ATLANTA — Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former lawyer for Donald J. Trump and a target in the criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s results in the 2020 presidential election, spent hours behind closed doors on Wednesday taking questions as part of a special grand jury proceeding. But a lawyer for Mr. Giuliani declined to say whether he answered any of them.
It is unclear what crimes Mr. Giuliani could be charged with in the sprawling investigation of Mr. Trump and his allies being led by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga. Mr. Giuliani, 78, made numerous false claims about election fraud after the November 2020 election in Georgia state legislative hearings. He also participated in a scheme to create slates of fake presidential electors in 2020 in numerous states, including Georgia, that is now the subject of an intensifying investigation by the Justice Department.
Legal experts said Mr. Giuliani — who, as a target of the inquiry, could eventually face indictment — might have declined to answer many or most of the questions posed to him on Wednesday, either by invoking attorney-client privilege or his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Mr. Giuliani indicated that he was likely to invoke attorney-client privilege in an interview this week with Newsmax, the far-right news outlet.
If Mr. Giuliani left most questions unanswered, his appearance in Atlanta would have echoed Mr. Trump’s marathon session at a deposition earlier this month in Manhattan, in which the former president invoked his Fifth Amendment right more than 400 times as part of an investigation into his company’s business practices.
If those appearances underscore the legal peril the two men may face, other developments in the Georgia case highlight the combustible political atmosphere in which it is being conducted.
On Wednesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who resisted Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn his Georgia defeat, filed a motion to quash a subpoena to appear before the special grand jury. Among other things, Mr. Kemp argued that it was unfair that he might be called to testify in the midst of his heated re-election contest against his Democratic rival, Stacey Abrams.
On Tuesday, 11 of the 16 pro-Trump “alternate” electors from Georgia filed a motion seeking to have Ms. Willis, a Democrat, disqualified from the investigation because she headlined a fund-raiser for a Democrat running for lieutenant governor. All 16 of these Republican electors have been identified as targets of the investigation by Fulton County prosecutors.
And U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, said this week that he would appeal a federal judge’s order that he appear before the special grand jury, arguing that his required participation amounted to a “weaponization of the law.”
Soon after the 2020 election, Mr. Graham made a pair of phone calls to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, in which Mr. Graham inquired about ways to help Mr. Trump by invalidating certain mail-in votes.
Mr. Giuliani appeared chipper on Wednesday as he arrived at the Fulton County courthouse in downtown Atlanta before 9 a.m. in a black GMC Yukon Denali. He was accompanied by his lawyer, Robert Costello, and Vernon Jones, a Georgia politician who has echoed Mr. Trump’s false claims that the Georgia election was rigged against him.
Asked what he expected to talk about, Mr. Giuliani told a large crush of reporters outside the courthouse, “They’ll ask the questions, and we’ll see.”
He did not emerge from the courthouse until after 3 p.m., when he was whisked away by the same black SUV. He did not stop to talk about how it went. “He came and did what he was supposed to do,” said William H. Thomas Jr., another lawyer for Mr. Giuliani. “The grand jury process is secret, and we’re going to respect that.”
It was a markedly different visit than the one Mr. Giuliani made to Atlanta in December 2020, when he appeared at one of the legislative hearings at the elegant gold-domed Capitol, making fanciful accusations of election fraud. He was greeted, at the time, in a manner befitting the emissary of the most powerful man on earth, posing for photos with admirers and sympathetic state politicians.
On Wednesday, he found himself in the court complex where Atlantans go to resolve real estate disputes, file for divorce or be arraigned for armed robberies. Ms. Willis has asked the F.B.I. to provide stepped-up security at the courthouse, after Mr. Trump called prosecutors like her “vicious, horrible people.”
Mr. Giuliani’s lawyers fought to keep him from having to travel to Atlanta. Instead, they offered to have him appear via videoconference, and argued that he was too feeble to travel by air after having a pair of cardiac stents inserted in early July.
But Judge Robert C.I. McBurney ruled last week that Mr. Giuliani could always travel “on a train, on a bus or Uber.” This week, lawyers for Mr. Giuliani declined to say how he managed to get to Atlanta from New York.
In court documents, the Georgia prosecutors describe the subject of their investigation as “a multistate, coordinated plan by the Trump campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.” Ms. Willis has said that the inquiry could result in a multi-defendant racketeering or conspiracy case. The ambitious scope of the investigation was hinted at on Wednesday in Mr. Kemp’s motion, which noted that the governor’s office had already turned over 117,000 pages of documents.
Even if Mr. Giuliani did not answer many questions on Wednesday, his appearance may have been of some use to prosecutors. Unlike a trial jury, which would be instructed not to make any inferences about a criminal defendant’s silence, a grand jury is allowed to draw its own conclusions when witnesses or targets invoke their Fifth Amendment rights. (The special grand jury in Georgia cannot indict anyone; its job is to write a report saying whether the jurors believe crimes occurred. A regular grand jury could then issue indictments based on the special jury’s report.)
Page Pate, a veteran Georgia trial lawyer, said that even if Mr. Giuliani declined to answer most questions, some important details could emerge from his appearance.
“Why not just grill him and see what happens?” Mr. Pate said.
Two other lawyers on the Trump team, Jenna Ellis of Colorado and John Eastman of New Mexico, have also been told to appear before the special grand jury. Ms. Ellis unsuccessfully argued that she should not have not testify in Atlanta during a court hearing on Tuesday in Fort Collins, Colo. She is expected to come to Georgia on Aug. 25. Mr. Eastman is expected to appear at a court hearing in Santa Fe on Aug. 26.
Mr. Kemp, in his motion to quash his subpoena, argues that Ms. Willis’s office has no legal right to subpoena the governor at all. It also claims that prosecutors engaged in “delay and artificial deadlines” in negotiations over Mr. Kemp’s appearance, resulting in the possibility that he would be forced to testify “in the middle of an election cycle.” Two separate subpoenas attached to the motion ask Mr. Kemp to give testimony on Aug. 10 and Aug. 18.
At worst, Mr. Kemp’s motion says, the timing of the subpoenas could be seen as “an attempt to influence the November 2022 election cycle.”
It adds: “What began as an investigation into election interference has itself devolved into its own mechanism of election interference.”
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office could not be reached for comment. But in a letter to Brian McEvoy, a lawyer for Mr. Kemp, Ms. Willis said that his assertions about a political motivation were “offensive and beneath an officer of the court.” She added: “You are both wrong and confused.”