US President Donald Trump’s doomed attempts to overturn his electoral defeat to President-elect Joe Biden took a dramatic and potentially damaging twist after he was heard in a leaked audio pressing election officials in Georgia state, which he lost, to “find” him the votes he needed to win.
“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 the leaked recording of a phone call with Georgia state secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, a Republican. Other officials on the call included Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows. Trump lost Georgia by 11,779 votes.
The recording was obtained and first reported by The Washington Post hours after Trump first reported the conversation that took place on Saturday, in a tweet, with his own spin on it. Raffensperger tweeted back shortly after disputing the president’s version.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” Trump told Raffensperger in the conversation, adding, “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”
Raffensperger responded: “Well, Mr President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
Georgia has been a solidly Republican state that the president lost in a stunning upset, along with other swing states that put Biden easily across the finishing line in electoral college votes. He won 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232; and secured 7 million more popular votes.
“There’s no way I lost Georgia,” Trump said. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.” For evidence, he offered conspiracy theories and numbers that have not withstood scrutiny. At one point, he cited the size of his election rallies, which attracted large number of supporters, to suggest he could not have lost.
Raffensperger and all other elected Republican officials in Georgia have withstood weeks of unrelenting pressure from the president, his lawyers and allies to change the election outcome. The audits and recounts, including one by hand, bore out the initial result, but Trump was not giving up.
The outgoing president and his allies have filed more than 60 lawsuits including in the swing states that he had lost by wider margins: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada. The Trump camp lost almost all the cases including two in the Supreme Court, where a third of the justices are the president’s appointees.
The final chapter in his attempts to cling to power will be played out at a joint session of US Congress on Wednesday when lawmakers meet, as constitutionally tasked, to deliver the final certification of the election results reported by the states. At least 12 Republican senators and around 140 members of the House of Representatives have announced their intention to oppose the certification, but don’t have the numbers, not even enough Republicans, to block it. It was not immediately known how the objectors will respond to the tape, which was seen by critics as an egregious attempt by the president to steal the election, with votes he did not win.
Also on Sunday, the outgoing president was rebuked jointly by 10 former defence secretaries, who had served both Republican and Democratic presidents. “Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted,” they wrote. “The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived.”