AUTHOR’S NOTE: On Monday, January 4, 2021, I wrote a second story on this same subject which challenged the media narrative about the substance of this call. At the time I wrote the story below I had not had a chance to listen to the recording myself — in fact, I don’t think the recording had been released to the public at that point. The story below was a reaction to the way the mainstream media was covering the recorded call and the comments attributed to Pres. Trump in the call. As I noted below, there was no “context” for the comments, nor was it known whether the “quoted” language was part of a back-and-forth exchange, or just disparate quotes pulled from different times during the call. As it turns out, after I was able to listen to the recording, all the cautionary bells and whistles in my head about relying on mainstream reporting that plays right into their narrative was accurate. The reporting blatantly mischaracterized the call, mostly by making absolutely no reference to the purpose for the call. The comments by the President are mischaracterized and taken out of context, which I cover in great detail in my next story.
But the damage to the President done by the public perception about the call and his comments are likely just as I described below. Only time will tell for sure.
There is a breaking story today about a tape-recorded call which is said to have taken place yesterday between President Trump and the Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger.
This is an interesting story in light of the article I published earlier today about the valid election challenge that remains pending in Georgia, with signs that it is being purposely stalled until such time as the outcome of the case can have no impact on either the election or public perception of the events playing out right now.
The tape was obtained by the Washington Post, but several media outlets are reporting on the contents today.
But the context of the conversation, and Pres. Trump’s comments seem to be mischaracterized to some degree. Most of the “usual suspects” in the media are treating the President’s comments as if he were demanding that Raffensperger fabricate inaccurate election results, referencing Trump’s suggestion that Georgia simply “recalculate” the outcome such that the numbers come out in his favor. But, in the same comment, it is reported that Pres. Trump again claimed that there is no possible way he lost the vote in Georgia and his claim that he won the state by “hundreds of thousands” of votes.
It is also noted that the call involved other participants. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer, were also on the call. I have not seen any clear statement yet that Pres. Trump participated during the entire length of the call, said to have been an hour. I have a suspicion that he did not.
I don’t have a subscription to WaPo as a matter of principle, so I can’t read exactly what they report. But here are some excerpts as reported by other media outlets:
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” Trump said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”
Raffensperger, a Republican who has become a bête noire among Trump supporters for repeatedly saying Biden’s win in his state was fair, said: “Well, Mr President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
Trump said: “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”
He also insisted: “There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
Referring to Senate runoffs on Tuesday that will decide control of that chamber, Trump said Georgia had “a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president – you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam.
“Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president. OK? They hate it. And they’re going to vote. And you would be respected, really respected, if this can be straightened out before the election.”
Trump told Raffensperger: “Stacey Abrams is laughing about you. She’s going around saying, ‘These guys are dumber than a rock.’ What she’s done to this party is unbelievable, I tell you.”
Trump also said he knew the call wasn’t “going anywhere”. Raffensperger ended the conversation.
On Twitter on Sunday, Trump said Raffensperger “was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”
Raffensperger also responded: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true.”
Those quotes come from this article in the Guardian. I have no idea if the quotes are set forth in the sequence they took place, if they were part of back-and-forth exchanges, or if they are simply a collection of sentences spoken by each participant at different times during the call.
But left out of the article altogether is the subject I wrote about earlier — the pending lawsuit brought by the campaign challenging the outcome on the basis that tens of thousands of invalid votes were cast by persons not eligible to vote. Raffensperger dismisses those claims outright in the last sentence, but the FACTS are that those claims have never been litigated where the evidence — whatever it might be — can be considered. Raffensberger’s office has certainly made no effort to do so.
I’m not going to take the time to survey the treatment of this conversation in other media stories covering it today. I’ll simply assume that the rest of the anti-Trump media horde will characterize the exchanges in the same fashion, and follow those characterizations up with lots of predictable claims that Trump’s comments are impeachable because he’s was demanding that the Georgia Secretary of State engage in fraudulent activity to help keep him in office.
There is no question that Pres. Trump regrettably launches into intemperate comments in order to make his thoughts known. I’ve always chalked it up to the life he has lived in the rough-and-tumble of New York business, politics, and the combative media culture. As CEO of a family-owned business, his default approach has always been to direct subordinates to “make it happen” when he wants things done a certain way. That is the mindset that led to the allegations of “obstruction” being leveled against him during the Mueller investigation.
But as I read his comments in these stories, they are all cast in the most sinister fashion — that Trump wants to remain President even knowing that he didn’t win. I don’t see it that way. With all of the allegations that have been made — many unconfirmed at this point in time, but not all — and the admitted irregularities that did take place in many states, he is simply not convinced (and probably never will be) that the actual outcome of the results in certain states is known. Further, the results that are known in some states — like Pennsylvania — include the outcome of decisions by local officials that violated state law, yet those violations are being overlooked in an effort to jam the outcome of the election down the throat of the public.
Nevertheless, whatever motivated his thinking during the course of the call, and no matter what he was trying to express with the words he used, there is a real risk that the manner in which he confronted Raffensperger in the call will result in two very real consequences on Wednesday. First, members of Congress who were on the fence about whether to join the objections raised to the counting of electoral votes from Georgia and other states will now find it easier to not side with the President. Second, members of Congress who are already on record criticizing the announced intention by other members to object have another talking point in the debate with which to criticize the effort.
The outcome of the process on Wednesday is not really in doubt in my view. I’ll have a story tomorrow on the theoretical options available, and what might take place if there was sufficient political courage on the part of the GOP to go down that path. But the “safer” option for GOP officeholders will be the one that doesn’t require political courage.
Regrettably, it’s quite likely that yesterday’s call makes lacking political courage much less consequential.