Georgia Opens Inquiry into Trump Election Phone Call
NOTE: This post was updated on February 10, 2021, to include news of the Fulton County investigation.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office announced earlier this week that it was opening a probe into former President Donald Trump's efforts to pressure Raffensperger to overturn the state's election results.
On the heels of that announcement, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis notified state officials that her office was opening an investigation into "attempts to influence" the election.
While the results of these probes can take months or years, and it's far too early to know if it will lead to criminal charges, it does mean another legal battle for Trump to deal with in his young post-presidency.
An Ill-Advised Phone Call
On January 2, Trump, Raffensperger, and advisors for both men met by phone to discuss the election. Trump repeatedly urged Raffensperger to uncover fraud that would change the state's election results, which gave Joe Biden an 11,779-vote win there.
"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 said in a recording of the call obtained by the Washington Post. He urged Raffensperger to announce that he'd "recalculated" the vote.
Raffensperger, a Republican, and his advisors were adamant in the call that they uncovered no fraud and that Trump's information about various conspiracies was wrong. One of those allegations was that Fulton County officials illegally destroyed ballots to keep them from investigators. And Trump seemed to suggest to Raffensperger and his general counsel that they would be subject to some type of criminal charge if they didn't uncover the evidence.
"That's a criminal offense, and you can't let that happen," Trump said. "That's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer."
Investigation the First Step
The Georgia secretary of state's office described the inquiry as "fact-finding and administrative." A spokesman for the office said they opened the investigation after receiving a complaint from a George Washington University law professor.
Once the investigation is complete, a process that can take months or even years, the State Election Board will meet. The board can choose to dismiss the matter, assess a fine against Trump, or refer the matter to the state attorney general's office or a county district attorney's office. If that occurs, prosecutors will ultimately decide whether to bring criminal charges against Trump.
In the Fulton County investigation, Willis asked state officials -- Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Attorney General Chris Carr -- to preserve documents related to the election. Without specifically naming Trump, Willis' letter to the officials said that her office will look into "potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.” This likely means that Willis' office will look into more than just the phone call, but also other attempts Trump made to persuade Georgia officials to overturn the election results.
What Charges Could Trump Face?
Since the call recording surfaced, legal experts have speculated about the charges Trump could face. They include:
- Conspiracy to commit election fraud
- Criminal solicitation to commit election fraud
- Intentional interference with performance of election duties
Prosecutors could pursue misdemeanor or felony charges on any of the above state criminal violations. Conviction on any of the charges could mean fines or jail time.
However, if either of the investigations lead to criminal charges, Trump could have a strong defense. Prosecutors would need to prove that Trump possessed a guilty mind or deliberate intent to commit a crime. Trump could argue that he believed election fraud truly happened and that he was just trying to get to the bottom of it.
Trump advisor Jason Miller exemplified this line of defense in a statement, saying "there was nothing improper" about the call. "If Mr. Raffensperger didn't want to receive calls about the election, he shouldn't have run for secretary of state."
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