Georgia Secretary of State’s Brad Raffensperger has opened an investigation Monday into the infamous leaked recorded phone call he had with President Trump on Jan. 2.
“The Secretary of State’s office investigates complaints it receives,” Walter Jones, a spokesman for Raffensperger’s office said in a statement. “The investigations are fact-finding and administrative in nature. Any further legal efforts will be left to the Attorney General.”
Findings are typically brought before the Republican-controlled state board of elections, which decides whether to refer them for prosecution to the state attorney general or another agency.
After such investigation is completed, investigators will present their findings to the State Election Board, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats and is chaired by Raffensperger. The board could decide to dismiss the case, send a reprimand or refer the case to prosecutors.
Raffensperger’s office had faced calls to open a probe after the recorded Jan. 2 phone call was leaked by the Secretary of State where Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” nearly 12,000 votes to overturn Biden’s election victory in the Peach State, while accusing the Republican official of covering up and engaging in criminal acts.
“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said on the hour-long call. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you’ve recalculated.”
“The ballots are corrupt, and they’re brand new, and they don’t have seals, and there’s a whole thing with the ballots. But the ballots are corrupt. And you are going to find that they are — which is totally illegal — it is more illegal for you than it is for them because, you know, what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer,” Trump added.
Two Democratic Reps. Kathleen Rice, of New York, and Ted Lieu of California sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation calling for a criminal probe into Trump’s call to Raffensperger.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint from George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf III, according to a case initiation document provided by the secretary of state’s office.
David Worley, the sole Democrat on the Georgia elections board said that administrative inquiries by the Secretary of State’s office could result in criminal charges.
“Any investigation of a statutory violation is a potential criminal investigation depending on the statute involved,” Worley said. “The complaint that was received involved a criminal violation.”
Worley noted that now that an inquiry had been opened by Raffensperger’s office, he would not personally introduce a motion at this week’s state board of election meeting, in an effort to urge Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to open a criminal investigation into Trump’s phone calls with election officials.
Willis is currently weighing whether to begin a criminal inquiry of her own and is considering hiring a special assistant from outside to oversee the investigation. Willis is expected to make some type of announcement on the matter “one way or another” this month, according to a source.
Last month in a statement, Willis described the Jan. 2 call as “disturbing.”
“It is my understanding from news reports that a member of the State Election Board has requested that the Secretary’s elections division investigate the call, after which the board can refer the case to my office and the state attorney general,” Willis said. “Anyone who commits a felony violation of Georgia law in my jurisdiction will be held accountable. Once the investigation is complete, this matter, like all matters, will be handled by our office based on the facts and the law.”
The phone call is also expected to play a prominent role for House impeachment managers that they will use as evidence of “blatant attempt” by Trump to overturn the 2020 election, according to the pre-trial brief.
“When the President of the United States demanded that Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the election — or else face ‘a big risk to you’ and ‘a criminal offense’ — that was obviously a threat, one which reveals his state of mind (and his desperation to try to retain power by any means necessary),” the House brief says.
Trump’s legal team pushed back, saying the conversation Trump had with Raffensperger lends nothing to the argument on whether he incited the Capitol insurrection. They added that any threats of death or violence toward Raffensperger were made not by Trump directly, but by social media users.
“Examining the discussion with the Georgia secretary of state under the standard of ‘incitement,’ leads to the same conclusion as the January 6, 2021 statements of Mr. Trump: there is nothing said by Mr. Trump that urges ‘use of force’ or ‘law violation’ directed to producing imminent lawless action,” the defense brief says.