WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump urged Georgia election officials to “find” thousands of votes and recalculate the election result to flip the state to him – an extraordinary effort to strong-arm fellow Republicans as he tries to dispute Mr Joe Biden’s election win.
Mr Trump also travelled to Georgia yesterday in a bid to keep the US Senate in the hands of his Republican Party, after his efforts to overturn his own defeat in the state have injected new uncertainty into a pair of races that are seen as too close to call.
President-elect Biden will also travel to Georgia for a last-minute rally ahead of today’s run-off elections, which pit a pair of incumbent Republican senators against two Democratic challengers.
If Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue successfully defend their seats, their party would maintain a 52-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate, giving them the power to block much of Mr Biden’s agenda when he takes office on Jan 20.
A sweep by Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff would hand control to Mr Biden’s party, as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would hold the tiebreaking vote in the 50-50 chamber.
That would make it easier for Mr Biden to enact further coronavirus relief and tackle climate change, as Democrats also control the House of Representatives.
None of the candidates won a majority in their November races, which spurred the run-off elections.
Mr Biden narrowly won Georgia in November, breaking years of Republican dominance in the state.
Mr Trump has refused to acknowledge his defeat and his campaign has unsuccessfully sought to overturn the results in Georgia and several other battleground states.
In a 62-minute call last Saturday, Mr Trump oscillated from flattery to threats as he pressed officials, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to take action in his favour just days before Congress is set to certify the election results.
The President’s voice – and that of his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows – was heard in an audio recording of the call that was obtained by Bloomberg News. Excerpts of the call were published earlier on Sunday by The Washington Post.
“Look, all I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Mr Trump told Mr Raffensperger.
An official recount has affirmed that Mr Biden beat Mr Trump by 11,779 votes in the state.
“Flipping the state is a great testament to our country. It’s a testament that they can admit to a mistake,” said Mr Trump.
Mr Raffensperger responded: “The challenge that you have is that the data you have is wrong.”
Mr Raffensperger was asked on ABC news yesterday whether he felt intimidated by the call.
“No, we have to follow the process, follow the law,” he replied.
Among a swift wave of backlash, Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, termed Mr Trump’s actions “potentially criminal, and another flagrant abuse of power”.
Mr Trump’s call threatened to deepen growing resentment towards him within his own party, as several Republicans believe he was undermining confidence in Georgia’s election process days ahead of the run-off elections.
Mr Trump told Mr Raffensperger that it was a “big risk” for him and his lawyer to not intervene.
“It’s more illegal for you than it is for them, because you know what they did and you’re not reporting it,” Mr Trump said.
Earlier, the President said: “The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry. And there’s nothing wrong with saying… that you’ve recalculated.”
The call by Mr Trump to Mr Raffensperger raised the prospect that the President may have violated laws that prohibit interference in federal or state elections, but lawyers said on Sunday it would be difficult to pursue such a charge.
The meandering nature of the phone call and the fact that the President made no apparent attempt to conceal his actions as other call participants listened could allow Mr Trump to argue that he did not intend to break the law or to argue that he did not know that any such federal law existed.
The federal law would also most likely require that Mr Trump knew that he was pushing Mr Raffensperger to fraudulently change the vote count, meaning prosecutors would have to prove that Mr Trump knew he was lying in asserting that he was confident he had won the election in Georgia.
BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES, REUTERS
Was it a call to influence and intimidate?
President Donald Trump spoke to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in an hour-long telephone call last Saturday. Here are some of his remarks:
WARNING OF ‘CRIMINAL OFFENCE’ AND ‘BIG RISK