ATLANTA — Rudolph W. Giuliani, the lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and a central figure in the investigation into election interference in Georgia, has been telling prosecutors that he cannot travel to the state to appear before a special grand jury because he is not healthy enough to fly.
But on Tuesday, a judge in Fulton County, Ga., said that Mr. Giuliani, who had two coronary heart stents implanted in early July, could travel from New York to Atlanta some other way, and tentatively ordered him to show up to deliver in-person testimony on Aug. 17.
“Mr. Giuliani is not cleared for air travel, AIR,” Judge Robert CI McBurney of Fulton County Superior Court said. “John Madden drove all over the country in his big bus, from stadium to stadium. So one thing we need to explore is whether Mr. Giuliani could get here without jeopardizing his recovery and his health. On a train, on a bus or Uber, or whatever it would be,” he said, adding, “New York is not close to Atlanta, but it’s not traveling from Fairbanks.”
In a hearing on Tuesday afternoon, the judge also told prosecutors they should let Mr. Giuliani, 78, know whether he was a target of the criminal probe. The office of Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney, has already told at least 17 other people, including a pair of state senators and the head of the state Republican Party, that they are targets.
If Mr. Giuliani is considered to be a target, that could prompt him to invoke his Fifth Amendment right and decline to give testimony after potentially making a lengthy road trip. Letting Mr. Giuliani know in advance, the judge said, would give some clarity on “what impact he has on the extent of his time in front of the grand jury.”
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:
The judge also said he could reconsider the Aug. 17 date if Mr. Giuliani’s doctor produced a sufficiently compelling medical excuse.
William H. Thomas Jr., a lawyer for Mr. Giuliani, said in the hearing that his client would be open to a remote interview via Zoom. Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor working for the district attorney, said the office was not interested and preferred that Mr. Giuliani appear in person.
Mr. Giuliani’s role in the effort to reverse Mr. Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia is of interest to Fulton County prosecutors for a number of reasons. As part of the closed-door grand jury proceedings, they have questioned multiple witnesses about Mr. Giuliani’s appearances before a pair of state legislative panels after the 2020 vote, in which he made a number of false allegations of election fraud. Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, also participated in a scheme to create slates of fake, pro-Trump presidential electors in a number of swing states. The agreement of these electors in Georgia is another subject of Ms. Willis’s investigation.
Mr. Giuliani’s lawyers had sought to delay any in-person appearance in Atlanta and produced a doctor’s note this week advising him not to fly anywhere because of the stent procedure. Ms. Willis countered that Mr. Giuliani had recently traveled out of state to New Hampshire and had also purchased plane tickets to Europe.
Mr. Giuliani’s lawyers said that he had traveled out of state by car and that the plane tickets were purchased by the planners of a conference that was ultimately canceled. (“No such travel ever occurred,” Mr. Giuliani’s lawyers said in court documents.)
Judge McBurney said Mr. Giuliani had plenty of time to get from New York to Atlanta, suggesting that he could break up a 13-hour road trip into segments. “Maybe he goes down to Washington, as the first part, and reconnects with people there, and then travels another few hours.”