Battleground: Ballot Box | Inside Trump's Call To Steal Georgia's Election
On this episode of Battleground: Ballot Box, we were going to ask Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger about challenges faced during 2020, but then we got audio of President Donald Trump angrily asking him to overturn the election instead.
"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 stated at one point in the hourlong phone call.
In this stunning conversation, the president started off with a nearly 12-minute monologue of the greatest hits in false fraud claims and other self-effacing comments. To start: bookending his presidency with a comparison of crowd sizes.
"And if we could just go over some of the numbers, I think it's pretty clear that we won... we won very substantially," he said. "You even see it by rally size, frankly, we'd be getting 25-, 30,000 people a rally and the competition would get less than one hundred people. And it never made sense."
Trump falsely claimed more than a quarter million ballots — about 5% of votes in the general election — were illegally cast. He claimed absentee ballots in Fulton County didn’t have their signatures checked — which they did — and that a "couple hundred thousand" of forged signatures would be found in Fulton County.
But Fulton County only had about 146,000 absentee ballots, including 30,000 that went for Trump.
Moving on in the call, Trump mentioned specific numbers of alleged fraudulent ballots, plucked from the fever swamps of the right-wing internet and so-called experts that have been debunked by journalists and elections officials alike.
He attacked, by name, a poll worker who was accused by QAnon peddlers and other conspiracy sites of illegally adding ballots to the county’s totals, pushing false claims of suitcases full of ballots being wheeled out and claiming dead people voted en masse.
And the latest pipeline of wacky ideas to the White House is an argument that somehow Fulton County was shredding absentee ballots to hide evidence of fraud, pushed by the ousted former CEO of Overstock.com, who left the company after having an affair with a Russian spy, as part of an even more harebrained scheme advanced by a fake treasure hunter who invented a cat-shaped barcode reader that helped sink Radio Shack.
Follow all that?
After those remarks, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows interjected and tried to provide a more clear reason for why everyone was there.
"There are allegations where we believe that not every vote or fair vote and legal vote was counted and that's at odds with the representation from the secretary of state's office," he said. "What I'm hopeful for is there are some way that we can we can find some kind of agreement to to to look at this a little bit more fully. As you know, the president mentioned Fulton County, but in some of these areas where there seems to be a difference of where the facts seem to lead. And so, Mr. Secretary, I was hopeful that, you know, in a spirit of cooperation and compromise is there there's something that we can at least have a discussion to look at some of these allegations to find a path forward, this less litigious."
For the first time in the call, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spoke.
"Well, I've listened to what the president has just said," Raffensperger responded. "President Trump, we've had several lawsuits and we've had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. We don't agree that you have one."
Raffensperger has been one of the few GOP officials to stand up against Trump’s attempts to undermine confidence and overturn election results, and in the call he calmly outlined to the president that his office has worked to ensure the results are accurate.
Trump didn’t want to hear it.
"It's just not possible to have lost Georgia," Trump said. "It's not possible. When I heard it was close, I said there's no way. But they dropped a lot of votes in there late at night; you know that, Brad."
While this call from Saturday, Jan. 2nd is an extensive look at the private thoughts of the president, much of what he said echoes his public comments, including retweets of conspiracies, calls to overturn Georgia’s elections and more. But the call provides a rare insight into Trump’s behind-the-scenes behavior beyond his carnival-barking at rallies — the world’s most powerful man pressuring Georgia’s top election official to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
And if you’re wondering how Monday night’s Senate rally for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler will go? Worry not.
"The people of Georgia are angry and these numbers are going to be repeated on Monday night along with others that we're going to have by that time, which are much more substantial even, and the people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry," Trump said. "And there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you've recalculated."
But Raffensperger has not recalculated, and told Trump the initial count, full hand audit and machine recount is correct.
"Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong," Raffensperger calmly responds.
Another lawyer for the president who is new to the conversation, Cleta Mitchell, interjects and says the state has refused to hand over data and evidence that would prove fraud. Trump continues to rail about imagined fraud and scams in Fulton County including already-debunked claims of ballots being counted multiple times.
"You're talking about the State Farm video," Raffensperger said. "And I think it's extremely unfortunate that Rudy Giuliani, or his people — they sliced and diced that video and took it out of context. So the next day we brought in WSB-TV and we let them see the full run of tape and what you'll see, the events that transpired are nowhere near what was was projected."
Raffensperger offered to send a link to that story, and Trump declined, claiming he had his own, better tape.
Ryan Germany, the general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, pointed out in the call that these claims of fraud have been investigated, by the state, Georgia Bureau of Investigations and even the FBI.
"Well, there's no way they could... then they're incompetent," an exasparated Trump said. "There's only two answers: Dishonesty or incompetence. There's just no way. Look, there's no way. And on the other side, too, there's no way."
Trump in the call is defiant, and incredulous that anyone would not believe that he didn’t win by a landslide.
"I won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes. There's no way I lost Georgia. There's no way, we won by hundreds of thousands of votes."
Check out this exchange between Trump and the secretary of state’s general counsel:
"Now, do you think it's possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? "Trump said. "Because that's what the rumor is and also that Dominion took out machines, that Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their machinery."
"Do you know anything about that?" Trump said. "Because that's illegal, right?"
"No, Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County where they moved," Germany said.
"Have they have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?"
"Are you sure, Ryan?"
"I'm sure, I'm sure, Mr. President."
