Trump begs Georgia secretary of state to overturn election results in remarkable hourlong phone call

Allan Smith and Julia Jester and Priscilla Thompson and Marianna Sotomayor

President Donald Trump begged Georgia's secretary of state to overturn the election results in an astounding hourlong phone call obtained Sunday by NBC News in which the president offered a smorgasbord of false claims about voter fraud and repeatedly berated state officials.

"So look," Trump told Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. "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."

Excerpts of the call, which took place Saturday, were first published Sunday by The Washington Post.

The phone call featured Trump, days before he is set to leave office, pleading with Raffensperger to alter the vote total and launching into a barrage of discredited conspiracy theories about the election. Trump even suggested that Raffensperger, who is a Republican, may face criminal consequences should he refuse to intervene in accordance with Trump's wishes.

Raffensperger and his office's general counsel, Ryan Germany, pushed back against Trump's claims and said President-elect Joe Biden's victory of about 12,000 votes was accurate.

"The people of Georgia are angry. The people in the country are angry," Trump said in the call. "And there's nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you've recalculated."

Raffensperger responded, "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong."

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Since his loss in November's election, Trump has sought to overturn the results by pushing state legislatures to appoint pro-Trump slates of electors and promoting legal efforts that have fallen short. He has also sought to press top Republican officials in states like Georgia and Arizona to disregard the outcomes of elections in their states, baselessly alleging widespread fraud.

"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," Biden senior adviser Bob Bauer said in a statement. "It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump's assault on American democracy.

At an event in Savannah, Georgia, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris referred to the call as "a bald, bald face, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States."

A significant number of congressional Republicans will have said they will challenge the results Wednesday, although with the House in Democratic hands, they will not be able to overturn Biden's win. Meanwhile, a number of other Republicans released statements this weekend pushing back against the efforts.

Other Trump allies were present on the phone call, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and attorney Cleta Mitchell.

"There's no way I lost Georgia," Trump said. "There's no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes."

Meadows at one point suggested that the secretary of state's office and Trump's team find a path forward to resolve the dispute that did not involve the courts. Raffensperger said he did not believe there was one.

Georgia has conducted multiple recounts and audits of the vote since November. Recently, an audit of signature matches in Cobb County found "no fraudulent absentee ballots," Raffensperger's office announced.

At one point in the call, Trump alleged that votes were scanned three times.

"You know, they put 'em in three times," Trump said, a claim that Raffensperger said was untrue.

"We did an audit of that, and we proved conclusively that they were not scanned three times," he said.

Trump also brought up a flurry of debunked conspiracy theories.

"Do you think it's possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County?" Trump said. "Because that is what the rumor is. And also that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their, uh, machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that's illegal." Germany said none of those things happened.

At the onset of the call, Trump cited his widely attended rallies as one reason he does not believe he lost. But he failed to connect his large crowds to his repeated defiance of state and local guidelines about Covid-19. Biden largely avoided packed events for the same reason, hosting drive-in rallies and virtual gatherings instead.

"I think it's pretty clear that we won. We won very substantially Georgia. You even see it by rally size. ... We've been getting 25,000, 30,000 people to a rally, and the competition would get less than 100 people, and it never made sense."

Raffensperger took issue with the numbers Trump presented. After Trump claimed that "thousands" of dead people voted, Raffensperger said that, in actuality, the number was two.

"Two people that were dead that voted," he said. "And so that's wrong."

Another point of contention was over "a large number" of voters who Trump claimed did not live in Georgia. Germany explained that some were residents who moved back to Georgia years ago after having left.

The answer did not suffice for Trump.

"Really? How many people do that?" Trump said. "You mean they moved out and then they said, 'The hell with it. I'll move back.' That does not sound ... very normal. You mean they moved out, and, what, they missed it so much that they moved back in?"

Raffensperger said Trump was being misled by claims on social media. Trump repeatedly mentioned Ruby Freeman, a Georgia election worker who has been the target of false conspiracy theories online.

"Mr. President, the problem you have with social media is that people can say anything," he said.

"Nah, this isn't social media," Trump responded. "This is Trump media."

The Georgia officials maintained that their numbers were accurate and reflected an honest election.

"No, you don't. Not even close," Trump said. "You're off by hundreds of thousands of votes."

Later, after Trump made more claims of fraud, Germany said, "What we're seeing is not at all what you're describing," to which Trump asked: "Why do you keep fighting this thing? It doesn't make sense."

"I know this phone call is going nowhere other than ultimately, you know — look, ultimately I win, okay?" Trump said. "Because you guys are so wrong. ... You've treated the population of Georgia so badly."

Democrats in and out of Georgia were swift to respond to the tape. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted: "Trump's contempt for democracy is laid bare."

"Once again. On tape," Schiff said, referring to Trump's impeachment. "Pressuring an election official to 'find' the votes so he can win is potentially criminal, And another flagrant abuse of power by a corrupt man who would be a despot, if we allowed him. We will not."

Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Ga., said Trump's actions amounted to an attempt to assume dictatorial powers.

"Donald Trump is trying to change the outcome of the presidential election by strong-arming and bullying our elections officials into subverting our democracy," Bourdeaux said in a statement. "This is an outrage. I will use every power in my authority to reject Trump's desperate attacks on Georgia's voters and our elections."

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for a criminal investigation.

"President Trump's recorded conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger is more than a pathetic, rambling, delusional rant," Durbin said in a statement. "His disgraceful effort to intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting the legally confirmed vote totals in his state strikes at the heart of our democracy and merits nothing less than a criminal investigation.

"The President is unhinged and dangerous," he added. "Those who encourage and support his conduct, including my Senate colleagues, are putting the orderly and peaceful transition of power in our nation at risk."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said the phone call amounted to an impeachable act.

"I absolutely think it's an impeachable offense and if it was up to me, there would be articles on the floor quite quickly but ... he is attacking our very election," she said. "He's attacking our very election."

Trump has been obsessively working to contest the election results since news outlets began projecting Biden as the winner. The president and his allies filed over 50 lawsuits across the county, almost all of which have been unsuccessful. At a rally in Georgia last month, the president remarked, "I've probably worked harder in the last three weeks than I ever have in my life. Doing this."

Trump has targeted Raffensperger and other top Georgia Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, whom he called "a disgrace" Sunday.

Tweeting Sunday morning at Raffensperger, Trump noted his conversation with the secretary of state.

"He was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the 'ballots under table' scam, ballot destruction, out of state 'voters', dead voters, and more," Trump said. "He has no clue!"

Raffensperger responded: "Respectfully, President Trump: What you're saying is not true. The truth will come out."

Later Sunday, Trump called elections in swing states "UNCONSTITUTIONAL!"