Ralston testifies before Fulton grand jury investigating 2020 election

Speaker fielded calls from Trump, Giuliani
211103-ATLANTA-House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) speaks to journalists after the first day of the Legislative special session Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

211103-ATLANTA-House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) speaks to journalists after the first day of the Legislative special session Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston testified Thursday before a Fulton County special grand jury investigating whether former President Donald Trump and his allies broke state laws by trying to reverse his 2020 election defeat.

The Blue Ridge Republican was subpoenaed by the 23-person investigative body that’s examining potential criminal interference in the vote, several people with direct knowledge told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ralston’s spokesman declined to comment, saying the House leader “respects the privacy of grand jury proceedings.”

The speaker previously told a North Georgia media outlet that he was personally contacted by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in December 2020. Ralston said he was asked by the president about the possibility of calling a special legislative session.

Ralston joined Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan in rejecting Trump’s demand for a special legislative session after the 2020 election that could have sought to reverse Joe Biden’s narrow victory, which made him the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since 1992.

At the time, the three Republicans said any attempts to change the state’s election laws in the middle of contentious U.S. Senate runoffs “will not have any impact on an ongoing election and would only result in endless litigation.”

That led to mounting pressure from Trump urging the state’s Republican leaders to reverse course. Trump lobbied Kemp to call a special legislative session ahead of a December 2020 rally in Valdosta and dialed up Ralston in what the speaker has described as a “very pleasant” 15-minute conversation.

Ralston told the news outlet Fetch Your News that Trump called him on Dec. 7, 2020 and asked about “whether there was still a path forward” for him to win Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes.

In the interview, which went little noticed at the time, Ralston said Trump asked for a special session to undo Biden’s win in Georgia. He also floated a legal strategy hatched by former law professor John Eastman in which state legislators would pick an alternate slate of Republican electors.

Ralston said he expressed skepticism about the plans, especially the likelihood of a legislative session.

“I shared with him my belief that based on the understanding I have of Georgia law that it was going to be very much an uphill battle,” Ralston told the outlet.

State law allows legislators to bring themselves in for a special session without the governor’s approval with a three-fifths vote, though that would have required significant Democratic support.

November 8, 2019 Marietta: Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston greets President Donald Trump as he arrives at Dobbins AFB on Friday, November 8, 2019, in Marietta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

Ralston, whose testimony was first reported by Fox 5 News, might have also been asked about his knowledge of a Dec. 2020 House committee hearing featuring Giuliani. The comments from Trump’s attorney, which promoted falsehoods and conspiracy theories about Georgia’s elections, are a central interest of prosecutors.

Giuliani, Eastman and a handful of other Trump advisers were subpoenaed by the special grand jury last week.

A link to the original Fetch Your News interview with the speaker appears to have been removed, but the conservative news outlet Georgia Star News transcribed Ralston’s conversation with reporter Brian K. Pritchard. In an interview Thursday, Pritchard confirmed the account of the interview.

A Ralston spokesman also didn’t dispute Ralston’s previous comments.

The speaker is among a growing group of bipartisan lawmakers of interest to prosecutors.

The grand jury has already heard testimony from the state’s other top GOP leaders, including Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr. Gov. Brian Kemp is slated to record a sworn statement for the grand jury later this month.

Jurors have also heard from Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen and Sens. Elena Parent and Jen Jordan, who attended the legislative hearings that featured Giuliani, Eastman and other Trump allies.

The special grand jury is also slated to hear testimony from former state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who oversaw one of those hearings and was a leading voice for the “Stop the Steal” movement in the Legislature.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled earlier this week that Ligon, Duncan and other subpoenaed legislators needed to comply with subpoenas from the special grand jury. He clarified that prosecutors couldn’t ask them about contact they had with other state lawmakers or staffers but that inquiries about third parties they consulted with were permitted.

Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this report.