Grand jury heard audio of another Trump call seeking to overturn election
March 16, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 1:44 p.m.
An Atlanta-area special grand jury that investigated efforts by President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia heard audio of another phone call in which Trump pressed a top state official to help overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Five members of the special purpose grand jury told the Atlanta newspaper that they listened to a recording of a 2020 phone call between Trump and Georgia’s House speaker at the time, David Ralston (R), in which Ralston resisted Trump’s requests to convene a special session of the legislature to overturn Biden’s narrow election win.
The speaker “basically cut the president off. He said, ‘I will do everything in my power that I think is appropriate.’ … He just basically took the wind out of the sails,” one juror, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Atlanta paper. “‘Well, thank you,’ you know, is all the president could say.”
The legislature did not hold a special session. Ralston, a powerful Republican who spent more than a decade as House speaker before his death in November, had previously acknowledged phone calls from Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and close Trump ally who was working as the president’s personal lawyer at the time. But the existence of a recording of that phone call had not been previously reported.
Ralston appeared in July before the special purpose grand jury but declined to comment on what he testified about.
That previously unknown audio is one of at least three recorded phone calls Trump made to Georgia officials as he sought to overturn the state’s election results. Those recordings are now in the hands of Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) as she considers whether Trump and his allies broke the law.
Willis said in January that charging decisions in the case are “imminent.”
Willis launched her investigation into alleged election interference more than two years ago, just days after a recording was made public of a January 2021 phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) urging him to “find” enough votes to overturn Trump’s defeat in Georgia.
Trump also called Frances Watson, a top investigator in Raffensperger’s office, urging her to uncover “dishonesty” as she examined absentee mail ballots - a recording that is also in the hands of prosecutors.
They were among several calls Trump and his associates made to Georgia officials prodding them to undertake efforts aimed at changing the results of the Georgia race, which Trump lost by fewer than 12,000 votes. But one unknown as Willis considers charges is whether prosecutors have uncovered audio of those other phone calls.
Last month, Emily Kohrs, the special purpose grand jury’s forewoman, told reporters the panel had “heard a lot of recordings of President Trump on the phone” that had been “privately recorded by people or recorded by a staffer.”
A spokesman for Willis declined to comment.
Though the genesis of Willis’s investigation was the Raffensperger call, prosecutors later expanded their probe to include several other lines of inquiry, including false claims of election fraud that Giuliani and other Trump associates made to Georgia state lawmakers; threats and harassment targeting Georgia election workers; and the creation of an alternative slate of Republican electoral college electors who met at the Georgia Capitol in December 2020 and signed certificates falsely asserting that Trump had won the state’s race.
Willis and her team are said to be closely examining not only Trump’s phone calls but what knowledge he had and role he played in efforts including the “fake electors.” Willis has indicated she is eyeing Georgia’s expansive anti-racketeering law as she considers whether Trump and his allies conspired to break the law in seeking to overturn the state’s election results.
At least 18 people have been notified they are targets of the election interference investigation, according to court documents and statements from their attorneys. That list includes Giuliani and all the alternative Republican electors - a group that includes David Shafer, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.
The final report of the special purpose grand jury, convened to investigate the matter, remains mostly sealed to protect the rights of “potential future defendants,” according to the judge who oversaw the panel. But Kohrs, the panel’s forewoman, told reporters last month that the grand jury had recommended the indictment of several people - though she declined to say whether Trump was among them, citing a judge’s request to keep specific findings private until prosecutors decide whether to file charges.
“There may be some names on that list that you wouldn’t expect. But the big name that everyone keeps asking me about - I don’t think you will be shocked,” Kohrs told CNN.
Willis’s office has not said whether Trump is a target, and Trump’s Georgia-based legal team has said they have had no contact with the district attorney’s office. The former president was not among the 75 witnesses who appeared last year before the special purpose grand jury. Kohrs said last month that the panel wanted to subpoena Trump but ultimately chose not to because of limited time and the expectation that Trump would fight the summons in court.
But other jurors told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution they did not discuss summoning Trump, suggesting it was the decision of prosecutors not to ask him to appear.
The special purpose grand jury did not have the power to issue indictments - only recommendations. To charge someone, Willis would have to present her case to a regular grand jury that has the power to issue criminal indictments.
In Fulton County, grand jury terms begin every two months. Some observers have questioned whether Willis has been waiting to present her case to a fresh panel because of legal rules that allow defendants to request speedy trials within two months of the end of the grand jury terms in which they are indicted.
The latest grand jury panels were sworn in last week.
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