The Georgia phone call that could bring down Donald Trump: ‘I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break’

Trump could be the first former president in US history to face criminal prosecution, depending on the decision of a Georgia prosecutor, Josh Marcus reports

Wednesday 22 February 2023 09:15 EST

By the end of 2024, Donald Trump could be facing two very different prospects: he could be sitting in the White House – or a Georgia prison.

That’s because, since February 2021, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating the former president’s attempts to influence the state’s 2020 presidential election results. In January, a grand jury convened by Ms Willis concluded its work, leaving the prosecutor in the unprecedented position of deciding whether Donald Trump will be the first former president in US history to be prosecuted for a criminal offence.

“You’re not going to be shocked. It’s not rocket science,” Emily Kohrs, foreperson of the jury, told the New York Times of its conclusions. “You won’t be too surprised.”

Last week, portions of the grand jury’s work became public, offering further clues about the former president’s fate in Georgia.

The five-page excerpt revealed that “a majority of the grand jury believes that perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses testifying before it,” with the 23-member panel recommending officials “seek appropriate indictments for such crimes where the evidence is compelling.”

The document doesn’t reveal who may have committed perjury in their eyes, or how close that witness was to Mr Trump, but it’s a sign that investigators are getting closer to a conclusion, bringing to a close a high-profile investigation that began with a phone call.

Key points from Trump's infamous Georgia call

The investigation has focused on an infamous 2 January, 2021, call Mr Trump placed to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, urging the top official to “find” enough votes for him to overturn his defeat in the state, but has expanded to cover a wide-ranging influence campaign Mr Trump and his allies exerted in Georgia.

“We definitely started with the first phone call, the call to Secretary Raffensperger that was so publicized,” Ms Kohrs told the Times.

Here’s what you need to know about the call, and the investigation that followed in its wake.

A ‘perfect’ phone call or a perfect crime?

On 2 January, four days before Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, Mr Trump placed a call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, one of the state’s top election officials. The one-term president had lost his re-election bid in November and was due to step down on 20 January.

On the call, a recording of which was published by the Washington Post, Mr Trump can be heard appearing to threaten the state official and calling for him to change the state’s election tallies.

“All I want to do is this,” Mr Trump says in the recording. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

“So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes,” he says elsewhere. “Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”

The conversation is filled with Mr Trump making outlandish, conspiratorial claims about the Georgia election, as state officials gently correct him.

“There’s no way I lost Georgia,” Mr Trump says at one point. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”

“Mr President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong,” Mr Raffensperger says in response to one outburst.

Things take an even more unprecedented turn when Mr Trump appears to be threatening the Georgia official.

“All of this stuff is very dangerous stuff when you talk about no criminality,” Mr Trump says at another point. “I think it’s very dangerous for you to say that.”

“I felt then – and still believe today – that this was a threat,” Mr Raffensperger later wrote of the call. “Others obviously thought so, too, because some of Trump’s more radical followers have responded as if it was their duty to carry out this threat.”

The state official and his family have faced death threats in the wake of Mr Trump’s attacks on the Georgia election system.

Shortly after the call was released, Mr Raffensperger said he originally hadn’t planned on releasing the audio, but did so in response to Mr Trump’s claims online that he spoke with the Georgia official who was “unwilling or unable to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more.”

“It was a private conversation as far as I was concerned,” Mr Raffensperger told Georgia news station 11 Alive. “And he broke privacy when he put out a tweet – but the tweet was false.”

Key points from Trump's infamous Georgia call

“If you’re gonna put out stuff that we don’t believe is true, we’re going to respond in-kind,” he added.

Mr Trump has continued to maintain the exchange was a “PERFECT call protesting the Rigged Georgia Election.”

That wasn’t the only call Mr Trump placed during the hectic final days before Joe Biden’s inauguration.

In another recorded call, also reported by the Post, Mr Trump can be heard urging Frances Watson, Georgia’s chief election investigator, to uncover “dishonesty.”

“When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” he says in the recording.

The call to Mr Raffensperger was later cited during Donald Trump’s second impeachment.

His allies carried out similar tactics.

In November of 2020, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham called Mr Raffensperger’s office and suggested throwing out absentee ballots from counties with high rates of nonmatching signatures.

A gang prosecutor versus a former president

Ms Willis, despite the high-profile case, says she isn’t phased by the stakes.

