WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump urged fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's secretary of state, to "find" enough votes to undo his defeat in an extraordinary hour-long phone call on Saturday that raised legal questions, election experts say.
The Washington Post got a recording of the conversation in which Trump alternately denounced Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act, and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the Secretary of State refused to pursue Trump's false claims, at one point he warned that Raffensperger was taking "a big risk".
During the call, Raffensperger and his office's general counsel rejected Trump's allegations, explaining that the president relies on debunked conspiracy theories and that President-elect Joe Biden's 11,779-vote victory in Georgia was fair and accurate.
Trump rejected their arguments.
"The people in Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry," he said. & # 39; And there's nothing wrong with saying you recalculated it. & # 39;
Raffensperger replied, "Well, Mr. President, the challenge you have is that the data you have is wrong."
At another point, Trump said, "So look. I just want to do this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, that's one more than we have. Because we won the state."
The shifting and at times incoherent conversation offered a remarkable glimpse of how consumed and desperate the president remains over his loss, unwilling or unable to let go of the matter and still believing he can roll back the results in enough battlefield states to remain in office.
"I didn't lose Georgia in any way," Trump said, repeating a phrase over and over during the conversation. & # 39; There is no way. We won with hundreds of thousands of votes. & # 39;
Several of his allies were on the line as he spoke, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell, a prominent GOP attorney whose involvement in Trump's efforts was previously unknown.
In a statement, Mitchell said that Raffensperger's office "has made many statements in the past two months that are simply not correct and that everyone involved in the efforts on behalf of the president's election challenge has said the same: show us your data on which you to make these statements that our numbers are wrong. "
The White House, the Trump campaign, and Meadows did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Raffensperger's office declined to comment.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that he had spoken to Raffensperger and said the Secretary of State "was unwilling or unable to answer questions such as the" under-table ballot scams, ballot destruction, out-of-state voters, & # 39; dead voters, and more. He has no idea! "
Raffensperger responded with his own tweet: "With respect, President Trump, what you say is not true."
Trump's pressure on Raffensperger is the latest example of his attempt to undermine the outcome of the November 3 election through personal contact with state republican officials. He previously invited Republican Michigan leaders to the White House, the Republican Government of Georgia pressured Brian Kemp in a call to try to replace that state's voters, and asked the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for his loss. in that state to help roll back.
His call to Raffensperger came when dozens of Republicans pledged to challenge the election college vote for Biden when Congress meets Wednesday for a joint session. Republicans don't have the votes to successfully thwart Biden's victory, but Trump has urged supporters to travel to Washington to protest the outcome, and state and federal officials are already bracing for clashes outside the Capitol .
During their conversation, Trump issued a vague threat to both Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the Secretary of State's general counsel, suggesting that if they don't discover that thousands of ballots in Fulton County have been illegally destroyed to block investigators – a claim for which there is no evidence – they would be held criminally responsible.
"That is a crime," he said. & # 39; And you can't let that happen. That is a big risk for you and for Ryan, your attorney. & # 39;
Trump also told Raffensperger that failing to act by Tuesday would jeopardize the political fortunes of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia's two Republican senators whose fate will determine control of the U.S. Senate in that day's second election.
Trump said he plans to talk about the fraud on Monday, when he is scheduled to lead an election rally in Dalton, Georgia – a message that could further confuse Republicans' efforts to get their voters out.
"You have a big election coming up and because of what you did to the president – you know, the people of Georgia know this was a scam," Trump said. Because of what you did to the president, a lot of people are not going to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative because they hate what you did to the president. Okay? They hate it. And they are going to vote. To be respected, really respected, if this can be rectified before the election. & # 39;
Trump's conversation with Raffensperger took him into legally questionable territory, legal experts said. By urging the Secretary of State to "find votes" and employ investigators who "want to find answers," Trump appears to be encouraging him to investigate the election results in Georgia.
But experts said Trump's more obvious offense is a moral one. Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, said the legal questions are unclear and would be subject to the prosecution's discretion. But he also stressed that the call was "inappropriate and despicable" and should spark moral outrage.
