Georgia’s top elections official received a phone call from Donald Trump on 2 January, 2021, with a warning that he would be taking a “big risk” declaring Joe Biden the victor weeks after then-President Trump lost the state in the 2020 presidential election.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” then-President Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during the hour-long call, four days before a joint session of Congress convened to certify the electoral college results – a ceremony violently interrupted by a mob of Mr Trump’s supporters.
Mr Raffensperger, a Republican, told a federal courtroom on 28 August that Mr Trump’s “outreach to that extent was extraordinary.”
That call is central to a sweeping racketeering indictment from state prosecutors charging Mr Trump and 18 co-defendants for their alleged criminal enterprise to keep him in power at whatever cost.
Mr Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was on that call, is asking a judge to remove the case from the jurisdiction of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and into federal court. Mr Meadows also testified during the hearing on Monday.
Mr Raffensperger, who was subpoenaed by Ms Willis to appear in US District Court in Atlanta, testified that he believed a call with White House would be inappropriate.
“I told my deputy I don’t think this is in our best interest,” he said, according to CNN.
He also said he did not initially return a call because Mr Meadows didn’t leave him a phone number.
Mr Meadows sent a text message to Mr Raffensperger in December 2020 asking him to call the “White House switchboard” because his voice mailbox was full, according to messages he provided to the House select committee separately investigating the events surrounding the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021
Prosecutors played audio clips from the call during the hearing; Mr Raffensperger noted that there were no officials from the US Department of Justice or the White House counsel’s office on the call.
“I thought that it was a campaign call,” Mr Raffensperger said.
He also stressed that neither the White House nor presidential campaigns play any role in the state certification of election outcomes – an argument that undermines arguments from Mr Meadows and his attorneys that he was merely fulfilling his duties as part of his federal duties on behalf of the president.
Asked by prosecutors whether he believed Mr Trump won the 2020 election, Mr Raffensperger said: “They lost the election.”
Defending the integrity of the state’s election results and ongoing attempts to undermine them, he said: ”We spoke the truth.”
Monday’s hearing comes two weeks after a Fulton County grand jury indictment presented the largest and most significant case yet facing Mr Trump and others connected to an alleged racketeering scheme in which they “knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election” to ensure he remained in power.
Mr Meadows faces two counts in the sprawling 41-count indictment outlining dozens of acts that encompass the conspiracy: one count of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO statute, and one count of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer.
Attorneys for Mr Meadows have asked for the “prompt removal” of the case from Fulton County, citing federal law that allows US officials to remove civil or criminal trials from state court over alleged actions performed “under color” of their offices, with Mr Meadows performing such acts during his “tenure” as White House chief of staff, they wrote in court filings.
Prosecutors, however, have argued that Mr Meadows was acting on behalf of the Trump campaign, performing acts that were “all ‘unquestionably political’ in nature and therefore, by definition, outside the lawful scope of his authority” as chief of staff.
“Even if the defendant somehow had been acting as authorized under federal law (rather than directly contrary to it), that authority would be negated by the evidence of his ‘personal interest, malice, actual criminal intent,’” they wrote.