In an exceptional phone call this weekend, President Donald Trump pressured the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state by winning votes to tilt the count in his favor, according to NBC News’ Audio News.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger resisted pressure from Trump to change Georgia’s election results, even as the president made veiled threats of possible prosecution if denied. The call was made on Saturday.
Trump, who refused to allow the election, said during the call that he wanted to “find 11,780 votes” to change the outcome in Georgia.
He told Raffensperger, a Republican, that Georgia’s vote had dropped hundreds of thousands of votes and suggested that the Secretary of State announced that he had recalculated the numbers to show a Trump victory in the key-swing state.
“Well, Mr. President, the challenge you have is the data you have is wrong,” replied Raffensberger, according to the record.
Raffensperger and the secretary’s general counsel, Attorney Ryan Germany, also pushed back on Trump’s claims that ballot papers had been destroyed or that Dominion had removed parts of voting machines in Georgia that were showing more Republican votes.
The contents of the phone call were first reported by the Washington Post.
Trump referred to the call on Saturday in a tweet on Sunday morning, saying Raffensperger could not answer his questions about alleged election fraud, saying, “He has no idea.” Raffensperger replied on Twitter, writing, “What you say is not true. The truth will come out.”
Georgia is one of several states where the Trump campaign or the president’s supporters have fought unsuccessfully to change or invalidate the vote since Trump’s loss to Biden in the November election.
None of the lawsuits, recounts, or investigations in any state have identified the type of widespread electoral fraud or miscounts that would be required to reverse the election in Trump’s favor.
The number of votes in Georgia and other states since the November election has already been confirmed, and the electoral college has confirmed Joe Biden’s victory.
The president also pointed out possible legal ramifications for Raffensperger if his demands were not met.
“You know what you did and you don’t report it,” Trump said during the call. “This is a criminal, this is a crime. And you cannot allow it. This is a great risk for you and for Ryan, your lawyer. This is a great risk.”
Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to President-elect Biden, slammed Trump’s actions in a statement on Sunday.
“We now have irrefutable evidence that a president is putting an official in his own party under pressure and threatening to get him to overturn the legal, certified number of votes of one state and fabricate another in his place,” said Bauer. “It captures the whole, nefarious story of Donald Trump’s attack on American democracy.”
The call comes just days before two major Georgian Senate runoff elections, in which Democratic candidates’ victories in both races would turn control of the chamber, and less than a month before Biden’s inauguration. Trump is holding a rally for the Republican candidates on Monday.
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-IL, said in a statement the call warranted a criminal investigation.
“President Trump’s taped conversation with Georgian Foreign Minister Raffensperger is more than a pathetic, rambling, delusional abuse. His shameful effort to intimidate an elected official into deliberately altering and misrepresenting the statutory votes in his state strikes in the heart of our democracy deserves nothing less than a criminal investigation, “the statement said.
Justin Levitt, an electoral law expert and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who was a former Justice Department official, believes Trump’s behavior in calling would be in violation of several laws if a prosecutor could prove the president knew not really thousands of untold ballots that would turn the election around.
These criminal violations could include a conspiracy to violate a federal electoral law that has been used in the past to prosecute electoral fraud and a violation of Georgia state law regarding solicitation of electoral fraud, he said.
“It’s pretty appalling that the only question is whether the president is sufficiently detached from reality to believe he hasn’t committed a crime,” Levitt said.
Biden’s victory in Georgia was a big change in the Republican-controlled state as he became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992. After the first count showed Biden as the winner of the state, Georgia carried out a recount which showed the same result. Raffensperger confirmed the result on November 20th.
The tight profit margin and the presence of Republicans in key office have made it a target in the Trump team’s efforts to change the election results. Trump has also pressured Governor Brian Kemp to help him reverse the outcome, but Kemp said it was not legal for him to convene a special legislature to appoint a new list of presidential voters.
Biden’s victory is due to be confirmed by a joint congressional session on Wednesday, but a group of 11 Republican senators and elected senators, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, want to delay the move, as do some members of the Republican House. Vice President Mike Pence “welcomed” the move to delay certification, according to his chief of staff, but others like Utah Senator Mitt Romney have criticized the plan.
Trump is expected to participate in anti-certification protests in Washington on Wednesday.