US President Donald Trump has pressured Georgia's top election official to "find" enough votes to overturn his defeat in the southern state, according to excerpts of a recording of the hour-long call released by the Washington Post.
President Donald Trump has pressured the Georgia secretary of state in an extraordinary phone conversation to "find" enough votes to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the Southern state, according to news media.
The secretly taped conversation with fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, first reported by the Washington Post, includes threats that Raffensperger and another Georgia official could face "a big risk" if they failed to pursue his request.
"The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry," Trump is heard saying on the tape, parts of which were aired by CNN.
"And there's nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you've recalculated," the president says. "You're off by hundreds of thousands of votes."
Raffensperger is heard responding: "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong."
Biden won the long Republican-leaning state by fewer than 12,000 votes, a margin unchanged after recounts and audits. None of Trump's allegations have been supported.
Even a hypothetical reversal there would not deprive Biden of victory.
Word of the recording came at an extraordinary juncture, two days before special runoff elections in Georgia that will decide control of the US Senate, and three days before Congress is to certify the results of the November 3 election.
That certification, normally routine, is now being challenged by scores of lawmakers at Trump's behest.
'Contempt for democracy'
Ahead of the release of the audio, Trump tweeted about the call, saying that Raffensperger "was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the 'ballots under table' scam, ballot destruction, out of state 'voters', dead voters, and more."
The Swing States did not even come close to following the dictates of their State Legislatures. These States “election laws” were made up by local judges & politicians, not by their Legislatures, & are therefore, before even getting to irregularities & fraud, UNCONSTITUTIONAL!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2021
After the release, the White House declined to comment.
Democrats were quick to condemn the call.
"Trump's contempt for democracy is laid bare," Representative Adam Schiff said on Twitter. "Once again. On tape.
"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."
Some political commentators compared the call to the Watergate tapes that led to the fall of President Richard Nixon.
John Dean, a White House counsel to Nixon before turning against him, told CNN that the new tape was "very damning for the president."
"It's pretty ugly."
Trump has waged an all-out fight against the election results. But scores of recounts and lawsuits, as well as a review by his own Justice Department, have failed to substantiate the claims.
At one point, he invited Republican election officials from Michigan to the White House in an apparent effort to pressure them over their vote certification.
He also pressed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, in a separate phone call.
Raffensperger and other election officials who have rejected Trump's entreaties, in Georgia and other states, have received death threats from his supporters.
It was not clear who released the tape, but under Georgia law Raffensperger could legally have taped it without Trump's consent.
Legal challenges are dismissed
Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, which includes three Trump-nominated justices.
The Senate runoffs pit Senator Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock and Senator David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff. With the Senate up for grabs, the candidates and outside groups supporting them have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the contests, deluging Georgia with television ads, mail, phone calls and door-knocking efforts.
Loeffler said she had not decided whether to join Republican colleagues in challenging the legitimacy of Biden’s victory over Trump. The Democratic candidates whose wins on Tuesday would help clear roadblocks for the new administration’s agenda awaited a campaign visit from Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Trump has persisted in attacking top Georgia Republicans over his election loss in the state, raising fears that his words could cause some Republicans to stay away from the polls.
“I believe that we will win on Tuesday because of the grassroots momentum, the unprecedented movement energy in Georgia right now,” Ossoff told CNN's “State of the Union.” He said “it feels in Georgia like we are on the cusp of a historic victory.”
Loeffler, when asked about siding with the growing group of Senate Republicans seeking to contest the Electoral College count, said she was “looking very closely at it, and I’ve been one of the first to say, everything’s on the table.”
She told “Fox News Sunday” that ”I’m fighting for this president because he’s fought for us. He’s our president and we’re going to keep making sure that this is a fair election.”
'On the verge of victory'
Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta who has continued to preach as he campaigns for office, seemed to allude to the runoff in a message delivered on Sunday.
He told viewers watching remotely due to the pandemic that they are “on the verge of victory” in their lives if they accept that God has already equipped them with the ability to overcome their adversaries.
“When God is with you, you can defeat giants,” said Warnock, who ended the early morning service by encouraging Georgians to vote on Tuesday. “It’s so very important that your voice be heard in this defining moment in our country,” he said.
“I would not be so presumptuous as to tell you who to vote for.”
Loeffler was appointed to fill a vacancy when Republican Johnny Isakson resigned his seat, and she will be in the Senate, win or lose this coming week, until the election is certified. Perdue’s seat will temporarily be vacant after his term expires Sunday at the end of six years.
Harris was scheduled to be in Savannah on Sunday afternoon. Trump and Biden plan last-minute, in-person efforts on Monday to mobilise voters after more than 3 million people cast ballots early.
Turbulence for Loeffler and Perdue
The president continues to create turbulence for Loeffler and Perdue by questioning Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia and the reliability of the state’s election systems.
Trump also tweeted that Georgia Gov. Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, also Republicans, “have done less than nothing. They are a disgrace to the great people of Georgia!”
The president last week called on Kemp to resign; the governor dismissed it as a “distraction.”
Despite the attacks, Loeffler said she believed voters would heed Trump's expected plea during his upcoming visit that they should turn out.
“He’s going to tell voters the same thing: You have to get out and vote Georgia, because this is too important,” Loeffler said.
Perdue, who is in quarantine after being exposed to a staff member with the coronavirus and won't appear with Trump at Monday's rally, said he would have joined the electoral challenge in the Senate if he had been in Washington. “I’m encouraging my colleagues to object. This is something that the American people demand right now,” he told Fox News Channel's “Sunday Morning Futures.”