

In an October 2021 speech, Lee endorsed James Marter, a pro-Trump Republican candidate for U.S. Congress from Illinois. In supporting Marter, who later misplaced the Republican major, Lee stated he had at all times averted politics however felt compelled to get entangled as a result of “we’re going through the extinction of America.”

Billed by Marter’s marketing campaign because the “Floor Zero” chaplain, Lee informed the viewers he offered spiritual assist to New York Metropolis police and different emergency responders for a few month after the Sept. 11 assaults.

On the time, Bernard Kerik was New York Metropolis police commissioner and Rudy Giuliani was mayor. Each had been deeply concerned on the Floor Zero web site, the place the dual towers of the World Commerce Heart had been destroyed. And each males emerged after the 2020 election as outstanding figures pushing Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud in Fulton County.

Giuliani didn’t reply to a request for remark, and Reuters couldn’t independently confirm whether or not he knew Lee or knew of his work after the Sept. 11 assaults.

Kerik stated he didn’t recall assembly Lee, both after the assaults or for the reason that 2020 election.

“By no means met him to my information,” he stated. “I do not recall a Lee associated to Georgia’s elections.”

At a December listening to with Georgia lawmakers, Giuliani falsely accused Freeman and Moss of “stealing votes” and interesting in “surreptitious criminality.” Final month, Willis’ workplace notified Giuliani that he was a goal of her investigation.

After the election, Giuliani headed a authorized staff engaged on Trump’s behalf to overturn the election outcomes. Kerik labored because the staff’s lead investigator, based on his private web site. A “Strategic Communications Plan,” developed by the staff to construct public assist for Trump’s election challenges, known as for drawing public consideration to the baseless expenses towards Freeman and her daughter. Kerik later turned over the doc to the congressional committee probing the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.

‘SAVE OUR REPUBLIC’

After talking with the chaplain, Floyd stated he enlisted the assistance of Kutti, a former publicist for hip-hop and R&B singers. Kutti had been in Georgia in 2020 to assist with Republican marketing campaign efforts, together with briefly managing the unsuccessful congressional marketing campaign of a Trump ally.

On Dec. 29, a couple of days earlier than assembly Freeman, Kutti urged Trump in a social media publish to “unleash each navy and Govt energy it’s a must to save our Republic.” She ended the publish with the hashtag #byanymeansnecessary.

The stakes had been excessive. An admission of fraud by Freeman, an election employee within the state’s greatest county, might have forged doubt over Trump’s loss in Georgia and given Trump ammunition to halt Congress from certifying Biden’s win on Jan. 6. If Freeman had dedicated fraud and needed immunity, Floyd informed Reuters, “that is actually essential to get to the best individuals earlier than an election is licensed.”

Trump himself singled out Freeman, by title, 18 occasions in a now-infamous name to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, by which he pressed Georgia officers to change the state’s outcomes primarily based on his bogus fraud claims. He falsely attacked the 62-year-old temp employee as a “skilled vote scammer,” a “hustler” and a “recognized political operative” who “stuffed the poll bins.”

Floyd stated Kutti agreed to go to Freeman. On the night of Jan. 4, Kutti confirmed up at Freeman’s dwelling with one other man, a Georgia consultant of the marketing campaign coalition Black Voices for Trump. Freeman has stated she didn’t know the guests supported Trump after they got here to her door. As Reuters beforehand reported, Freeman was cautious however agreed to speak to Kutti on the police station.

Kutti tried to get Freeman to falsely implicate herself in voter fraud that night time, Freeman informed police. A Cobb County Police report recognized Kutti as an “alleged Trump supporter who tried to get Ms. Freeman to make false claims concerning the poll counting.” When the 2 met on the police station, Kutti informed Freeman: “You’re a free finish for a celebration that should tidy up,” police physique digicam footage reveals.

Kutti stated Floyd had “authoritative powers” to get Freeman “safety,” based on the footage. She then dialed in Floyd, and the dialog continued for about an hour. At one level, Floyd requested Freeman whether or not she had dealt with “trustworthy ballots” on election night time. Throughout the dialogue, “Freeman was pressured to disclose data underneath the specter of incarceration if she didn’t comply,” Willis stated in her Sept. 2 court docket submitting.

Freeman stated in an interview that she was offended by Kutti’s provide of safety and rejected it.

Earlier than assembly with Freeman, Kutti informed a police officer that the election employee “was at risk and had 48 hours to talk together with her in order that she might get forward of the problem” and that “unknown topics had been going to be at” Freeman’s residence, based on a police report.

On Jan. 5, the day after Kutti met with Freeman, a gaggle of pro-Trump protesters descended on Freeman’s dwelling in a quiet residential neighborhood, based on a 911 name reporting the gathering and interviews with two neighbors.

5 or 6 autos carrying Trump supporters, some with indicators and flags, got here to Freeman’s home, saying they had been there as a result of they had been “upset with Ruby Freeman,” based on a neighbor who reported the incident to Cobb County police. Neighbors stated they confronted the protestors, who agreed to maneuver down the road.

Freeman had left her dwelling by the point of the afternoon protest. She fled after being warned of potential hazard by an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and remained in hiding for 2 months afterwards, Freeman stated in an interview.

Willis’ court docket submitting stated Floyd is a “vital and materials” witness to her investigation. “The witness possesses distinctive information” of Kutti’s conversations with Freeman, Willis wrote, and of the communications concerned in organising the assembly – together with these with the Trump marketing campaign and others “concerned within the multi-state, coordinated efforts to affect the outcomes of the November 2020 election in Georgia.”

In December 2021, Reuters first reported the main points of the ordeal Moss and Freeman endured after the 2020 election. The ladies described threats of lynching, racial slurs and alarming visits by strangers. Freeman had been a short lived election employee in Fulton County; daughter Moss was full-time. Each finally give up due to the threats.

In June, Freeman testified earlier than the congressional committee investigating the U.S. Capitol riot. She stated she remained rattled by the marketing campaign of intimidation.

“There may be nowhere I really feel protected,” she stated. “Nowhere.”

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