Georgia Officials Reveal Third Trump Call Seeking to Influence Election Results

By Richard Fausset and Katie Benner

In a December call, President Trump told a Georgia election investigator that the official would be a “national hero” for finding evidence of fraud. White House officials’ pressure on the federal prosecutor in Atlanta to resign was also revealed.

Ballots being recounted in Atlanta after the presidential election.
Ballots being recounted in Atlanta after the presidential election.Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

ATLANTA — More than a week before President Trump called Georgia’s secretary of state, pressuring him to “find” votes to help overturn his electoral loss, the president made another call, this one to a top Georgia election investigator, in which he asked the investigator to “find the fraud” in the state.

The earlier phone call, which came to light on Saturday, along with the revelation that White House officials had pushed the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta to resign, underlined a broader push by Mr. Trump to overturn election results in the state.

Mr. Trump’s phone call, made in late December, was first reported by The Washington Post. The content of the Post report was verified by a state election official who requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about the matter.

In the call, Mr. Trump said the investigator would be a “national hero” for finding evidence of fraud. At the time, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office was conducting an audit of more than 15,000 ballots in Cobb County, a populous suburb of Atlanta that was formerly a Republican stronghold but voted against Mr. Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

The audit appeared to be an effort to placate Mr. Trump and his allies, who repeatedly, and baselessly, argued that he lost the election in Georgia by around 12,000 votes because of a “rigged” system. The president also repeatedly alleged that there were problems with the signature-matching system by which election officials in the state verify the identity of absentee voters.

On Dec. 29, the office of Mr. Raffensperger, a Republican, announced that the audit had found no evidence of fraud.

The new details about the president’s personal pressure campaign on Georgia officials comes as Democrats in the House of Representatives announced their plans to introduce an article of impeachment against the president for “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States,” a reference to the pro-Trump mob that violently attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Mr. Trump is also facing growing calls to resign, while his cabinet is under pressure to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

ImageA voter dropped his ballot into a collection box in Cobb County, Ga.
A voter dropped his ballot into a collection box in Cobb County, Ga.Credit...Audra Melton for The New York Times

A number of legal scholars have said that Mr. Trump’s call to Mr. Raffensperger, in which the president seemed to vaguely threaten Mr. Raffensperger with “a criminal offense,” may have violated state and federal laws prohibiting election interference, though some have also said it may be difficult for prosecutors to pursue the matter.

Earlier in December, Mr. Trump made a third call, this one to Gov. Brian Kemp, urging him to convene a special session of the Georgia legislature in hopes that lawmakers would overturn the election results.

Mr. Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger have rejected all of Mr. Trump’s efforts to get them to help him overturn the election results, even though both are conservative Republicans and Trump supporters. Mr. Trump has publicly attacked both men, spreading a baseless conspiracy theory about Mr. Raffensperger’s brother and promising that he would back a candidate in the Republican primary to challenge Mr. Kemp, who is up for re-election next year.

In a television interview on Monday, Mr. Raffensperger was asked if his office would open an investigation into the president’s phone call with him. He replied that because he had been on the Jan. 2 call, he might have a conflict of interest and suggested instead that such an investigation might be in the works by the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis.

Last week, a spokesman for Ms. Willis said that no investigation had been opened. But Ms. Willis, in a statement released last week, did not rule out the possibility, and called the news of the president’s call to Mr. Raffensperger “disturbing.”

The U.S. attorney in Atlanta faced similar pressure related to false claims of election fraud.

Shortly before the U.S. attorney, Byung J. Pak, abruptly resigned on Monday, the acting deputy attorney general, Richard Donoghue, relayed Mr. Trump’s dissatisfaction with his efforts to investigate false claims of mass voter fraud in his district, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of the phone call.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

Mr. Pak was also upset when he discovered that Mr. Trump had criticized him during his phone call last Saturday with Mr. Raffensperger.

While Mr. Trump did not call out Mr. Pak by name, he falsely claimed that not enough had been done to uncover mass voter fraud in Fulton County, where Atlanta is. He added, “You have your never-Trumper U.S. attorney there.”

Mr. Pak had planned to announce his departure on Monday, the day before the Georgia runoff elections, according to a person familiar with his job search. But dismayed by Mr. Trump’s comments, he believed that it would be better to accelerate his departure and resign effective immediately, rather than give several days’ notice, according to a third person with knowledge of Mr. Pak’s departure.

Mr. Donoghue has also faced pressure to stand up unproven and false claims by Mr. Trump that he would have won the election but for extensive voter fraud in states like Georgia.

In phone calls and meetings in recent weeks, Mr. Trump pressured and berated politicians and officials, including Mr. Donoghue and the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, for not doing enough to overturn the results of the election, according to a person familiar with the conversations.

Despite Mr. Trump’s entreaties to do more on voter fraud, neither Mr. Rosen nor Mr. Donoghue has made any public statements on the matter. They have not supported Mr. Trump’s false claims that he won the election or undermined comments made by former Attorney General William P. Barr that there was no need to appoint a special counsel to investigate the matter.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that a top Justice Department official had called Mr. Pak.

Officials at the department have quietly pushed back on efforts to undo the election, defending Vice President Mike Pence in a federal lawsuit that sought to pressure him to overturn the results, a move that took Mr. Trump by surprise, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The case was dismissed.

Richard Fausset reported from Atlanta, and Katie Benner from Washington. Stephanie Saul contributed reporting from New York, and Adam Goldman from Washington.