US president Donald Trump repeatedly pressed Georgia’s top election official to change the presidential vote tally in the state to ensure his victory over Joe Biden, in one of his most brazen attempts yet to cling to power.
In an hour-long call with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, on Saturday, Mr Trump urged him to “find” the 11,780 votes he would need to win the state, insisting that there was “no way” that he was defeated.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” said Mr Trump, according to a transcript and audio clips of the conversation posted on the Washington Post’s website. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”
Since the general election on November 3, Mr Trump has refused to concede the White House to Mr Biden. He has made a series of unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the swing states that determined the result, and orchestrated a barrage of unsuccessful legal challenges to the vote tallies.
With less than three weeks to go before Mr Trump is due to hand over the White House to Mr Biden, the incumbent president is also backing an effort by some of his staunchest Republican allies to block the certification of his opponent’s victory in a congressional vote in Washington on Wednesday. The president’s conversation with Mr Raffensperger will validate fears that he has not yet come to terms with his defeat, heightening the risk that Mr Trump will fail to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.
“[It] is more than a pathetic, rambling, delusional rant,” said Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois.
“The President is unhinged and dangerous.”
Mr Trump’s pressure was forcefully rejected by Mr Raffensperger, a Republican official who has stood by Georgia’s vote count showing Mr Biden as the winner.
“Mr President, the challenge that you have is that the data you have is wrong,” Mr Raffensperger said on the call.
At one point in the call, Mr Trump asked Mr Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, one of his top legal aides, if it was “possible” that ballots had been “shredded” in Fulton county, if Dominion, the ballot processor, had removed some of their machines to escape scrutiny, and repeatedly said that thousands of ballots had been stuffed into boxes after a false report of a water main break. Mr Raffensperger and Mr Germany dismissed the claims.
After Mr Raffensperger said that Georgia had ensured “an accurate election”, Mr Trump escalated his attack on him, saying it was “not even close” and the state was off by “hundreds of thousands of votes”.
Mr Trump later added menacingly: “You know what you did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal offence. You can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. That’s a big risk.”
The call featured repeated interventions by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, who tried to convince Mr Raffensperger to heed Mr Trump’s directives and explore ways to change the result of the election, including by handing over access to sensitive voter data. “What I’m hopeful for is there some way that we can we can find some kind of agreement to look at this a little bit more fully,” Mr Meadows said.
Even though state authorities in other swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin have also certified Mr Biden’s victory, dismissing Mr Trump’s claims, the US president seemed adamant that he could still swing the result beyond Georgia.
“I mean there’s turmoil in Georgia and other places. You’re not the only one. I mean we have other states that I believe will be flipping to us very shortly,” the president told Mr Raffensperger.