Former President Donald Trump is under criminal investigation in Georgia for trying to coerce state officials into overturning his election loss there, but on Thursday called those efforts “even more” perfect than his 2019 attempt to extort Ukraine into smearing his political opponent ― for which he was later impeached.
“My phone call to the Secretary of State of Georgia was perfect, perhaps even more so than my call with the Ukrainian President, if that’s possible,” Trump wrote in a statement released by his political committee.
It came hours after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Fulton County district attorney had formally asked a judge to impanel a grand jury to help investigate Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to coerce him into reversing Democrat Joe Biden’s win there.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state,” Trump said in the call, which was recorded by Raffensperger’s office and subsequently released to The Washington Post. Trump also threatened Raffensperger with criminal prosecution if he failed to do as Trump demanded.
In her letter to the court, District Attorney Fani Willis wrote that “individuals associated with these disruptions,” as she called Trump’s attempt to interfere in Georgia’s election, had also contacted the state attorney general and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia in their efforts. “Leaving this office as the sole agency with jurisdiction that is not a potential witness to conduct related to this matter,” she wrote.
She added that “a significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses,” including Raffensperger, will not testify absent a grand jury subpoena.
A Brookings Institution report in September, co-authored by a former Georgia district attorney, found that Trump and others in his office ― such as former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows ― could face charges such as soliciting election fraud or even racketeering. Meadows traveled to Georgia in an attempt to pressure local officials during the election recount and later set up that Jan. 2 call with Raffensperger.
If Trump were to be charged and ultimately convicted under Georgia’s criminal solicitation to commit election fraud statute, he could face as much as three years in state prison. If his overall pattern of behavior led to his conviction under Georgia’s RICO statute — Willis’ office hired a RICO expert to assist in the Trump investigation — he could face as much as 20 years in prison.
Trump, in his statement, repeated his frequent lies about “voter fraud” and seemed upset that Raffensperger had taped the conversation. “Although I assumed the call may have been inappropriately, and perhaps illegally, recorded, I was not informed of that,” Trump said. “I didn’t say anything wrong in the call, made while I was President on behalf of the United States of America, to look into the massive voter fraud which took place in Georgia.”
In the spring of 2019, Trump through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his hand-picked ambassador to the European Union began trying to extort the new president of Ukraine into announcing an investigation into Biden, the Democrat he feared most as a 2020 election challenger, using $391 million in military aid as leverage. In a phone call with the Ukrainian leader, Trump actually used the phrase “do us a favor” when asking for the investigation.
That conduct, according to former federal prosecutors, could have resulted in felony charges against any other U.S. official who might have tried it. But Trump, as sitting president, was immune from prosecution.
He was impeached by the House, but the GOP-run Senate refused to remove him from office. Trump claimed through the entire episode that he had done nothing wrong and his phone call, in particular, had been “perfect.”
The state probe in Georgia is just one of numerous investigations Trump is facing for trying to overturn the election he lost on Nov. 3, culminating in the Jan. 6 insurrection that he incited and for which he was also impeached in the final days of his presidency.
The House Jan. 6 committee has interviewed hundreds of witnesses and has started closing in on Trump’s immediate family. On Thursday, it formally asked for an interview with daughter Ivanka Trump, who was in the White House on Jan. 6 and, according to evidence already in the hands of the committee, tried without success to get her father to call off his mob.
And the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Capitol assault, which to date has focused on some 700 Trump followers who breached the building or attacked police officers, has also been looking for connections to Trump and his inner circle.
A year ago, Trump became the first president to refuse to turn over power peacefully to his successor. He spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the November 2020 contest that he lost. Hours after polls closed and it appeared that Biden would be the winner, Trump stated that he had really won in a “landslide” and that his victory was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued with a string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states.
After the Electoral College voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump instead turned to a last-ditch scheme to pressure his own vice president into handing Trump the election during the pro forma congressional certification of the election results on Jan. 6.
Trump asked his followers to come to Washington that day and told the thousands who showed up that they should march to the Capitol to intimidate Pence into doing what Trump wanted. “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules,” Trump said.
The mob of supporters stormed the building and chanted “Hang Mike Pence” when the vice president did not do Trump’s bidding. The riot left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and four other officers took their own lives in the following weeks and months.
Though the House impeached Trump for inciting the attack, all but seven Senate Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, chose not to convict him ― thereby letting Trump continue his political career.