Georgia election officials dismantle bogus Trump claim about secret suitcase of ballots

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In her opening statement on Tuesday, Jan. 6 select committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney said that “we cannot let America become a nation of conspiracy theories.” The committee later heard testimony from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling that debunked one of former President Donald Trump’s most pervasive election claims — that a suitcase of fraudulent ballots cost him victory in the state in 2020.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who played a central role in Trump’s impeachment hearings and also sits on the committee, handled the questioning of Raffensperger and Sterling, and laid out the essence of Trump’s conspiracy theory about the suitcase.

“This story falsely alleges that sometime during election night, election workers at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Ga., kicked out poll observers. After the observers left, the story goes, these workers pulled out so-called suitcases of ballots from under a table and ran those ballots through counting machines multiple times,” Schiff said. “Completely without evidence, President Trump and his allies claimed that these suitcases contained as many as 18,000 ballots, all for Joe Biden. None of this was true.”

Asserting that video of the counting of votes at State Farm Arena revealed the fraudulent processing of ballots, Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani pressured Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Raffensperger, Sterling and state lawmakers to declare the results invalid in that must-win swing state.

“What did the tape actually show?” Schiff asked Sterling.

Gabriel Sterling
Gabriel Sterling, COO of the office of Georgia's secretary of state, testifies before the Jan. 6 select committee on Tuesday. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“This conspiracy theory took on a life of its own, where they conflated a water main break that wasn’t a water main break and throwing observers out and a series of other things, when it actually showed was Fulton County election observers engaging in normal ballot processing,” Sterling responded. “One of the specific things, one of the things that was very frustrating, was the so-called suitcases of ballots from under the table.”

Sterling testified that, in fact, there was no suitcase shown on the video.

“They’re standard ballot carriers that allow for seals to be put on them so that they are tamper-proof,” he testified.

Raffensperger began his testimony by noting that “President Biden carried the state of Georgia by approximately 12,000 votes,” and that digital and hand recounts, as well as a forensic audit of the election, had confirmed that result.

“Three counts, all remarkably close, which showed that President Trump did come up short,” Raffensperger said.

In a December 2020 phone call played during Monday’s hearing, Raffensperger told the president that his theory about the suitcase of ballots was not true.

A still from the video presentation during the House select committee hearing on June 21, 2022. (House TV)
A still from the video presentation during the House select committee hearing on Tuesday. (House TV)

“We did an audit of that and proved conclusively that they were not scanned three times,” Raffensperger can be heard telling the president.

Schiff played video testimony about the so-called suitcase given to the committee that began with statements by former U.S. Attorney B.J. Pak, whom former Attorney General William Barr had instructed to investigate the claims.

“I listened to the tapes and reviewed the videotapes myself [and found] that there was nothing there. Giuliani was wrong,” Pak said of the suitcase theory.

“The Fulton County allegations had no merit,” Barr testified before the committee.

Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue also testified about a phone conversation he had with Trump about the suitcases.

Election officials count votes for Fulton County, Ga.
Election officials count votes for Fulton County, Ga., on Jan. 6, 2021. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

“He kept fixating on the suitcase that supposedly had fraudulent ballots and that the suitcase was rolled out from under the table, and I said, ‘No, sir, there is no suitcase. You can watch that video over and over. There is no suitcase. There is a wheeled bin...”

During his call with Raffensperger, Trump proposed other conspiracy theories that he said explained his election loss to Biden, including a rumor that 5,000 dead people had voted in Georgia. Like the suitcase, the accusation about dead people turned out to be more fiction than fact.

“We had many allegations, and we investigated every single one of them,” Raffensperger told the committee.


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