“The reality is, we have a job, and the job is just to try to find the truth,” she recently told the New York Times magazine. “We’re just going to do that case like every other. I don’t know why it’s shocking to people. If it turns out that charges are legitimate, we’re going to bring them. And if it turns out that charges are not warranted, we’re not going to bring them. We’re just going through the process.”

Fox News panelist laughed at for defending Trump's call to Raffensperger

She has a reputation, according to observers, of being a fearless prosecutor, who has carried out RICO cases against alleged gangs in Atlanta, including one against rapper Young Thug and his associates.

“Fani Willis is known as a very hard-nosed prosecutor,” Tamar Hallerman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told Vox. “She is a lady who works her butt off and dots her i’s and crosses her t’s. Further, she’s shown over her career that she’s not afraid of doing unpopular things if she believes they’re just. She is most famous for prosecuting school teachers and principals in an Atlanta Public Schools school cheating scandal, and used a racketeering law to charge a dozen teachers for changing test scores. Some in the African American community still think she went too far by using this.”

She has also sought, thus far, to be discreet, urging courts to keep sealed the grand jury’s findings for the time being.

A Fulton County judge agreed with her earlier this month. Superior Court judge Robert McBurney ruled that he would unseal portions of the grand jury’s work, including an introduction and section on the alleged perjury, while keeping other parts under wraps, an attempt to balance “the compelling public interest in these proceedings” and the protect due process of the accused.

The prosecutor may be nonchalant, but Mr Trump’s potential crimes are anything but casual.

He could be charged under the state RICO law, normally used to target mafia and gang conspiracies, as well as a number of Georgia state felonies and misdemeanors involving efforts to solicit election fraud, commit it personally, tamper with the elector list, or make false statements regarding the work of state agencies.

Ms Kohrs, the jury foreperson, said there are several sections of the grand jury’s recommendations which haven’t yet been made public, containing multiple charges against several individuals. She stopped short of naming anyone directly, including Mr Trump.

“It is not a short list,” she said in her New York Times interview.

Since Ms Willis’s investigation began in February of 2021, her focus has apparently broadened.

Former Trump officials and allies have been called to testify, including former White House council Pat Cipollone, former senator Kelly Loeffler, Senator Lindsey Graham, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Mr Graham made multiple attempts to quash the subpoena ordering him to testify, a fight that went all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Another key area of focus is a December 2020 plot, allegedly directed by Trump campaign officials and potentially the former president himself, to organize a slate of unauthorised Republican electors to cast the state’s Electoral College votes, rather than the Democratic slate Georgia voters had selected. The group of false electors included the chair of the Georgia GOP and Republican members of the state legislature. They’ve defended their efforts as a back-up in case the original election results were tossed out in court.

Donald Trump’s lawyers say they’re confident he’ll avoid charges.

"To date, we have never been a part of this process. The grand jury compelled the testimony of dozens of other, often high-ranking, officials during the investigation, but never found it important to speak with the President," attorneys Drew Findling, Marissa Goldberg and Jennifer Little said in late January. "He was never subpoenaed nor asked to come in voluntarily by this grand jury or anyone in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Therefore, we can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump."

The newly released grand jury document paints few clues about what will happen to the former president.

Outside of the perjury allegation against the unnamed witness, the report describes the grand jury getting testimony from over 75 witnesses, and concluding “no widespread fraud took place” in Georgia’s 2020 election.

Trump's Georgia election challenge is 'insanity,' CNN commentator says

Outside observers, however, believe the 23-member jury is likely to recommend criminal charges against Mr Trump nonetheless.

“The evidence is powerful and the law is very favourable to the prosecutors in Georgia,” Norman Eisen, the lead author of a Brookings report considering the Georgia case and former White House special counsel for ethics and government reform, told the Guardian. “I believe the [special grand jury] report very likely calls for the prosecution of Trump and his co-conspirators.”

The jury is also reportedly confident in their conclusions.

“I fully stand by our report as our decision and our conclusion,” Ms Kohrs told the Associated Press.

What next?

Even if Mr Trump doesn’t face serious charges, or any at all, he’s still not out of legal jeopardy.

Since leaving office, he’s been under a cloud of lawsuits and investigations, including accusations of mishandling classified documents, fomenting the January 6 riot, and raping a writer in New York. He denies all the accusations against him, saying they are part of a political “witch hunt”.

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