President Donald Trump, in an extraordinary phone call this weekend, pressured Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state by finding votes to shift the count in his favor, according to audio obtained by NBC News.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger resisted pressure from Trump to change Georgia’s election results even as the president made veiled threats about potential criminal prosecution if he was refused. The call took place Saturday.
Trump, who has refused to concede the election, said during the call that he wanted “to find 11,780 votes” to change the result in Georgia.
He told Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, that Georgia’s vote count was off by hundreds of thousand of votes and suggested that the secretary of state announce he had recalculated the numbers to show a Trump victory.
“Well Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data that you have is wrong,” Raffensberger responded, according to the recording.
Raffensperger and the secretary’s general counsel, attorney Ryan Germany, also pushed back on Trump’s assertions that ballots had been shredded or that the company Dominion had removed parts of voting machines in Georgia that would show more Republican votes.
The contents of the phone call were first reported by The Washington Post.
Trump referenced the Saturday phone call in a Sunday morning tweet, saying that Raffensperger could not answer his questions about alleged voter fraud and saying “he has no clue.” Raffensperger responded on Twitter, writing, “What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”
Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to President-elect Biden, slammed Trump’s actions in a statement on Sunday.
“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. “It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump’s assault on American democracy.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-IL, said in a statement that the phone call warranted a criminal investigation.
“President Trump’s recorded conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger is more than a pathetic, rambling, delusional rant. His disgraceful effort to intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting the legally confirmed vote totals in his state strikes at the heart of our democracy and merits nothing less than a criminal investigation,” the statement said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., condemned Trump’s actions as “despicable abuses of power” that are potentially impeachable.
“If it’s potentially criminal, then it’s potentially impeachable. And even in the absence of a crime it’s potentially impeachable,” Schiff told reporters Sunday.
Justin Levitt, an election law expert and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who was formerly a Department of Justice official, said he believes Trump’s conduct on the call would be a violation of several laws if a prosecutor could prove the president knew that there were not actually thousands of uncounted ballots that would flip the election.
Those criminal violations could include a conspiracy to violate a federal election rights law, which has been used to prosecute voter fraud in the past, and breaking Georgia state law regarding solicitation of election fraud, he said.
“It’s pretty appalling that the only question is whether the president is sufficiently detached from reality to deem that he hasn’t committed a crime,” Levitt said.
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. The president, during the call, threatened potential legal consequences for Raffensperger if his demands were not met.
“You know what they did, and you’re not reporting it,” Trump said during the call. “That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk.”
The phone call comes just days before two key Senate runoffs in Georgia, where victories by the Democratic candidates in both races would flip control of the chamber, and less than a month before Biden’s inauguration. Trump is holding a rally in the state for the Republican candidates on Monday.
Georgia is one of several states where the Trump campaign or the president’s supporters have fought unsuccessfully to change or invalidate vote counts since Trump’s loss to Biden in the November election.
None of the lawsuits, recounts or investigations in any state has found the type of widespread voter fraud or miscounting that would be needed to flip the election in Trump’s favor.
The vote counts in Georgia and other states from the November election have already been certified, and the Electoral College has confirmed Joe Biden’s victory.
Biden’s victory in Georgia was a major shift in the Republican-controlled state as he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win since Bill Clinton in 1992. After the initial count showed Biden as the winner in the state, Georgia conducted a recount that showed the same result. Raffensperger certified the result on Nov. 20.
The narrow margin of victory and the presence of Republicans in key offices has made it a target in the Trump team’s efforts to change the results of the election. Trump has also pressured Gov. Brian Kemp to help him overturn the result, but Kemp said it was not legal for him to call for a special legislative session to appoint a new slate of presidential electors.
Biden’s victory is scheduled to be certified by a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, but a group of 11 Republican senators and senators-elect, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, want to delay the move, as do some Republican House members. Vice President Mike Pence “welcomes” the move to delay the certification, according to his chief of staff, but others such as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney have harshly criticized the plan.
Trump is expected to attend protests against the certification in Washington on Wednesday.