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Trump presses Georgia official to rig vote in his favor — and it's on tape

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and President

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and President Donald Trump. Credit: Composite: EPA / Erik S. Lesser and Jim Lo Scalzo

Strong-arm robbery attempt?

Spouting threats, insults and a litany of baseless fraud claims, President Donald Trump leaned hard on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — potentially to the point of criminality — to massage the election tallies to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's narrow victory in the state. A tape of Saturday's phone call was obtained by The Washington Post and published Sunday.

"There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you’ve recalculated," Trump told Raffensperger, who has stood by the integrity of the state's election results, withstanding vicious attacks via Twitter by Trump and death threats by the president's supporters. "So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump said. He meant that it would be one more than needed to overcome Biden's 11,779-vote margin of victory in Georgia.

Throughout the call, Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected Trump’s assertions, explaining that the president is relying on debunked conspiracy theories. "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong," Georgia's top election official said.

Trump issued a vague threat of criminal charges against both Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, Raffensperger’s general counsel, accusing them of knowing about a fraud cover-up but not reporting it. "That’s a criminal offense," Trump said. "I’m notifying you that you’re letting it happen." That's when the president pivoted: "All I want to do is this," asking Raffensperger to find him "11,780 votes."

He suggested Raffensperger was duped by Democrats "playing you and laughing at you behind your back." By exhorting the secretary of state to "find" votes for him, the Post reported, Trump appeared to be encouraging him to doctor the state-certified election outcome.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris called Trump’s conversation a "baldfaced, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States." The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Trump's effort "strikes at the heart of our democracy and merits nothing less than a criminal investigation." It's not just federal law at issue — Trump could have run afoul of Georgia state law against soliciting election fraud. If Trump is ever charged under that statute, there's no way he could get pardoned to avoid the consequences.

Here are links from The Washington Post to excerpts of the tape and the full recording, which runs just over an hour. To read a complete transcript, click here.

On a Cruz to nowhere?

Nearly a quarter of Senate Republicans are preparing officially to challenge Biden’s Electoral College win on Wednesday, when Congress meets in joint session for the final election certification.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and at least 10 of his colleagues will call for rejecting the electors from states where Trump is disputing Biden's victories until there is an "emergency 10-day audit" of those results by a commission Congress would create. Once the investigation is completed, according to Cruz, legislatures in those states could decide whether to change their results. Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over the joint session in his role as president of the Senate, supports the GOP lawmakers’ efforts, according to a top aide. But Congress, not Pence, has the ultimate say, required by law to count only the electoral votes certified by state governments, Politico writes.

Separately, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is joining a bid by House Republicans to object to the certification of the Electoral College results. Its leader, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, received the blessing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Hawley and the senators with Cruz are defying Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's call for Senate Republicans to stay out it.

The Cruz and Hawley-Brooks groups have no chance of mustering majorities in either house to prevail, but they say they are responding to distrust among Republican voters about the results. The distrust was fanned by the drumbeat of false fraud claims promoted by Trump and his right-wing allies.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), pointing to the story of Trump trying to get Raffensperger to change Georgia's result, tweeted: "Hey @SenTedCruz and his gang: You want to investigate election fraud? Start with this."

Other Republicans: Don't do this

A number of prominent Republicans who object to the certification-challenge plans are excoriating those in the party who are leading or going along with the proposals.

"The egregious ploy to reject electors may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic," said a statement from Utah's Sen. Mitt Romney. "… Members of Congress who would substitute their own partisan judgement for that of the courts do not enhance public trust, they imperil it."

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was Romney's running mate on the losing 2012 GOP ticket, said it is "difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act." In a statement, Ryan said, "Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden’s victory strike at the foundation of our republic."

Wyoming's Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranked Republican in the House, wrote in a memo to colleagues that a "dangerous precedent" was at hand as some lawmakers bid "to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress." A statement from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said: "The courts and state legislatures have all honored their duty to hear legal allegations and have found nothing to warrant overturning the results."

