Will there be any fallout from Trump’s call to Raffensperger?

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Mike Bebernes
·Senior Editor
·5 min read
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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

President Trump can be heard pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s narrow win in the state, in a leaked recording first released by the Washington Post on Sunday.

Over the course of the hour-long phone conversation, Raffensperger repeatedly refutes a series of baseless allegations of voting irregularities that Trump claims tipped the critical swing state in Biden’s favor. President Trump also threatens Raffensperger, saying he was taking a “big risk” by not participating in Trump’s attempt to fabricate reasons to overturn the results of the election.

The call is the latest example of Trump’s continued campaign to override the will of voters who handed Biden a sizable Electoral College victory in November. Some Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level have backed Trump's effort with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but none of the many legal challenges that have been raised has done anything to prevent Biden from becoming president on Jan. 20.

Why there’s debate

The recording sparked immediate condemnation from Democrats and some high-profile Republicans, but many lawmakers have argued that harsh words are not enough.

A number of Democrats have said the call is grounds for a second impeachment. Trump will leave office in two weeks, but a successful impeachment could bar him from seeking public office in the future, they argue. Even if the GOP-led Senate again chose not to convict Trump, another impeachment inquiry could send the powerful message that attempts to subvert U.S. democracy won’t be tolerated.

Some legal experts suggest the call could be grounds for criminal charges. Trump’s actions may constitute election fraud under federal or state law. His threats to Raffensperger could also be seen as extortion, they say. Trump has been shielded from prosecution while serving as president, but those protections disappear once he’s out of office.

Others are pessimistic that there will be any substantial consequences. The Biden administration may be hesitant to invite the controversy that would come from indicting Trump, especially when the odds of a conviction based on the call alone may be marginal at best. Congress may also choose to focus its efforts on other areas, like more coronavirus relief, rather than get wrapped up in a lengthy and contentious impeachment inquiry.

What’s next

Raffensperger suggested Monday that the district attorney in Fulton County is interested in looking into a potential criminal probe in response to the call, but it may be some time before any action is taken.

Congress will meet on Wednesday to count the Electoral College’s votes, the final procedural step in certifying Biden’s election win.

Perspectives

Trump should be impeached so he can’t run for president again

“Why bother to impeach a president on his way out the door? This time impeachment would not be about removing him from office, but rather about disqualifying him from running again.” — Austin Sarat, Arizona Republic

If Trump isn’t punished, democracy may not survive the next coup attempt

“Of course the Republican Senate would not vote to remove him, and of course Trump is leaving in just two weeks. But there must be some sort of official accountability for this behavior. If neither the Congress nor the criminal courts register any significant objection to it beyond a strongly worded letter, it will happen again and again until a would-be dictator succeeds in destroying what remains of American democracy.” — David Atkins, Washington Monthly

Trump must face federal criminal charges

“Prosecuting Trump is the only way to stop this. It goes against Biden's every instinct, of course. Biden wants to make nice with Republicans and views unleashing the Department of Justice to deal with Trump's many crimes as unpleasantly political. But there simply is no choice if democracy is to be saved. Trump has shown he will keep going unless stopped.” — Amanda Marcotte, Salon

Trump will face no significant repercussions

“Trump is probably not going to ‘get away’ with the coup attempt, insofar as it is highly unlikely that he can do anything to prevent Biden from becoming president on January 20. But he will get away with it insofar as he probably won’t face any criminal consequences for his attempted power grab. The corrosive effects on democracy of what Trump is doing right now will continue for years or decades.” — David A Graham, Atlantic

Backing Trump’s coup attempt should be a career ender for GOP lawmakers

“No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again.” — Kevin Williamson, National Review

Congress must send a strong message condemning Trump’s behavior

“The country needs to turn the page not just on Trump but also on the toxic brand of conspiracism that he’s mainstreamed into American politics. That won’t be easy. But members of Congress ought to do their part by publicly rejecting Trump’s conspiracy-laced demands to subvert the electoral count, and recognizing Biden’s clear victory.” — Editorial, Boston Globe

Biden may not want to invite controversy by investigating Trump

“Even if the Biden Justice Department thinks they have a good case, is that how they want to start off the Biden presidency? That is a policy decision.” — Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter to New York Times

The focus should be on repairing vulnerabilities in the American democratic system

“Americans, awakened by the traumatic Trump experience to the more permanent frailties and limitations of their governing system, should not waste this unique opportunity to simultaneously tackle a festering crisis of democracy itself, which, if left unaddressed, will continue to endanger the republic.” — Ariel Dorfman, CNN

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images