Trump Urged Georgia Officials to Find Votes, Flip State to Him
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump urged Georgia election officials to “find” thousands of votes and recalculate the election result to flip the state to him -- an extraordinary effort to strong-arm fellow Republicans as he tries to dispute Joe Biden’s election win.
In a 62-minute call on Saturday, Trump oscillated from flattery to threats as he pressed officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to take action in his favor just days before Congress is scheduled to certify the election results.
The president’s voice -- and that of his chief of staff, Mark Meadows -- was heard in an audio recording of the call that was obtained by Bloomberg News. Excerpts of the call were published earlier Sunday by the Washington Post.
“Look, all I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump told Raffensperger. An official recount has affirmed that Biden beat Trump by 11,779 votes in the traditionally Republican state. “Flipping the state is a great testament to our country. It’s a testament that they can admit to a mistake.”
Raffensperger responded: “The challenge that you have is that the data you have is wrong.”
The White House and the Trump campaign didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
Raffensperger was asked on ABC Monday whether he felt intimidated by the call. “No, we have to follow the process, follow the law,” he replied. “Everything we’ve done for the last 12 months follows the Constitution of the state of Georgia, follows the United States Constitution, follows state law.”
Among a swift wave of backlash, Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, termed Trump’s actions “potentially criminal, and another flagrant abuse of power.”
Trump’s call threatened to deepen growing resentment toward him within his own party, as several Republicans believe he’s undermining confidence in Georgia’s election process days ahead of a runoff election on Tuesday that will determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Trump told Raffensperger, a Republican whom he once endorsed, that it was a “big risk” for him and his lawyer to not intervene.
“It’s more illegal for you than it is for them, because you know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal offense, and you can’t let that happen. that’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk,” Trump said, referring the Ryan Germany, Raffensperger’s general counsel.
Trump’s tone shifted throughout the conversation. At one point he told Raffensperger: “You would be respected, really respected if this thing could be straightened out before the election.”
Earlier, Trump said: “The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry and there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated.”
Trump cited attendance at his Georgia rallies as evidence that he won the state, saying the size of his crowds showed “it’s not possible to have lost Georgia.”
”So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break,” Trump said.
Trump also recited a series of conspiracy theories -- the secret replacement of “inner parts” of voting machines and the shredding of ballots -- as he urged the officials to overturn the vote.
At one point, Meadows asked Raffensperger whether “in a spirit of cooperation and compromise” they could discuss “a path forward that’s less litigious” than the many failed challenges the Trump campaign has made in courts.
Meadows later tried to wrap up the call by asking if they had an agreement to give Trump full access to data held by the secretary of state. “No, that’s not what I said,” Germany said; he had already said they were legally barred from releasing the full data.
Since the election, Trump has largely eschewed public appearances, directing much of his energy to torrents of tweets aimed at undermining the legitimacy of his defeat. He’s regularly encouraged his supporters to listen to far-right media outlets who dispute Biden’s win, while stirring outrage and fundraising off of it.
“Mr. President, the problem you have with social media is that people can say anything,” Raffensperger said during the call.
Trump replied: “This isn’t social media, this is Trump media.”
Some Republican lawmakers are now preparing to object to certification of the results on Wednesday, saying they must respond to widely unfounded concerns about election integrity that have been stoked by Trump, members of his legal team, and certain elected officials.
Trump warned Raffensperger that Republican voters could punish the party if he didn’t overturn the result.
“And honestly, this should go very fast,” Trump said. “You should meet tomorrow, because 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, and 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. OK? They hate it.”
Trump at one point asked if officials shredded ballots, citing a “rumor” to that effect, and whether Dominion Voting Systems was moving voting machines out of Fulton County.
“No, Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County,” Ryan Germany, who serves as Raffensperger’s general counsel, replied.
“But have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?” Trump asked.
“No,” Germany replied.
“You sure, Ryan?” Trump asked.
“I’m sure,” Germany said.
Calls for Impeachment
Trump unleashed a series of complaints, attacks and unfounded theories, and the Georgia officials responded by saying they have no evidence of widespread fraud and that they stand by the election results, already subject to two recounts.
“We believe that we do have an accurate election,” Raffensperger said.
Two of Trump’s lawyers also spoke on the call -- Cleta Mitchell and Kurt Hilbert. Trump and Mitchell were at odds at times. At one point, Trump claimed a group of 18,000 ballots that Mitchell was referring to were counted three times. “I don’t know about that,” Mitchell said, undercutting Trump’s claim. “I do,” Trump replied.
At another moment, Trump was asking about ballots cast by overseas voters, and talked over Mitchell when she interjected. “I’m not asking you, Cleta, honestly. I’m asking Brad,” Trump said.
Trump directed his sharpest attacks, though, at Raffensperger, as well as GOP Governor Brian Kemp, in the waning minutes of the call. He said he’d been a “schmuck” for endorsing Kemp in his 2018 race against Stacey Abrams, who helped Democrats organize in the state during 2020.
“She has outplayed you,” Trump said. “She’s outsmarted you at every step and I hate to imagine what’s going to happen on Monday or Tuesday.”
Trump then appeared to lose hope. “I know this phone call’s going nowhere,” Trump said. Raffensperger ultimately ended the conversation, thanking Trump for his time.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was among those who slammed Trump’s actions. “It was certainly the voice of desperation,” she said of the call while campaigning in Georgia. “It was a bald-faced, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States.”
Representative Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan, said the call would provoke an impeachment inquiry if Trump had more than a few weeks left in office. But Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said if it were up to her, even with Trump departing this month, articles of impeachment would be “on the floor, quite quickly.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a watchdog group, called the call another impeachable offense by Trump.
“The president of the United States has been caught on tape trying to rig a presidential election,” Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a written statement.
“This is a low point in American history and unquestionably impeachable conduct. It is incontrovertible and devastating.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.