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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 to be 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 referred to as 911. She had motive to worry.

By the morning of Dec. 15, 2020, when she noticed the stranger’s crimson sedan parked in her driveway, she had acquired 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 faux 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 means 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 exterior Freeman’s house, 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, in response to 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, in response to a Reuters examination of police physique digicam footage and court docket paperwork, in addition to interviews with key individuals. 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 supplied data on election fraud, Reuters reported final December.

Lee’s identification has not been beforehand reported. The investigation by the Fulton County District Legal professional’s workplace is inspecting Lee’s coordination with Floyd and Kutti as Trump’s marketing campaign was desperately searching for 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 rebel on the U.S. Capitol that day by Trump supporters making an attempt to halt the proceedings.

Fulton County District Legal professional Fani Willis stated in a Sept. 2 court docket submitting that she was searching for 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 instructed Reuters he had organized Kutti’s assembly with Freeman on the request of an unidentified man, whom Floyd described as a chaplain with federal legislation enforcement connections.

Reuters recognized that chaplain as Lee by means of beforehand unreported police data and physique digicam footage displaying police talking with Lee exterior Freeman’s house. 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 instructed police that Kutti tried to get her to falsely implicate herself in voting fraud. Shedding new mild on the incident, the district lawyer’s court docket submitting final week stated Kutti warned Freeman that “an armed squad” of federal officers would strategy her and her household inside 48 hours and that Kutti had entry to “very high-profile individuals that may make specific issues occur … with a view 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 costs have been filed within the case. A spokesperson for Willis’ workplace didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Lee, in a short interview at his house 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 have been making an attempt to assist her.

‘I’M NOT INTERESTED’

Freeman was so shaken by Lee’s makes an attempt to contact her that she referred to as 911 3 times on Dec. 15, 2020, the morning he parked in her driveway. Two Cobb County Law enforcement officials responded, certainly one of whom interviewed Lee exterior her house. Lee stated he needed to talk with Freeman and produced his Illinois driver’s license, in response to beforehand unreported physique digicam footage obtained by means of a public-records request.

“I am a pastor, and I am additionally working with some of us who’re making an attempt to assist Ruby out,” Lee instructed the officer, with out figuring out the individuals. “And in addition get to some reality of what is going on on.”

He described himself as “prior legislation 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 instructed the officer in a separate interview captured on bodycam, saying she had finished nothing improper. “I’ve a pastor.”

The identical man had proven up at her home the evening earlier than, Freeman reported. She wasn’t house. Lee spoke with a neighbor, and that’s when Lee handed the message saying he might assist Freeman. She instructed police Lee had stated “he knew it was going to worsen. And he needed to assist me earlier than it received 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 need to converse with him.

The chaplain then turned to Floyd for assist. Within the December interview, Floyd didn’t determine the chaplain by identify 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 legislation 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 that they had 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 that they had no motive to imagine she was concerned in fraud, in response to a former Division of Justice official with direct information of the matter.

However, Floyd stated he acquired 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 searching for to overturn his election loss.

Floyd and Lee joined a number of cellphone calls with attorneys who have been “all in favour of providing immunity,” Floyd stated. He declined to determine the legal professionals. Floyd stated he agreed to rearrange the assembly with Freeman after talking with Lee “a number of instances at size” and reviewing the chaplain’s legislation 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 actual fact, state officers stated, the video confirmed regular poll processing.

‘GROUND ZERO’ CHAPLAIN

Lee had a protracted profession in legislation 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 called the Naval Prison 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, in response to archived pages of the group’s web site.

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

In February 2018, his response group scaled down operations due to a chance he had discovered “to work extra immediately with the federal authorities” in the course of the Trump administration, Lee wrote in a submit to the group’s supporters. Reuters couldn’t affirm 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 main, Lee stated he had at all times averted politics however felt compelled to become involved as a result of “we’re dealing with the extinction of America.”

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

On the time, Bernard Kerik was New York Metropolis police commissioner and Rudy Giuliani was mayor. Each have been deeply concerned on the Floor Zero website, the place the dual towers of the World Commerce Heart have been destroyed. And each males emerged after the 2020 election as distinguished 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 group engaged on Trump’s behalf to overturn the election outcomes. Kerik labored because the group’s lead investigator, in response to his private web site. A “Strategic Communications Plan,” developed by the group to construct public help for Trump’s election challenges, referred to as for drawing public consideration to the baseless costs 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 submit to “unleash each navy and Govt energy it’s a must to save our Republic.” She ended the submit with the hashtag #byanymeansnecessary.

The stakes have 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 instructed Reuters, “that is actually vital to get to the suitable individuals earlier than an election is licensed.”

Trump himself singled out Freeman, by identify, 18 instances in a now-infamous name to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, during 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 “identified 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 house 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 evening, Freeman instructed police. A Cobb County Police report recognized Kutti as an “alleged Trump supporter who tried to get Ms. Freeman to make false claims in regards to the poll counting.” When the 2 met on the police station, Kutti instructed Freeman: “You’re a unfastened finish for a celebration that should tidy up,” police physique digicam footage reveals.

Kutti stated Floyd had “authoritative powers” to get Freeman “safety,” in response to 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 evening. In the course of 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 supply of safety and rejected it.

Earlier than assembly with Freeman, Kutti instructed 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 difficulty” and that “unknown topics have been going to be at” Freeman’s residence, in response to a police report.

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

5 – 6 autos carrying Trump supporters, some with indicators and flags, got here to Freeman’s home, saying they have been there as a result of they have been “upset with Ruby Freeman,” in response to 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 house 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 small print 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 brief 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’s nowhere I really feel protected,” she stated. “Nowhere.”


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