South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham, usually a Trump ally, tweeted that Cruz's scheme "has zero chance of becoming reality" and "appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy." Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania said in a blistering statement that the effort "directly undermines" Americans’ right to choose their leaders and would "disenfranchise millions of voters in my state and others."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, said the Republican "publicity stunt" wouldn’t prevent Biden from being inaugurated on Jan. 20. "Every single state in America has certified its election results and that includes by Republican secretaries of state and governors," Klobuchar said in a statement. For more, see Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.

Trump ally: Rioting is an option

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) didn't take it well Friday after a federal judge quickly threw out his lawsuit claiming that Pence has the extraordinary power to overturn the election.

"Bottom line is, the court is saying, ‘We’re not going to touch this, you have no remedy,’ " Gohmert said in an interview with Newsmax. "Basically, in effect, the ruling would be that you’ve got to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM."

It's not the first time Gohmert went there. At a "Million MAGA March" in November near the White House, he urged Trump supporters to consider "revolution" like the American War of Independence.

On Saturday, Gohmert claimed in a statement he was not urging violence but that he has "long advocated for following the teaching and example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of peaceful protest." Also on Saturday, a federal appeals court threw out Gohmert's suit.

Rigging, a Trump history

The stakes of course are higher now, but Trump's late effort to rig the Georgia vote is not his first venture in attempted manipulation of results.

The Wall Street Journal wrote two years ago about how his former fixer, Michael Cohen, hired an IT firm in 2014 to manipulate a CNBC poll asking people to identify the country’s top 100 leaders, and a Matt Drudge poll in 2015 that asked people to vote for their favorite candidate in the Republican primary. Cohen said later, after his break with the president, "what I did was at the direction of" Trump.

More familiar, as The New York Times recalled, are the episodes when Trump railed against contests that he lost: the Emmys, the Nobel Peace Prize and the 2016 Iowa Republican caucus. In that instance, he accused the Iowa winner, Cruz — yes, that Ted Cruz — of "fraud" — and demanded a remedy: "either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified."

Trump: COVID toll count fake

The president took a brief detour from obsessive tweeting about the election claims to revisit his past preelection assertions that the nation's coronavirus death toll — now more than 350,000 — is "far exaggerated," reports Newsday's Eidler.

Trump tweeted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses a "ridiculous method" that amounts to: " ‘When in doubt, call it Covid.’ Fake News!" Two top federal health officials stood by the CDC during Sunday talk show appearances.

Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said, "From a public health perspective, I have no reason to doubt those numbers."

"The deaths are real deaths," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, adding that jam-packed hospitals and stressed-out health care workers are "not fake. That’s real." Fauci also noted, "We are averaging 2,000 to 3,000 deaths per day."

Trump also tweeted that too much credit goes to Fauci instead of himself. "Something how Dr. Fauci is revered by the LameStream Media as such a great professional, having done, they say, such an incredible job, yet he works for me and the Trump Administration, and I am in no way given any credit for my work," he said.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • All 10 living former secretaries of defense wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that involving the military in election disputes "would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory." The ex-secretaries — including Trump's first two, James Mattis and Mark Esper, and Republicans Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — declared that "the time for questioning the results has passed" and that acting Secretary Christopher Miller should be giving Biden's transition team wholehearted cooperation. William Perry, a defense secretary under Bill Clinton, said the letter began as an idea by Cheney, also a former vice president.
  • Biden's scaled-down inaugural events on Jan. 20 will still include a traditional role for the military. After the swearing-in, Biden and Harris will participate in a "Pass in Review" ceremony on the Capitol’s East Front with members of the military. Then, Biden will get an escort to the White House from representatives of every branch of the military, including the U.S. Army Band. Thousands of National Guard members will assist U.S. Park Police and other law enforcement with crowd management, traffic control, emergency response services and communications support.
  • The Secret Service has been making staff changes in the presidential detail that guards Biden, amid concerns from his allies that some current members are politically aligned with Trump, The Washington Post reported. The Secret Service plans to bring back to the White House detail a handful of senior agents Biden knows from his days as vice president.
  • The newest member of Long Island’s congressional delegation, Rep. Andrew Garbarino, a Republican from Bay Shore, was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives on Sunday evening, taking his oath alongside other masked lawmakers in a first-of-its-kind ceremony shaped by coronavirus restrictions. See Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
  • Trump is expected to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), two of his most strident defenders against the Russia investigation and impeachment, Axios reports.

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