Exclusive: More Georgia Secretary of State's office officials interviewed by Jan. 6 committee
Representatives of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection interviewed current and former employees of the Georgia Secretary of State's office Wednesday about former President Donald Trump's extensive attempts to overturn the 2020 election results.
According to an official briefed on the conversations but not authorized to speak publicly, at least two current or former officials from the office sat for hours with representatives of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
Trump faces a criminal investigation into his attempts to overturn Georgia's election results, with reports that the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is likely to impanel a special grand jury to review potential election interference, including an infamous call with Trump asking Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes."
Gabriel Sterling, the state's voting system implementation manager and vocal critic of Trump's attacks on election integrity, discussed Georgia's election infrastructure and disinformation that plagued the state, according to the official. The conversation included discussions about conspiracies surrounding vote counting in State Farm Arena, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani making false claims to state lawmakers in several hearings and persistent attacks on election results in Fulton County, the state's most populous.
Frances Watson, the former top investigator for the secretary of state's office, who now serves in a different law enforcement role, discussed her own call with former president Trump in late December.
"Whatever you can do Frances, it would be — it's a great thing," Trump said in a six-minute conversation first reported by The Washington Post and released in full by The Wall Street Journal. "The people of Georgia are so angry at what happened to me."
"They know I won by hundreds of thousands of votes," Trump falsely claimed.
The meeting with more figures in Georgia's election orbit comes after Raffensperger sat for four hours with investigators two weeks ago to discuss his Jan. 2 phone call with the former president just days before a dual U.S. Senate runoff that would decide control of the chamber.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Raffensperger also discussed misinformation surrounding the state's thrice-counted election results.
Raffensperger's efforts to "defend the integrity of the state's election system" are central to the committee's work, according to chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).
"In spite of the pressure from President Trump, Mark Meadows and others, he has steadfastly held to that position," Thompson told the AJC.
The Georgia meeting comes hours after the House voted Tuesday to hold Meadows, a former North Carolina U.S. representative and White House chief of staff, in criminal contempt of Congress after Meadows stopped cooperating with the committee — but not before Meadows turned over thousands of emails and text messages to investigators.
The Justice Department will decide whether criminal charges will be brought against Meadows for defying a subpoena and refusing to testify, while Meadows' lawyer maintains he cannot be compelled to appear for questioning due to executive privilege.
During Tuesday's floor debate on the contempt vote, committee members read several texts sent to Meadows, including from an unnamed Georgia official present on the call between Raffensperger and Trump.
"Need to end this call," one message read. "I don't think this will be productive much longer."
The call, first reported by The Washington Post and obtained by GPB News, is one of many Georgia-related incidents involving Meadows being reviewed by lawmakers seeking to understand the events leading up to thousands of Trump supporters breaching the U.S. Capitol during the counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6.
Meadows made an unannounced trip to Cobb County on Dec. 22 while the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was conducting an analysis of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes. The day after Meadows' visit, Trump called Watson, the secretary of state's chief investigator, and asked whether the review would run through Christmas, noting the "very important date" of Jan. 6 was fast approaching.
On Dec. 29, a final report on the signature review ultimately found "no fraudulent absentee ballots."
He also coordinated the Jan. 2 call with Raffensperger and made false claims of fraud during the hourlong conversation, arguing there were more votes illegally cast in the names of dead people than the state was able to identify.
At a Jan.4 rally for then-Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Dalton, the night before runoff elections that saw depressed conservative turnout and less than 48 hours before the insurrection, Trump railed against Georgia's election results, Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, vowing to "[campaign] against your governor and your crazy secretary of state" in the midterm elections for failing to overturn the 2020 results.
It is a promise that Trump has kept in the 13 months since the presidential election, endorsing Rep. Jody Hice (R-Greensboro) to primary Raffensperger for secretary of state and announcing his support last week for Perdue to challenge Kemp in the governor's race.