By Kanishka Singh and Joseph Ax
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A federal judge on Monday ruled that U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham must testify before a grand jury in Georgia, which is probing efforts by former President Donald Trump and his supporters to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May rejected Graham's argument that his position as a U.S. senator protected him from having to appear before the Fulton County investigative panel, which subpoenaed him last month.
"The court finds that the District Attorney has shown extraordinary circumstances and a special need for Senator Graham's testimony on issues relating to alleged attempts to influence or disrupt the lawful administration of Georgia's 2022 elections," the judge wrote in an order on Monday.
The Fulton County criminal probe, one of several investigations into Trump's attempt to invalidate the 2020 election, has ensnared multiple members of Trump's inner circle of advisers.
Testimony from Graham, a close ally of Trump, could shed further light on the coordinated effort by Trump's team to reverse the 2020 results. Trump has falsely claimed that he won Georgia, a battleground state that was key to Democratic President Joe Biden's victory.
The grand jury wants to question Graham about at least two phone calls he made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his staff in the weeks following the November 2020 presidential election, in which Graham explored the possibility of re-examining absentee ballots, according to prosecutors.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is overseeing the probe, said in court papers that Graham's calls "certainly appear interconnected" with Trump's efforts to reverse the election outcome.
Graham, who represents South Carolina in the Senate, had argued that the phone calls were part of his fact-finding duties as a legislator. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The investigation began after Trump was recorded in a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Raffensperger, the state's top election official, asking him to "find" enough votes to give him the victory over Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
The grand jury, which was convened in May at Willis's request in part because of its subpoena power, has also subpoenaed members of Trump's former legal team, including personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
In addition to the Fulton County probe, a congressional panel is investigating Trump's involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the FBI seized classified documents from Trump's Florida estate last week after executing a search warrant.
The New York attorney general's office and Manhattan district attorney's office are conducting parallel civil and criminal investigations into whether Trump improperly inflated the value of his businesses.
Trump refused to answer questions from the attorney general's office last week, citing his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by David Holmes)