Trump's 'less-than-perfect' call to Georgia officials could also be a crime

As word spread Sunday of President Trump’s astonishing phone conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger the day before, there was widespread speculation that the president had committed one or more crimes in his effort to overturn the results of the election in Georgia, including extortion and, ironically, election fraud.

A recording of the one-hour call was released Sunday by the Washington Post. The president is heard pressuring Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” that would put him in the lead over President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia, which has already certified its results.

Trump also threatens Raffensperger with the possibility of criminal charges unless he comes up with the votes to overturn the election results.

“You know, that’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offense. And you know, you can’t let that happen,” Trump says on the call. “That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk.”

The Post did not say who recorded the call or how it obtained the tape.

Trump offered no direct evidence of voter fraud in Georgia, instead offering second-hand conspiracy theories about manipulated voting machines, ballots being scanned multiple times and votes simply being thrown out — all of which were investigated by Georgia law enforcement and the FBI, and found to be untrue. But Trump went beyond trying to prove that he won the state by “hundreds of thousands of votes,” pressuring Raffensperger to simply announce a new vote total showing him beating Biden.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated,” the president said.

Joined on the call by his general counsel, Ryan Germany, Raffensperger calmly and methodically disputes Trump’s election theories.

“Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong,” Raffensperger said.

Donald Trump
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump’s actions could constitute election fraud. Section 52 of the U.S. Code concerns voting and elections, and provides for a sentence of up to five years for:

“A person, including an election official, who in any election for Federal office

(1) knowingly and willfully intimidates, threatens, or coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any person for-

(A) registering to vote, or voting, or attempting to register or vote;

(B) urging or aiding any person to register to vote, to vote, or to attempt to register or vote; or

(C) exercising any right under this chapter; or

(2) knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process, by

(A) the procurement or submission of voter registration applications that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held; or

(B) the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held.”

Trump’s citing possible criminal charges for Raffensperger unless he produces a different election result in Georgia could be seen as extortion, which section 18, chapter 41 of the U.S. code expressly prohibits.

The former lead counsel in Trump’s impeachment trial — which was predicated on what Trump called his “perfect phone call” to the president of Ukraine — agreed that this was also a less-than-perfect call by the president.

NYU law professor and former DOJ lawyer Andrew Weissmann also noted the similarity with Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine’s government to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

Trump’s call also raised the question of sedition, which is defined as “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.”

In a statement Sunday, Biden senior adviser Bob Bauer made many of those same points.

“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,” Bauer said in his statement.

While flipping Georgia’s 16 electoral votes would not, by itself, change the outcome of the presidential election, it would be an important symbolic victory for Trump as he fights to overturn the results in several other swing states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Brad Raffensperger
Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger commenting on his state's election results, Dec. 2, 2020. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Trump did more than threaten Raffensperger; at several points he was reduced to pleading.

“Fellas, I need 11,000 votes, give me a break,” he says near the end of the call.

Whether Trump’s words result in legal troubles for the 45th president once he leaves office remains to be seen. If it does, though, Michael Bromwich, former Department of Justice inspector general and former assistant U.S. attorney suggested one possible defense.


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