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'This Was A Scam': In Recorded Call, Trump Pushed Official To Overturn Georgia Vote

Jan 3, 2021
Originally published on January 4, 2021 9:24 am

Updated at 9:15 p.m. ET

An angry President Trump pushed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to overturn the state's presidential election result and appeared to at least partly blame Raffensperger for what could be lower turnout in Tuesday's runoff elections, which will decide control of the U.S. Senate, according to a recording of a phone call obtained by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

"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 [in the runoffs]," Trump said in the remarkable Saturday call. "A lot of Republicans are going to vote negative because they hate what you did to the president."

He added: "You would be respected if this thing could be straightened out before the election." Trump lost the state by nearly 12,000 votes to President-elect Joe Biden.

More than 3 million Georgians have already voted in the two Jan. 5 runoffs, which pit incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff and incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Ahead of Tuesday, advance turnout has lagged in heavily Republican parts of the state. Trump suggested Raffensperger was responsible for the drop in GOP enthusiasm, while the secretary of state has said the White House and state lawmakers spreading misinformation is to blame.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has refused President Trump's entreaties to overturn Georgia's presidential election result, which saw Trump lose the state narrowly.
Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

On Sunday morning, Trump railed against Raffensperger on social media, retweeting baseless claims of election fraud and stating that Georgia's top election official was "unwilling, or unable, to answer questions" about alleged election problems in the state.

But the audio recording of the hourlong call details that Raffensperger and representatives of the secretary of state's office continued to patiently knock down some of the more inflammatory claims made by Trump and other top Republicans who allege hundreds of thousands of votes were illegally counted.

"Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong," Raffensperger said at one point. "We have to stand by our numbers. We believe our numbers are right."

Mark Meadows, Trump's chief of staff, told Raffensperger he was hopeful that in a "spirit of cooperation and compromise" there would be some way to find a path forward to overturn Georgia's certified election results, which were confirmed by both a full hand audit and a machine recount.

"We don't agree that you have one," Raffensperger said.

An attorney for the secretary of state's office told the president on the call that state investigators, law enforcement and the courts looked into claims of illegal votes and found no evidence of widespread fraud that would overturn Trump's narrow loss.

But the president was undeterred.

"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," Trump stated at one point. "Flipping the state is a great testament to our country. It's a testament that they can admit to a mistake. A lot of people think it wasn't a mistake, it was much more criminal than that. But it's a big problem in Georgia, and it's not a problem that's going away."

On Sunday evening, a member of the state election board called for an investigation into whether any part of the call constituted criminal behavior. David Worley, a senior Democrat on the board, wrote a letter to Raffensperger asking him to launch an investigation of the call "to determine whether violations of the provisions of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated which prohibit solicitation to commit election fraud have occurred." Worley said the election board could then determine whether there's a possible crime to refer to Georgia prosecutors.

The call, which was first reported by The Washington Post, reveals the extent to which the president knows minute details of claims of irregularities. Trump was fixated on the latest rumors that counties shredded ballots from the November general election, spurred on by dubious claims made in Georgia state legislative hearings.

"It doesn't pass the smell test, because we hear they're shredding thousands and thousands of ballots," Trump complained. A state official replied that an investigation showed no ballots were shredded, only old office supplies and other paper.

Raffensperger also told the president that social media was a problem, and Trump interrupted to say that social media is "Big Tech" and was on Raffensperger's side.

"You know, I don't even know why you have a side, because you should want to have an accurate election — and you're a Republican," Trump said.

The White House has not responded to a request for comment. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, wrote on Twitter that Raffensperger is a "hack" and that Trump "is spot-on in his criticisms of the terrible job Raffensperger did."

The call came days ahead of congressional certification of Biden's electoral victory. A number of Republican members of Congress have said they're going to object to the results, an effort that is poised to fail but that has the support of Vice President Pence.

Raffensperger was not the only target of Trump's ire. The president said that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has also repeatedly refused to interfere with the election results, was working with the secretary of state to treat Georgians badly.

"Like a schmuck, I endorsed him and he got elected, but I will tell you, he is a disaster," Trump said of Kemp. "I can't imagine he's ever getting elected again, I'll tell you that much."

In recent weeks, Trump has openly called for former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia to mount a primary challenge against Kemp.

At the end of the call, there was a renewed push to get Raffensperger to undo Georgia's results before Tuesday's Senate runoffs, with the president and Meadows asking the state to meet and turn over information that they purport could prove evidence of fraud. The secretary of state's attorney declined and pointed to numerous public explanations that debunk those claims.

Still, Trump was confident the outcome would change in his favor, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.

"Everyone's going to look very good if the truth comes out," Trump said. "And the real truth is I won by 400,000 votes at least. That's the real truth."

On Monday night, the president will hold a rally for Perdue and Loeffler in Dalton, Ga. He indicated on the call that he will continue to air his unproven grievances there — a closing message that could hurt turnout in what are likely to be close races.

"The people of Georgia are angry, and these numbers are going to be repeated on Monday night, along with others that we're going to have by that time, which are much more substantial," Trump claimed.

Copyright 2021 Georgia Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Georgia Public Broadcasting.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin with news of an extraordinary phone call in which President Trump pressured Georgia's top election official to overturn the state's presidential results. Audio of yesterday's hour-long call was first reported by The Washington Post and obtained by Georgia Public Broadcasting. At some points cajoling, at others threatening, the president pushes Georgia secretary of state and fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger to undo his narrow defeat, and fast, before the Senate runoffs in the state this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You would be respected if - really respected if this thing could be straightened out before the election. You have a big election coming up on Tuesday.

MARTIN: Joining us now is reporter Stephen Fowler from Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Stephen, thank you so much for joining us.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And I just have to say, the president of the United States seems to be blatantly asking an official to break the law. In fact, here's part of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Well, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have.

MARTIN: What was Secretary Raffensperger's response to this?

FOWLER: So Brad Raffensperger is a Republican secretary of state and one of the few Republicans that has stood up to the president in public saying there was no evidence of fraud. And throughout this call, the times that Raffensperger was able to speak - because the president dominated it - he pushed back on these claims, noting that many allegations were false and that law enforcement and judges and courts and elections officials that all looked into these allegations and found that there was no there there.

And the general counsel for the secretary of state's office also repeatedly reinforced to the president that Georgia's elections were secure. And, in fact, they were counted three different times, once by hand - 5 million votes counted - and two other times by machines to find that Joe Biden did narrowly win the state.

MARTIN: Well, you know, in other parts of the call, as you just said, President Trump made baseless claims of absentee ballot fraud. He falsely claimed that he won Georgia's election by hundreds of thousands of votes and, you know, more statements that have not been confirmed in any way. But remind us why Georgia officials are so convinced that November's election was, in fact, secure.

FOWLER: So this is the first year that Georgia has a new election system that has a paper ballot trail. People who vote absentee by mail submit a paper ballot. Those that show up in person use a touch-screen machine that prints out a paper ballot.

So when they did an audit, a hand audit, they physically touched and counted 5 million votes. And so if somebody double-scanned ballots, it would show up. If ballots were added in somewhere, it would have shown up. And the state says none of that was true. And so, you know, you can count on literally 5 million votes being accurate.

MARTIN: And, of course, all of this comes ahead of Tuesday's two U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia. The president alluded to that. We're going to talk about that more later in this program. But President Trump is headlining a big rally there tomorrow night. Is there any sense of what these revelations could mean for that race?

FOWLER: Well, President Trump, if the Republicans do lose, he's got an idea of who to blame.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: 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.

MARTIN: That is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler.

Stephen, thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.