State and federal officials have called for investigations into whether President Trump violated election laws — or possibly committed other crimes — in his Saturday phone call to Georgia’s secretary of state.
A recording of the one-hour call was released Sunday by the Washington Post. The president is heard pressuring Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find 11,780 votes” that would put him in the lead over President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia, which has already certified its results.
Trump also threatens Raffensperger with the possibility of criminal charges unless he comes up with the votes to overturn the election results.
“You know, that’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offense. And you know, you can’t let that happen,” Trump says on the call. “That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk.”
Criminal justice experts raised the possibility that the implied threat could constitute extortion.
It was reported that since the Nov. 3 election, the White House had made 18 calls attempting to connect Trump with Raffensperger, but this was the first time the two spoke.
The president offered no direct evidence of voter fraud in Georgia, instead floating conspiracy theories about manipulated voting machines, ballots being scanned multiple times and votes simply being thrown out — all of which were investigated by Georgia law enforcement and the FBI, and found to be untrue.
Trump went beyond trying to prove that he won the state by “hundreds of thousands of votes,” pressuring Raffensperger to simply announce a new vote total showing him beating Biden, saying, “There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated.”
“Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong,” Raffensperger said.
On Monday, Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray calling for the bureau to open an investigation.
“As members of Congress and former prosecutors, we believe Donald Trump engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes,” the pair wrote. “We ask you to open an immediate criminal investigation into the president.”
On Sunday, David Worley, the lone Democratic member of Georgia’s state election board, asked Raffensperger to investigate possible civil and criminal violations committed by Trump during the call.
“To say that I am troubled by President Trump’s attempt to manipulate the votes of Georgians would be an understatement,” Worley wrote on Sunday following the audio’s release. “I commend you and [counsel to the secretary of state] Ryan Germany for sticking to the state’s position and the plain facts despite the President’s repeated attempts to pressure you into somehow changing the certified votes. It appears that you did so even in the face of threatened criminal action.”
Worley then stated that an investigation should be undertaken to “determine whether violations of the provisions of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated which prohibit solicitation to commit election fraud have occurred.”
“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,” said Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to President-elect Joe Biden, in a statement Sunday.
Trump, who will leave office on Jan. 20, could also potentially face impeachment for the second time. In 2019, the House voted to impeach him over a phone call where he attempted to pressure the Ukrainian president into discrediting his eventual opponent, now the president-elect. Trump was acquitted in the Senate.
“I absolutely think it’s an impeachable offense, and if it was up to me, there would be articles on the floor quite quickly,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told reporters. “He’s attacking our very election.”
“This is clearly an impeachable offense and I believe there is nothing under the law giving Trump immunity from criminal process and indictment for this conduct,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted on Sunday. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar are both relatively junior representatives aligned with the progressive wing of the party. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of Democratic leadership, seemed cool to the idea when asked about impeachment on Monday. “We’re not looking backward, we’re looking forward,” Jeffries said.
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