Germany, the attorney for the Secretary of State, said the only investigation into ballot shredding was in Cobb County, where they found no ballots, just normal office supplies and other things from past elections being cleaned out.
"It doesn't pass the smell test, because we hear they're shredding thousands and thousands of ballots," Trump said.
But Raffensperger pushed back.
"Mr. President, the problem you have with social media, people can say anything," he said.
Trump scoffed that social media is "Big Tech" and on Raffensperger's side.
"You know, I don't even know why you have a side because you should want to have an accurate election, and you're a Republican," Trump said.
"We believe that we do have an accurate election," Raffensperger replied.
President Trump is the most powerful man in the world and he’s threatening to overturn democracy based on some internet rumors.
Courts, law enforcement, elections officials and common sense have all knocked down fantastical claims of fraud and misconduct, yet still Trump can’t help but repeat his usual lines and attacks.
"They're going around playing you and laughing at you behind your back, Brad, whether you know it or not," Trump said. "They're laughing at you and you've taken a state that's a Republican state and you've made it almost impossible for a Republican to win because of cheating, because they cheated like nobody's ever cheated before."
Although he’s said it before in public, President Trump then told Raffensperger privately it’s time to take action.
"All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have because we won the state," he said. "And flipping the state is a great testament to our country because, you know, this is just it's a testament that they can admit to a mistake or whatever you want to call it. If it was a mistake, I don't know. A lot of people think it wasn't a mistake. It was much more criminal than that. But it's a big problem in Georgia and it's not a problem that's going away."
"I just want to find 11,780 votes." ... To overturn an election certified and counted multiple times. Nobody from Georgia immediately responded, but Germany said every single claim has been checked.
"What we're seeing is not at all what you're describing, and these are investigators from our office," Germany said, ", these are investigators from GBI and they're looking, and they're good. And that's not what they're seeing. And we'll keep looking."
Again, Trump is not pleased.
"So what are we going to do if I only need 11,000 votes? Fellas I need 11,000 votes, give me a break."
Trump lashed out at the secretary of state, and claims that it is not fair to have the election taken away from him, and wants another examination from people who, quote, "want to find answers."
Raffensperger said that’s already happened.
"You have people that submit information, and we have our people that submit information and then it comes before the court," he said. " And the court then has to make a determination. We have to stand by our numbers. We believe our numbers are right."
Courts at every level have dismissed and denied election challenges to Georgia law, from Fulton County Superior Court all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for both the November election and January runoff. Conservative and liberal judges alike have dinged the plaintiffs for failing to follow proper procedure, for waiting too long and just not showing the extraordinary evidence needed to invalidate 5 million votes.
But Trump doesn’t just blame the elections officials.
"You've treated the population of Georgia so badly, between you and your governor," he said. "And like a schmuck, I endorsed him and got he got elected. But I will tell you, he's a disaster and he'll never — I can't imagine he's ever getting elected again. I'll tell you that much right now."
Kemp, one of Trump’s strongest supporters, is now persona non grata and has been largely absent from the campaign trail since Trump deemed him a failure for not overthrowing things.
Trump even called for outgoing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins to primary him in 2022.
In the final part of the call, the president and his attorneys tried to get the state to hand over more data to prove their fraud claims. But Trump wanted a resolution — aka unlawful and unprecedented action to flip the election — before the Senate runoffs.
"You should meet tomorrow because you have a big election election coming up and because of what you've done to the president, you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam," Trump said. "And because of what you've done to the president, a lot of people are not going out to vote and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative because they hate what you did to the president. They hate it and they're going to vote. And you would be really respected if this thing could be straightened out before the election."
So one thing is clear — fewer Republicans may show up to the polls, and it could cost control of the U.S. Senate. The president blames Raffensperger, but the secretary of state says it’s Trump’s rhetoric that could cost the GOP votes.
Before they left the call, Meadows and Kurt Hilbert, a Roswell attorney representing the president, tried once more to push for access to data outside what the law allows.
"Let me let me just say, it sounds like we've got two different sides agreeing that we can look at those those areas," Meadows said. "And I assume that we can do that within the next 24 to 48 hours to go ahead and get that reconciled so that we can look at the two claims and making sure that we get the access to the secretary of state's data to either validate or invalidate the claims that have been made. Is that correct?"
"So, that's not what I said," Germany said. "I'm happy to sit down with Kurt and the lawyers on that side and explain to him, based on what we've looked at so far, here's how we know this is wrong."
"So what you're saying is you really don't want to give access to the data, you just want to make another case of why the lawsuit is wrong?" Meadows asked.
Germany said he didn't think he could give access to data protected by law.
"But you're allowed to have a phony election," Trump interjected. "You're allowed to have a phony election, right?"
Trump also suggested at one point that Raffensperger’s failure to flip a fair election would have dire legal consequences.
"It's more illegal for you than it is for them because you know what they did and you're not reporting it," Trump said. "That's just, you know, that's a criminal offense. And, you know, you can't let that happen. That's that's a big risk to you and to Ryan."
But now that the call is public, some experts say Trump could be the one facing legal risk for trying to solicit fraud. It’s unlikely anything comes from it, but shows just how far down the rabbit hole we’ve fallen.
Battleground: Ballot Box is a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. You can subscribe to our show gpb.org/battleground or anywhere you get podcasts. Please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Our editor is Wayne Drash, our intern is Eva Rothenberg, our show is mixed by Jesse Nighswonger and the Director of Podcasting is Sean Powers.