& # 39; He already dropped the emergency meter, & # 39; Foley said. "So we were at 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, and now we're at 15."
During the call, Trump provided an extensive list of disinformation and conspiracy theories to support his position. He claimed without proof that he had won Georgia by at least half a million votes. He spread a barrage of claims that have been investigated and refuted: that thousands of dead voted; that an election officer in Atlanta scanned 18,000 counterfeit ballots three times each and was "100 percent" for Biden; that thousands of other out-of-state voters illegally returned to Georgia just to vote in elections.
"Tell me, Brad, what are we going to do? We won the election and it's not fair to take it from us like that," Trump said. And it's going to be very expensive in many ways. And I think you have to say you're going to re-examine it, and you can re-examine it, but re-study it with people who want to find answers, not people who don't have answers. want to find. "
Trump spoke for most of the conversation. He was angry and impatient and called Raffensperger a & # 39; child & # 39; and & # 39; either dishonest or incompetent & # 39; because he didn't believe there was widespread ballot fraud in Atlanta – twice calling himself a & # 39; bastard & # 39; because he endorsed Kemp, for whom Trump particularly disdains. embrace his claims of fraud.
& # 39; I can't imagine him ever being elected again, I'll tell you right now, & # 39; he said.
He also targeted Kemp's 2018 opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, in an attempt to disgrace Raffensperger with the idea that his refusal to embrace fraud has helped her and Democrats in general. & # 39; Stacey Abrams smiles at you, & # 39; he said. & # 39; She says: & # 39; These guys are dumber than a rock. & # 39; What she's done with this party is unbelievable, I'm telling you. & # 39;
The secretary of state repeatedly tried to push back, saying at one point, "Mr. President, the problem you have with social media is that … people can say anything."
"Oh, this isn't social media," Trump replied. "This is Trump media. It's not social media. No way. It's not social media. I don't care about social media. I don't care."
At another point, Trump claimed that votes were scanned three times: "Brad, why did they cast the votes three times? You know, they cast them three times."
Raffensperger replied, "Mr. President, they didn't. We checked that and we proved beyond all doubt that they were not scanned three times."
Trump sounded confused and meandering at times. At one point he called Kemp & # 39; George & # 39 ;. He threw out several figures for Biden's victory margin in Georgia, referring to the Senate's decline, which is Tuesday, as "tomorrow". and & # 39; Monday & # 39 ;.
His despair was perhaps most pronounced during an exchange with Germany, Raffensperger's general counsel, in which he openly begged for confirmation.
Trump: "Do you think it's possible they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that's the rumor. And also that Dominion has shut down machines. That Dominion is really fast getting rid of their machines. You know anything there. of? Because that's illegal. "
Germany replied, "No, Dominion has not moved machines out of Fulton County."
Trump: But did they move the inner parts of the machines and replace them with other parts?
Trump: Are you sure? Ryan?
Germany: "I'm sure. I'm sure, Mr. President."
The call made it clear that Trump has surrounded himself with aides who fed his false perception that the election had been stolen. When he claimed that more than 5,000 ballots had been cast in Georgia for dead people, Raffensperger replied forcefully, "The actual number was two. Two. Two dead who voted."
But later Meadows said, "I can promise you there are more than that."
Another Trump attorney on the call, Kurt Hilbert, accused Raffensperger's office of refusing to hand over data to assess evidence of fraud, and also claimed to be aware of at least 24,000 illegally released ballots that sent the result to Trump would send.
"It goes without saying that if the information is not provided, there is something to hide," said Hilbert. "That's the problem we have."
Reachable by phone Sunday, Hilbert declined to comment.
Ultimately, Trump asked Germany to sit down with one of his lawyers to discuss the allegations. Germany agreed.
Yet Trump also acknowledged his failure to convince Raffensperger or Germany of anything, saying towards the end, "I know this phone call is going nowhere."
But he continued to defend himself repeatedly, until Raffensperger finally, after more than an hour, ended the conversation: "Thank you, President Trump, for your time."
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Alice Crites of The Washington Post contributed to this report.
. (tagsToTranslate) Vote (t) Joe Biden (t) Georgia (t) Donald Trump (t) Presidential Election