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Trump’s call with Georgia’s secretary of state is a subversion of democracy

Trump told the Georgia official: “I just want to find 11,780 votes.”

Trump, in a navy blue windbreaker featuring the seal of the president of the US and a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, climbs behind the wheel of a white golf cart on a cloudy day.
President Donald Trump climbs into a golf cart at Trump National Golf Club in December 2020.
Al Drago/Getty Images

President Donald Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find” almost 12,000 nonexistent votes during a Saturday phone call, according to a report by Amy Gardner of the Washington Post. Inventing those votes would change the outcome of the election in that state, tipping its electoral votes to Trump over President-elect Joe Biden.

Over the course of a more than hour-long phone call, a recording of which was obtained by the Post, Trump raised a series of baseless, debunked conspiracy theories — and variously cajoled and threatened Raffensperger to find some way to award him the victory in Georgia, a state Trump lost by 11,779 votes.

“All I want to do is this,” Trump told Raffensperger on the call. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

Ryan Germany, the general counsel to the Georgia secretary of state’s office, was also on the call, according to the Post, as were White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell.

Trump had earlier acknowledged the call in a tweet, but framed it very differently, claiming the men spoke about allegations of election fraud, which Raffensperger has disproven several times. Sunday’s Washington Post story reveals what was discussed in far more detail.

“I spoke to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger yesterday about Fulton County and voter fraud in Georgia,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning. “He was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”

Audio from the full 62-minute call was published by the Post Sunday, including an exchange where Trump threatens Raffensperger and Germany with imminent legal consequences should they fail to overturn the already certified results.

“That’s a criminal offense,” Trump tells Raffensperger and Germany on the call, apparently in reference to Raffensperger not reporting made-up instances of election fraud. “And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that’s a big risk.”

Trump also raised a number of conspiracy theories resembling those promoted by onetime Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who was cut loose by the Trump campaign’s legal team as her election fraud allegations became increasingly outlandish.

Powell has pushed a series of election lawsuits with scant — and sometimes purely fictitious — evidence of fraud. She has also repeatedly falsely asserted that voting machines designed by Dominion Voting Systems helped to steal the 2020 election from Trump.

In reality, President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election by 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, and with a popular vote margin of more than 7 million votes. Recounts in battleground states like Georgia and Wisconsin — both won by Biden — have turned up no evidence of large-scale fraud or irregularities that could have affected the results of the election.

In all 50 states and Washington, DC, the election results have been carefully reviewed by state officials and certified as accurate. And Dominion’s machines have been found to have operated correctly.

Nonetheless, Trump aired a version of the Dominion conspiracy during his Saturday call.

“Now, do you think it’s possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County?” Trump asked Germany on the call. “Because that’s what the rumor is. And also that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that’s illegal, right?”

As Germany affirmed on the call, none of Trump’s allegations are true.

Despite the Trump legal team’s move to disavow Powell, Trump has reportedly remained enamored with her theories. According to a New York Times report from December, he briefly considered naming Powell as special counsel to investigate his baseless claims of voter fraud, though he was ultimately talked down by aides.

And as recently as Sunday, he retweeted a message from Powell alleging — again, without even a shred of evidence — “massive fraud.”

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s remarks on the call Saturday raise the possibility of additional legal problems for a president already facing quite a few potential criminal investigations upon leaving office. The report noted, however, that there is no clear-cut offense revealed on the call and that any possible charges would ultimately be “subject to prosecutorial discretion.”

As CNN reporter Ryan Struyk pointed out on Twitter Sunday, US law makes it a crime to “‘knowingly and willfully ... attempt to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process’ by ‘the procurement ... of ballots that are known by the person to be materially false.’”

Trump may also have landed himself in legal peril at the state level. According to Politico reporter Kyle Cheney, “conspiracy to commit election fraud” and “criminal solicitation to commit election fraud” are both crimes in Georgia, and some legal experts believe Trump’s comments Saturday violated state law.

Other reporters, such as Business Insider’s Grace Panetta, have pointed out that Trump’s comments are strikingly similar to those he was impeached over in late 2019, after his pressure campaign against the president of Ukraine seeking to extort an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, came to light.

In a statement Sunday, a Biden adviser condemned Trump’s election pressure campaign.

“We now have irrefutable proof of a president pressuring and threatening an official of his own party to get him to rescind a state’s lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place,” former Obama White House counsel and current Biden senior adviser Bob Bauer said.

Saturday’s call isn’t the first time Trump has tried to subvert democracy

Though Sunday’s Washington Post scoop provides arguably the starkest example of Trump’s long-running attempts to subvert democracy in order to remain in power — not to mention a more than passing resemblance to President Richard Nixon’s presidency-ending tapes — it is by no means the only time Trump has mounted an effort of this sort since losing reelection.

In at least three other battleground states that he lost to Biden — Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — Trump has directly reached out to lawmakers and other officials to urge them to help him overturn the election results in their states, potentially awarding him an unelected second term in office.

In Pennsylvania, one Republican lawmaker — state Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward — told the New York Times that she chose not to push back on Trump’s baseless fraud accusations.

“If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’” she said in December, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

But Trump’s antidemocratic efforts have been most acute in Georgia — possibly because the state remains in the news this month, more than 60 days after the presidential election, in the runup to two crucial Senate runoffs this Tuesday that will decide partisan control of the chamber.

In his call Saturday, Trump suggested that this was the case to Raffensperger.

“You have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam,” Trump said on the call. “Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president.”

Georgia voters set a record for early-voting turnout ahead of Tuesday’s runoffs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with more than 3 million votes cast ahead of Election Day on January 5. But as Vox’s Aaron Rupar has written, there are some indications Trump’s efforts to spread doubt about the security of the election may have depressed Republican participation so far.

And Republicans are likely to need every vote to ensure victories in both races. Polling suggests that both races are more or less a toss-up: According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock lead incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler by around 2 percentage points each.

Trump will be back in Georgia on Monday for a final preelection rally, though if his last Georgia rally is any indication, he will likely stray to other topics, such as his grievances against Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

“You would be respected, really respected if this thing could be straightened out before the election,” Trump told Raffensperger on the call Saturday. “You have a big election coming up on Tuesday.”

To date, Raffensperger has resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, and Sunday, responded to Trump’s characterization of the call by tweeting, “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”

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