By Luc Cohen and Jack Queen
(Reuters) -A Georgia grand jury recommended criminal charges against Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and other allies of Donald Trump as part of its investigation into efforts to overturn Trump's 2020 presidential defeat, said a report released on Friday.
None were ultimately charged when Georgia prosecutors filed a sweeping criminal case against Trump and 18 alleged co-conspirators.
The special grand jury recommended charges against Graham as well as Georgia's two U.S. senators at the time, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the report said. Like Trump, all are Republicans.
Graham, a Trump rival turned golf buddy, denied wrongdoing and said he was fulfilling his oversight duties as the top lawmaker on the Senate Judiciary Committee when he asked Georgia officials to examine absentee ballots after Trump's defeat.
"We can't criminalize senators doing their job," he said at a news conference in South Carolina on Friday. "The next election, if I have questions I'll do the same thing."
The panel also recommended charges against Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, adviser Boris Epshteyn and lawyers Lin Wood and Cleta Mitchell, the report showed.
It was unclear why Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opted not to bring charges against the six people, and her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The six were among 39 people the special grand jury recommended charging in its Dec. 15 report, which had been sealed for nine months. Unlike the final criminal indictment, it did not detail specific allegations.
The special grand jury did not have the power to issue charges, but Willis used the evidence it gathered to seek an indictment of Trump and his 18 co-defendants from a regular grand jury last month.
TRUMP BLAMES POLITICS
Responding to the report's release on Friday, Trump said it showed Willis's case was politically motivated. "They wanted to indict anybody who happened to be breathing at the time," he wrote on social media.
Trump and the other defendants in the case have pleaded not guilty. As with his three other criminal prosecutions, Trump has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of political persecution.
Loeffler and Perdue, both Trump loyalists, were defeated by Democratic candidates in January 2021 runoff elections. Perdue ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2022. Neither immediately responded to a request for comment.
"This baseless witch hunt isn't based on the facts, or the law, or reality," Flynn's lawyer Jesse Binnall said in a statement. Flynn, a prominent figure on the far right, had urged Trump to use the military to overturn the 2020 election.
A longtime Trump political adviser, Epshteyn was involved in efforts to overturn Trump's loss and has since been advising the former president on the legal threats he now faces. An attorney, Epshteyn declined to comment.
Wood, a conservative lawyer who promoted conspiracy efforts about the election, denied wrongdoing and said he was surprised to learn the special grand jury recommended charges against him. "I'm not quite sure why my name is in it," he told Reuters. He has since retired in the face of disciplinary bar proceedings.
Mitchell, another conservative lawyer who worked to reverse Trump's defeat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The special grand jury convened in 2021 at the request of Willis to aid her investigation. Over several months, the jurors subpoenaed testimony from 75 witnesses, including Trump allies such as his former attorney Rudy Giuliani, Graham and top Georgia officials such as Governor Brian Kemp.
The special grand jury did not act unanimously.
It voted 13-7, 14-6 and 17-4 in favor of indicting Graham, Loeffler and Perdue, respectively. There was one abstention in each of the votes for Graham and Loeffler. The grand jury voted 20-1 in favor of indicting Trump with respect to the national effort to overturn the election.
The indictment listed 30 unindicted co-conspirators, who have not been charged but allegedly played a role in the scheme.
Despite his legal troubles, Trump remains the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination next year against Democratic President Joe Biden, the incumbent.
The special grand jury report remained secret at Willis's request while she determined what charges to bring. With the indictments issued, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled there was no longer any reason to keep it from the public.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward, Jasper Ward, Sarah N. Lynch, Makini Brice, Katharine Jackson, Richard Cowan and Joseph Ax; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)