President Donald Trump, flanked by lawyers and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday, intending to wheedle him into “finding” enough Republican votes to overturn the state’s presidential election result.
After a reported 18 attempts to connect with Raffensperger, Trump spent about an hour trying to coerce the election official, riffing on stolen election conspiracy theories and seeking affirmation of his own political ability.
Raffensperger withheld the recording of the call — which he and his coworkers reportedly decided ahead of time to tape, remembering how Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Raffensperger to throw out legally cast ballots a few weeks ago — until Trump tweeted on Sunday. The President claimed that Raffensperger was “unwilling, or unable, to answer” questions about his evidence-free voter fraud allegations.
“Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true,” Raffensperger responded. “The truth will come out.”
And so it did. The audio and transcript, first reported by the Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, range from the petulant whining of a man accustomed to getting what he wants to a possible full-blown felony. It underscores the pointlessness of Trump’s eleventh-hour attempt to steal a win in one state that would not alone have changed the election result, and stirs up questions about how many other calls like this Trump has made.
1) Tony Soprano Or Your Elderly Uncle At Thanksgiving?
Trump’s call to Raffensperger was thuggish and baldly anti-democratic. His casual request that Raffensperger rustle up a quick 12,000 Republican votes — “All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state” — conjures images of knuckle-cracking bodyguards and a horse head in Raffensperger’s bed.
But as always, Trump’s strongman imitation was peppered with the incoherent and long-winded grievances of a man who continues to be surrounded by enablers. This time, they’re lawyers, politicians and staffers who agree that Trump’s desire to have won reelection far outweighs protecting the democratic system that did not deliver that result.
At one point in the call, Trump claimed that 5,000 dead people had voted. Raffensperger pushed back, saying that they found only two. “I can promise you there are more than that,” Meadows chimed in later, citing no proof.
Backed by the unwavering support of such people, Trump went on many conspiratorial tangents, frequently getting the few nuggets of reality — how many votes President-Elect Joe Biden won Georgia by, the date of the senatorial runoffs, the name of Georgia’s governor (“George”) — wrong in the process.
“And I hate to imagine what’s going to happen on Monday or Tuesday, but it’s very scary to people,” Trump said, referring to the Tuesday runoffs. “You know, when the ballots flow in out of nowhere.”
2) The Call Was Bad — But Was It A Crime?
Immediately after the call’s release, lawyers and political observers alike started musing over whether it constitutes a crime on Trump’s part.
Eric Holder, attorney general during the Obama administration, pointed to a particular federal statute that suddenly got a lot of Twitter buzz.
As you listen to the tape consider this federal criminal statute. pic.twitter.com/eqoP1cVob5
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) January 4, 2021
George Conway, husband of former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and lawyer, wordlessly posted the same statute.
Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law professor and Obama-era DOJ alum, homed in on the “knowingly and willfully” part, tweeting that “he’s either committed a felony in an attempt to subvert democracy or he actually believes the flat-earth conspiracy. Those are the only two options.”
He added that another statute may implicate Meadows as a co-conspirator.
Michael Bromwich, former Justice Department inspector general, sees Trump in clear violation of the statute.
“Unless there are portions of the tape that somehow negate criminal intent, ‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’ and his threats against Raffensperger and his counsel violate 52 U.S. Code § 20511,” he tweeted. “His best defense would be insanity.”
There could also be state law considerations. The sole Democrat on the state election board wrote Raffensperger Sunday night asking for an investigation into violations of state election law, and a referral of his findings to the state attorney general and local district attorneys for possible criminal prosecution.
3) Raffensperger Again Shows His Spine
Throughout the call, Raffensperger pushes back against Trump’s false statements about election fraud and misunderstandings about the mechanics of Georgia’s elections. He remained unbowed by Trump’s bafflement that he, a Republican, was still refusing to acquiesce to Trump’s demands.
“Social media is Big Tech. Big Tech is on your side, you know,” Trump rambled. “I don’t even know why you have a side because you should want to have an accurate election. And you’re a Republican.”
Raffensperger has fact-checked Trump’s conspiracy theorizing relentlessly since the election, using press briefings and his social media accounts. He’s been a constant thorn in Trump’s side, even when it meant death threats and becoming an increasingly lonely voice in a party mostly on board with Trump’s attempts to mangle democracy.
Raffensperger took it upon himself to end the call Saturday after promising that both sides’ lawyers would be in touch. “Thank you, President Trump, for your time,” he said.
4) Flipping Georgia Alone Changes…Nothing
Despite Trump’s attitude, even if he did successfully strong-arm Raffensperger into conjuring up nearly 12,000 Republican votes, he’d still be the overall loser! Part of what has made Trump’s attempts to reverse the election so likely to fail is that he’d have to pull off the coup in multiple states, many of which have Democrats in powerful positions.
If Trump did manage to steal Georgia’s 16 electoral college votes, he would have lost reelection with 248 votes to Biden’s 290. Perhaps he found Georgia the most vulnerable state to attack, and planned to move on to the other swing states next.
“I mean there’s turmoil in Georgia and other places,” he said on the call. “You’re not the only one, I mean, we have other states that I believe will be flipping to us very shortly.”
Trump’s delusion that it’s just a matter of time before some permutation of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Pennsylvania get together and decide he deserves their electoral votes after all persists despite consistent legal losses in all of those places. His fantasy is bolstered and sustained by acquiescent Republicans, some of whom in Congress are preparing to vote against the certification of Biden’s win in the Electoral College mostly just because Trump wants them to.
5) How Many Other ‘Perfect’ Calls Are There?
Trump’s penchant for making anti-democratic demands on easily recordable phone calls is, by this point, well-known.
If he truly believed, as he said on the call, that other states would soon be “flipping” their election results to one where he wins, it bears wondering if he’s been in touch with other secretaries of state or governors or Republican officials at some level.
Despite the ham-handed tendency of Trump’s staff to try to bury the evidence, the President’s telephonic intimidation has a habit of getting out.