WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Georgia’s top election official said on Monday that President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, had pushed him to take an “inappropriate” call in which he pressured the state to overturn his November presidential election defeat there.
In the call on Saturday, Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to make him the victor in the Southern state, according to a recording published by U.S. media.
“I never believed it was appropriate to speak to the president, but he pushed out, I guess he had his staff push us. They wanted a call,” Raffensperger told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Two Democratic members of Congress asked FBI Director Christopher Wray on Monday to investigate the call.
“We believe Donald Trump engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes. We ask you to open an immediate criminal investigation into the president,” they said in a statement. The Justice Department had no comment on the request by Representatives Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice.
A state Democrat has called for a probe into whether Trump had violated Georgia election law on the call. Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected Trump’s assertions of electoral fraud in the hour-long conversation.
“We took the call, and we had a conversation. He did most of the talking, we did most of the listening,” Raffensperger said.
“But I did want to make my points that the data that he has is just plain wrong. He had hundreds and hundreds of people he said that were dead that voted. We found two. That’s an example of just he has bad data.”
Trump for two months has been claiming contrary to evidence that his loss to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud. Multiple state and federal reviews, as well as courts, have rejected those claims as unsupported.
Biden won the state-by-state Electoral College by 306-232 and carried the popular vote by more than 7 million ballots.
The only Democrat on Georgia’s election board, David Worley, asked Raffensperger in a letter on Sunday to investigate whether the president had violated state law that prohibits solicitation to commit election fraud.
Raffensperger said the district attorney in Fulton County, home to Atlanta, might be the appropriate authority to carry out such an investigation. The county’s district attorney, Fani Willis, said she found news reports about Trump’s phone call with Raffensperger “disturbing.”
The state election board can refer the case to her office and the state attorney general, said Willis, a Democrat elected in November. “I will enforce the law without fear or favor. Anyone who commits a felony violation of Georgia law in my jurisdiction will be held accountable,” Willis said.
In another blow to Trump, staunch conservative Senator Tom Cotton refused to sign on to a long-shot campaign by some dozen other Republicans in the U.S. Senate this week to challenge Biden’s victory, warning it was outside of Congress’ power and would “establish unwise precedents.”
In a statement on Sunday, Cotton said he would not join his colleagues Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and others in defying Republican Party leaders by objecting on Wednesday when lawmakers meet to tally the votes in the Electoral College – a largely symbolic act of certification.
Cotton, Cruz and Hawley are among those considered possible 2024 presidential candidates. Trump, who has not conceded defeat, has also floated the idea of running again in 2024.
Thomas J. Donohue, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, criticized the effort on Monday, saying it “undermines our democracy and the rule of law and will only result in further division across our nation.”
Several moderate Republicans have also joined the criticism of Cruz, Hawley and others for undermining the will of the voters and planning to object – a move they say will not succeed in installing Trump but will erode confidence in U.S. democracy.
It was not immediately clear how the release of Trump’s call with Raffensperger could affect the Republicans’ objection plan.
“This call was not a helpful call,” Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, who is among those planning to object to the certification, told Fox News in an interview on Monday.
U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, criticized the call as “deeply troubling” on Monday, according to a congressional pool report.
But Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who is defending her seat in one of two U.S Senate runoffs in Georgia on Tuesday that will determine control of the chamber, said on Monday she would join the effort to object to the certification.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has publicly acknowledged Biden’s win. Vice President Mike Pence, who will oversee Wednesday’s proceedings, has said the Republicans have the right to object.
Even if Republicans in the Senate were successful in their objections, the campaign would fail in the House, which is controlled by Democrats.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Julia Harte, Susan Heavey and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)