President Donald Trump pressured Georgia's Republican Secretary of State to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden's win in the state's presidential election, repeatedly citing disproven claims of fraud and raising the prospect of “criminal offence" if officials did not change the vote count, according to a recording of the conversation.
According to the Washington Post, the phone call with Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, on Saturday was the latest step in an unprecedented effort by a sitting president to pressure a state official to reverse the outcome of a free and fair election that he lost.
The President, who has refused to accept his loss to Democratic President-elect Biden, repeatedly argued that Raffensperger could change the certified results.
“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump said. "Because we won the state."
Georgia counted its votes three times before certifying Biden's win by a 11,779 margin, Raffensperger noted: “President Trump, we’ve had several lawsuits, and we’ve had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. We don’t agree that you have won."
Trump's renewed intervention and the persistent and unfounded claims of fraud come nearly two weeks before he leaves office and two days before twin runoff elections in Georgia that will determine political control of the U.S. Senate.
The President used the hour long conversation to tick through a list of claims about the election in Georgia, including that hundreds of thousands of ballots mysteriously appeared in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. Officials have said there is no evidence of that happening.
The Georgia officials on the call are heard repeatedly pushing back against the president’s assertions, telling him that he’s relying on debunked theories and, in one case, selectively edited video.
At another point in the conversation, Trump appeared to threaten Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s legal counsel, by suggesting both could be criminally liable if they failed to find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County had been illegally destroyed. There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.
“That’s a criminal offence,” Trump says. “And you can’t let that happen."
Others on the call included Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and attorneys assisting Trump, including Washington lawyer, Cleta Mitchell.
Democrats and a few Republicans condemned Trump's actions, while at least one Democrat urged a criminal investigation. Legal experts said Trump's behaviour raised questions about possible election law violations.
Biden senior adviser, Bob Bauer, called the recording “irrefutable proof” of Trump pressuring and threatening an official in his own party to “rescind a state's lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place.”
“It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump's assault on American democracy,” Bauer said.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in that chamber, said Trump’s conduct “merits nothing less than a criminal investigation."
Trump confirmed in a tweet Sunday that he had spoken with Raffensperger. The White House referred questions to Trump’s reelection campaign, which did not respond Sunday to an emailed request for comment. Raffensperger’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has repeatedly attacked how Raffensperger conducted Georgia’s elections, claiming without evidence that the state’s 16 electoral votes were wrongly given to Biden.
“He has no clue!” Trump tweeted of Raffensperger, saying the state official “was unwilling, or unable” to answer questions
Raffensperger’s Twitter response: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”
Various election officials across the country and Trump's former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election.