Trump is heard on audiotape pressuring Georgia secretary of state to 'find' votes to overturn Biden's win

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President Donald Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to reverse his loss to President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia, according to an hourlong recorded phone call obtained by The Washington Post.

The revelation comes after Trump has publicly disparaged election officials in Georgia, blaming his loss in the state on widespread voter fraud, though the Justice Department found no such evidence of fraud that would change the outcome of November's election.

"There's no way I lost Georgia," Trump insisted Saturday during the call, audio excerpts of which were published by the Post Sunday. "There's no way. We won hundreds of thousands of votes."

Trump and Raffensperger exchanged tweets about the conversation Sunday morning: Trump said Raffensperger was "unwilling, or unable" to answer questions about fraud. "He has no clue!" Trump wrote.

"Respectfully, President Trump: What you're saying is not true. The truth will come out," Raffensperger responded.

During the call, the president insulted, complimented and pleaded with Raffensperger to cooperate with him in altering the election results.

Trump called Raffensperger a "child," a "schmuck" and “either dishonest or incompetent” for not supporting claims of widespread voter fraud in Atlanta, the state's largest city, the Post reported.

“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” Trump said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”

“Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong," Raffensperger responded.

Trump asked for Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to alter the result of the election.

“So look. 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," the president said.

Georgia officials tallied votes for the presidential election three times, including in an audit required by state law and a recount requested by the president. Each count determined that Biden won the state, the first Democrat to do so since 1992.

Biden won the state by a margin of 12,670 votes, or 0.25% of the roughly 5 million ballots cast.

Others on the call Saturday included White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and prominent conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell, the Post reported.

The president's unsubstantiated claims of a mass election conspiracy have been supported by large parts of the GOP base, as well as Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face Democrats in Georgia's Senate runoff Tuesday.

Raffensperger, a Republican and a Trump supporter, has repeatedly denounced the president's claims of election fraud as unfounded.

His refusal to support the president's effort to overturn the state's election results have earned him intense backlash from other Republicans, including protests at his house and a letter from Perdue and Loeffler calling on him to step down from his office.

The president's claims have found strong support outside Georgia as well.

More than 140 Republican members of the House of Representatives will contest Congress' official counting of the Electoral College vote Wednesday. A dozen sitting and incoming Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, will also contest the count, ensuring the long-shot effort will be debated in the upper chamber.

This is not the first time the president has pressured Georgia officials to alter the results of the state's election.

On Dec. 5, Trump urged Gov. Brian Kemp to demand the state Legislature act to overturn Biden's victory in Georgia. Kemp refused and has been subjected to a steady barrage of Trump attacks in the weeks since.

The president's comments on the phone call resulted in a seismic reaction from across the political spectrum.

"We now have irrefutable proof of a president pressuring and threatening an official of his own party to get him to rescind a state's lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place. It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump's assault on American democracy," said Bob Bauer, senior legal advisor to the Biden presidential campaign.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement that Trump's conversation with Raffensperger amounted to "a pathetic, rambling, delusional rant" and that his actions merit "nothing less than a criminal investigation."

Legal and election experts expressed concern about the president's conduct, indicating his comments were improper and possibly illegal.

Neal Katyal, who was acting solicitor general during President Barack Obama's administration, said the Trump call to Raffensperger "demonstrates an impeachable, perhaps criminal, offense. It is a behind-the-scenes look at how Trump carries out the presidency, abusing his power for his gain."

Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia Miller Center, said Trump's call "strikes at the heart of American democracy" and amounts to constitutional violations of Article II and the presidential oath of office.

"It is a violation of the oath of office, whereby this president is supposed to carry out the office of the presidency," Perry said. "And then you look to Article II of the Constitution, which grants executive power to the president, but in no way, shape or form says that the president is supposed to tinker with the election returns."

Under Article II, the president is supposed to "take care that the laws are faithfully executed," Perry said.

Edward B. Foley, a professor of constitutional and election law at The Ohio State University, said his concern is "the health and integrity of the electoral process that allows voters to choose their leaders. That requires politicians in the system to accept the counting of the votes and the result of the process."

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, said if the audio is taken literally, "the president is asking the Georgia secretary of state to falsify election returns and come up with enough votes to have Trump carry Georgia."

He also noted Trump appeared to vaguely threaten criminal action against Raffensperger.

"Trying to pressure someone to engage in election fraud could be seen as a criminal attempt, though I am not sure Trump will ever be prosecuted for it."

“It is absolutely outrageous and completely unacceptable," Guy-Uriel Charles, the Edward and Ellen Schwarzman professor of law at Duke University, told USA TODAY.

"It seems pretty clear that the president was asking the secretary of state to commit election fraud. The very nature of the ask is outrageous," Charles said. "The process is done for all intents and purposes.

"I think it's fair to exhaust all legal remedies; I think it's fair to file lawsuits, even those with little legal standing. But trying to exert pressure on state and local officials to overturn the results of an election should not be tolerated," he said. "That's a red line that should not be crossed."

Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Nelly Miles said Sunday that there have been no requests for the agency to review the communication.

Contributing: Nicholas Wu, David Jackson, Courtney Subramanian

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump heard on audiotape pressuring Georgia official to 'find' votes