In an extraordinary phone call, U.S. President Donald Trump pleaded Saturday with election officials in the southern U.S. state of Georgia to find him enough votes to overturn his pivotal loss there to President-elect Joe Biden.
“So, look. 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,” Trump told the state’s top elections official, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in a recording obtained by The Washington Post and published Sunday afternoon. (Read transcript of phone call)
In an hourlong call, Trump sometimes assailed Raffensperger and sometimes flattered him and his office’s general counsel, Ryan Germany. The president disputed the accuracy of three separate vote counts in Georgia that showed Biden was the first Democratic presidential contender to capture the state since 1992.
On Sunday, Trump said on Twitter, “I spoke to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger yesterday about Fulton County and voter fraud in Georgia. 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. He has no clue!”
Raffensperger replied a few hours later, “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”
In the United States’ indirect form of democracy, Biden, by winning the popular vote in the state, won all 16 of Georgia’s electoral votes en route to a 306-232 margin in the Electoral College.
On Wednesday, a joint session of Congress with Vice President Mike Pence presiding will meet. At least a dozen Republican U.S. senators have said they will join an unknown number of House Republican colleagues in objecting to the certification of Electoral College votes for Biden.
The effort is expected to fail. Democrats hold the majority in the House and prominent Republican senators have said they won’t back the challenge.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are set to be inaugurated January 20.
Even if Trump were to upend the Georgia vote, Biden would still have more than the 270-vote majority needed to win the presidency in the Electoral College.
Reaction to the call was swift Sunday afternoon.
Harris described it as “the voice of desperation” and a “bald faced, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States.”
“Absolutely appalling,” Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, said of the call on Twitter. “To every member of Congress considering objecting to the election results, you cannot — in light of this — do so with a clean conscience. #RestoreOurGOP”
“Republicans, there is no defense for this. None,” Jeff Flake, a former Republican senator from Arizona, tweeted.
“I will not be silent as the outgoing president attempts to subvert the will of more than 5 million voters in my state,” a Democratic representative from the state of Georgia, Carolyn Bourdeaux, said on Twitter. “This country is a democracy, not a dictatorship — and I will use every power in my authority to reject Trump’s attacks on our election.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., condemned Trump’s actions as “despicable abuses of power” that are potentially impeachable.
The president wasn’t without support, however. The Arizona Republican Party tweeted, “President Trump sounded really good (strong, clear voice; no static) on the “recording” – he cares about #ElectionIntegrity, as all Americans do. Thank you, Mr. President!”
Trump asked the Georgia officials to recalculate the vote count and said that if Raffensperger refused to overturn the vote in the state, he would be taking “a big risk.”
Throughout the call, Raffensperger and Germany rebuffed Trump’s assertions that he had been defrauded of a win in the state. Trump has lost dozens of legal challenges claiming vote and vote-counting irregularities cost him victories in Georgia and in other political battleground states.
Trump rejected the claims by Raffensperger and Germany that the Georgia outcome was legitimate.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” Trump said. “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.”
Throughout the call, Trump repeated he had won the state. “There’s no way I lost Georgia,” he said at one point. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
The president linked his fate in the state to Tuesday’s Senate runoff elections in which two incumbent Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively face Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock in contests that will determine control of the U.S. Senate during the first two years of the Biden presidency.
“You have a big election coming up,” Trump told Raffensperger, “and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam.”
“Because of what you’ve done to the president,” Trump said, speaking of himself in the third person, “a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president. OK? They hate it. And they’re going to vote. And you would be respected, really respected, if this can be straightened out before the (Tuesday) election.”
Trump’s call to Raffensperger is Trump’s latest effort to pressure state officials and lawmakers to overturn the votes in their political battleground states that Biden won or name Trump supporters as electors instead of ones supporting Biden.