Trump’s pressure on Georgia election officials raises legal questions

Legal experts say the combination of Trump’s request to “find” a certain number of votes – just enough to put him before Biden – and his disguised reference to criminal liability for Raffensperger and his aides could violate federal and state law aiming to protect themselves against the solicitation of electoral fraud. The possible violations of constitutional law are particularly noteworthy as they would be beyond the reach of a possible pardon from Trump or his successor. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans expressed concern about the call, while Democrats said they viewed it as a potential criminal offense.

“By threatening these officials with vague ‘criminal’ consequences and encouraging them to find additional voices and hire investigators to ‘find answers’, the President may also have submitted to additional criminal liability,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee and one of the seven House Democrats who prosecuted Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power last year.

Illinois MP Adam Kinzinger, who has become one of Trump’s loudest GOP critics in Congress, described Trump’s appeal as “absolutely appalling” and said he should serve the dozen Republicans preparing to support his efforts Overturn election results serve as a warning week.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) Said, “It’s the opposite of what our democratic process is, and it sounds like it might be illegal.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Who led Trump’s impeachment proceedings against Democrats, described the call as “one of the most despicable abuses of power in his long list, possibly criminal, morally offensive, virulently undemocratic and dangerous to our democracy. ”

According to the audio, Trump asked Raffensperger and his attorney Ryan Germany to find 11,780 votes, “that’s one more than us because we won the state.”

“We won the election and it’s not fair to take it away from us like that,” he added. “And it’s going to be very costly in many ways. And I think you have to say you’re going to re-examine, and you can re-examine, but re-examine it with people who want to find the answers, not people who don’t want to find answers. “

In the audio, an often sprawling Trump contradicted his own lawyers at several points – and continued to push for conspiracy theories that the election had somehow been stolen from him. “There is no way I lost Georgia, there is no going,” the president said at one point during the call.

Trump joined Meadows’ appeal for once “in a spirit of cooperation and compromise” suggesting that the parties find a “way that is less contentious,” which was rejected by Raffensperger – and including some lawyers, including Cleta Mitchell Partner of the large firm Foley & Lardner, whose involvement in Trump’s legal efforts to undermine the election had not been reported until the call was announced.

He also said Republicans could lose the two Senate runoff elections in the state, which will take place on Tuesday, and said voters would not be able to vote because of it.

Trump is expected to visit the state on Monday to hold a rally in support of Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who stand against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Trump said during the call that he intended to voice his grievances during the rally and Raffensperger could cost the Republicans the seats.

“You have a big choice ahead of you,” said Trump. “Because of what you did to the president, a lot of people don’t vote. And a lot of Republicans will vote negative because they hate what you did to the president.”

Trump also continued his attack on Georgia Republican governor Brian Kemp, calling himself a “sucker” for previously supporting Kemp

Even if Trump does not call on Saturday, he is facing an increasingly acute legal threat after leaving office. His company is the subject of two expanded investigations – one by the Manhattan District Attorney and one by New York State – into possible financial crimes. Although Trump has openly considered the idea of ​​self-forgiveness, such a move would not extend to state or local liability.

“I have been charged with extortion in similar language mob cases,” said Daniel Goldman, a former prosecutor who led the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment investigation in 2019.

Georgia state law contains two provisions criminalizing “incitement to vote fraud” and “conspiracy to commit election fraud”. Trump’s critics also pointed to a federal law that is criminal “Obtaining, submitting or tabulating ballot papers that are known to be materially false, fictitious or fraudulent.”

Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University, said, “The Georgia Code states that anyone who solicits, requests, commands, or otherwise attempts to encourage election fraud is guilty of election fraud. “Request or Request” is the key language. The President no doubt urged the Secretary of State to invent voices and create voices that were not there. Not only did he ask to break the specific lead Joe Biden won, but he also said we needed an extra vote to secure victory in Georgia. “

“There’s just no way that if you read the code and the way the code is structured, and then look at what the President of the United States asked him not to violate this law – the Spirit of it with certainty “, so circle continuation.

Kreis added that the call could not be separated from recent episodes, in which Trump reiterated a false conspiracy theory about Raffensperger’s family and his vows to end the political careers of people like the Secretary of State and Kemp in order to maintain Biden’s election victory. He also said that Trump’s request for a certain number of votes – just enough to get through one – undermined the notion that he was simply asking the truth.

“When I am the President of the United States and my pardon power does not – does not extend to acts of the state – I do not think that in the last few days of my tenure I want to do activities that are even equal to I am remotely capable of one suspended state prosecution, “said Kreis. “That makes me even more confusing because if he had sensible advisors they would just keep him off the phone.”

Ned Foley, director of electoral law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, said: “The nature of what I heard on the appeal raises the question of whether it is functionally equivalent under federal or state law to ask someone Faking elections is returning, which is believed to be criminal in every state in the country. He tries to pull on any string or lever or do anything, including criminal things, to undermine the outcome. “

The White House and the Georgia Secretary of State did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

The Biden camp reprimanded Trump for the call.

“We now have irrefutable evidence that a president is pressuring an official of his own party and threatening to get him to overturn the legal, certified number of votes of one state and fabricate another in his place,” said Bob Bauer, one senior Biden advisor. “It captures the whole, nefarious story of Donald Trump’s attack on American democracy.”

After speaking with Georgia officials, Trump phoned lawmakers from the battlefield states of Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on a Zoom call late Saturday to discuss allegations of election fraud in the presidential election.

Also present, according to someone familiar with the call, were Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, Justice Department official John Lott Jr., and Chapman University law professor John Eastman.

They discussed efforts by both lawmakers and members of Congress to reverse the certified results for Biden, the person said.

The call was made by the group Got Freedom? Organized, which claims to fight election fraud, and plans to hold a similar briefing for members of Congress.

Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Navarro, who was writing a report on the election, mentioned the call to lawmakers during a Fox News appearance on Saturday night.

“We gave them the receipts,” he said. “We explained in detail how the Democratic Party, for strategic reasons, stole this election from Donald J. Trump.”

Tyler Pager and Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.

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