By Eric Beech
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Atlanta grand jury that probed ex-President Donald Trump’s 2020 election meddling heard a taped telephone call he placed to Georgia’s Republican House leader seeking to reverse Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in that swing state, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Wednesday.
The existence of such a recording, or that it was played for the 23-member special grand jury during the course of its eight-month investigation, has not been previously reported.
Then-Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, since deceased, told local media in December 2020 that Trump had called him the day before asking him to convene a special session of the state legislature to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it learned that a recording of the Trump-Ralston call existed from the newspaper’s own recent exclusive interview of five of the grand jurors who said they had heard it.
The newspaper quoted one of the panelists it interviewed as saying that Ralston “basically cut the president off” without making any specific promises, telling Trump, “‘I will do everything in my power that I think is appropriate.'”
“He just basically took the wind of the sails,” the juror told the newspaper, recounting that Trump then thanked Ralston, which at that point was “all the president could say.”
Ralston and other state legislative leaders never called a special session, and the Georgia House speaker himself testified before the special Fulton County grand jury in July 2022, according to local media accounts. Ralston died about four months later, in November.
Unlike evidence and testimony examined in open court by trial juries in the United States, the proceedings of grand juries, which play a role in bringing criminal charges through indictments, are generally closed to the public.
The George elections grand jury also is known to have examined a previously disclosed call Trump made on Jan. 2, 2021, to then-Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger falsely claiming that the November election results were fraudulent.
In a recording of that call, which has been widely available to the public, Trump is heard asking Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.”
The Wall Street Journal has posted a recording of yet another phone conversation Trump had with Raffensperger’s chief investigator at the time, Frances Watson, who was conducting an audit of about 15,000 ballot signatures, urging her to find the “dishonesty” that he claimed without evidence had cost him the election.
The Journal-Constitution said the five grand jurors it interviewed – three men and two women – spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their safety and privacy, and declined to discuss parts of its final report that remain under seal.
That report, submitted to the Fulton County district attorney in January before the panel was dissolved, included who the grand jury recommended should be indicted.
In a previous interview with the Journal-Constitution, the jury foreperson, Emily Kohrs, said, “it’s not a short list” when asked how many individuals the panel recommended be criminally charged.
The special grand jury, unlike a regular grand jury, was not empowered to issue indictments, only recommendations, and the decision on whether to press charges ultimately rests with the district attorney, Fani Willis.
(Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)