As top allies of Donald J. Trump are called to testify in Atlanta, he has hired a high-profile local attorney best known for representing rappers.
ATLANTA — Amid a deepening swirl of federal and state investigations, former President Donald J. Trump has hired a prominent Atlanta lawyer to represent him in a criminal inquiry into election interference in Georgia.
The lawyer, Drew Findling, has represented an array of rap stars including Cardi B, Gucci Mane and Migos, and is known by the hashtag #BillionDollarLawyer. But he is also well regarded for a range of criminal defense work that he has done in Georgia, and his hiring underscores the seriousness of the investigation — as well as the potential legal jeopardy for Mr. Trump.
The investigation is being led by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, which encompasses much of Atlanta. At least 17 people have been designated as targets who could face criminal charges. Mr. Trump is not among them, but a special grand jury is continuing to consider evidence and testimony, with several top Trump advisers still to appear. Ms. Willis has said that she is weighing a number of potential criminal charges, including racketeering and conspiracy.
In a hearing on Tuesday, a state judge told lawyers for Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, that their client needed to travel to Atlanta to testify next week. On Wednesday, lawyers for Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina faced a skeptical reception from a federal judge to their efforts to quash a subpoena from Ms. Willis’s office seeking the senator’s testimony. The lawyers for Mr. Graham who appeared in court included Donald McGahn, former White House counsel for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Findling brings decades of trial experience ranging from high-profile murder cases to local political corruption scandals. But in the past, he has been openly — indeed, scathingly — critical of the former president.
Understand Georgia’s Trump Investigation
Understand Georgia’s Trump Investigation
An immediate legal threat to Trump. Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta area district attorney, has been investigating whether former President Donald J. Trump and his allies interfered with the 2020 election in Georgia. The case could be one of the most perilous legal problems for Mr. Trump. Here’s what to know:
In one 2018 post on Twitter, after Mr. Trump criticized LeBron James, Mr. Findling referred to Mr. Trump as “the racist architect of fraudulent Trump University.” In 2017, after Mr. Trump fired the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, Mr. Findling said on Twitter that the firing was “a sign of FEAR that he would aggressively investigate the stench hovering over this POTUS.”
He has also called Mr. Trump’s history of harsh comments about the five Black and Latino men who as teenagers were wrongly convicted of the brutal rape of a jogger in Central Park “racist, cruel, sick, unforgivable, and un-American!”
In a phone interview on Thursday, Mr. Findling explained his decision to take on Mr. Trump by referring to John Adams, who took the unpopular position of representing British troops after the Boston Massacre.
“I do not believe that we choose our client or clients based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, political belief or the substantive issues involved in the crime,” he said. “We have our personal lives and we have our personal politics, and I don’t apologize for my personal politics,” he added.
Mr. Findling also drew upon the kinds of First Amendment issues that often arise in criminal cases at the nexus of hip-hop and crime and maintained that Mr. Trump had done nothing improper in Georgia. He mentioned Mr. Trump’s infamous taped phone call on Jan. 2, 2021, with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, and specifically addressed the moment when Mr. Trump pressed Mr. Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes that could overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in Georgia, which some legal experts say may amount to solicitation to commit election fraud under Georgia law.
“Somebody listens to a rap song that lasts for four minutes and 11 seconds and pulls one verse out and tries to conjure up some type of criminal case out of it,” said Mr. Findling, who said that in both the phone call and a rap song, context was crucial.
The conversation with Mr. Raffensperger, he added, amounted to an effort to “negotiate a resolution” to a civil legal matter.
Mr. Findling said he was part of a Georgia-based legal team now working for Mr. Trump that includes Jennifer Little, a former DeKalb County prosecutor, and Dwight L. Thomas, a veteran defense lawyer who previously worked with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Education Department.
“The presence of this high-priced and high-powered legal talent signifies the exceptional national importance of the fast-moving investigation and the likely imminent charges against the former president and possibly others in his circle,” said Norman Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first Trump impeachment. Mr. Eisen was a co-author of a 114-page Brookings Institution analysis of the Georgia case last year that found Mr. Trump “at substantial risk of possible state charges predicated on multiple crimes.”
That Mr. Trump would choose a lawyer well known in the hip-hop world is not out of character for the former president, who has a long and complicated history of interacting with famous rap figures. Mr. Trump earned the support of Kanye West and pardoned or commuted sentences for a number of influential rap figures, including Lil Wayne and Kodak Black.
Mr. Findling has previously been sharply critical of a crackdown by Ms. Willis on rappers and those accused of being gang members; he represents YFN Lucci, an Atlanta rap artist who was indicted on murder and racketeering charges in Fulton County last year.
Mr. Findling also has extensive experience with political clients. In 2013, he helped win the acquittal of Victor Hill, the sheriff of Clayton County, Ga., who had been indicted on a host of corruption-related charges after an investigation by a special grand jury. Mr. Hill also retained Mr. Findling after he was federally indicted last year on numerous civil rights charges for the alleged mistreatment of detainees at the local jail. He has been suspended from his position pending a trial set for October.
Mr. Findling also recently represented Mitzi Bickers, who once worked in the administration of the former mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, a Democrat. Ms. Bickers was convicted in March on nine federal corruption counts as part of a multimillion-dollar contracting and kickback scandal.
And he is representing John Oxendine, the former insurance commissioner of Georgia, a Republican who was indicted in May on federal charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Esther Panitch, a veteran Atlanta-area criminal defense lawyer and Democratic nominee for a state House seat, has known Mr. Findling for years. She called him “brilliant.”
“That being said, he needs a client who will listen to him,” she said, adding: “You can’t hold Drew responsible if his client refuses to take his advice. And Trump is the kind of client that lawyers fear. Because he can’t be controlled.”
Joe Coscarelli contributed reporting.