A leaked phone call has implicated President Donald Trump in yet another ‘biggest scandal since Watergate’, with the chances of this scandal, like the countless scandals before it, likely having zero impact.
On Monday, the Washington Post published a phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump urged Raffensperger to “find” votes that would help him overturn the US presidential election.
“There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump says at one point.
In another, he says: “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.”
Trump to Raffensperger (via @washingtonpost):
"You know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's a criminal- that's a criminal offense… that's a big risk."
"I'm notifying you that you're letting it happen."
"I just want to find 11,780 votes." pic.twitter.com/a3j4k0LJEa
— Andrew Solender (@AndrewSolender) January 3, 2021
Raffensperger, a Republican, repeatedly refused to do any such thing, saying that he believed the election was fair.
In the hour-long phone call, the Washington Post reports that Trump begged, flattered and threatened Raffensperger with “vague criminal consequences” in an attempt to coerce him into fudging the election results.
“The rambling and at times incoherent conversation offered a remarkable glimpse of how consumed and desperate the president remains about his loss, unwilling or unable to let the matter go and still asserting he can reverse the results in enough battleground states to remain in office,” Washington Post reporter Amy Gardner wrote.
No surprises as to why the call leaked: here’s what was tweeted mere hours earlier.
Respectfully, President Trump: What you're saying is not true. The truth will come out https://t.co/ViYjTSeRcC
— GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (@GaSecofState) January 3, 2021
Trump does a lot of brainless shit. Why is this worse?
The defining characteristic of the Trump era is that everything moves so fast. One minute, Trump is being impeached for soliciting damaging information on his political rival Joe Biden, the next, we’re all just carrying on waiting for the next borderline illegal (or actually illegal) thing he’ll do next.
To put it simply: attempting to defraud the residents of a fair and impartially conducted election process is a federal crime. It’s also a crime in the state of Georgia.
Famed reporter Carl Bernstein said the phone call was “far worse than Watergate”, referring to the story he broke in 1972 alongside Bob Woodward.
“In any other presidency, this tape would be evidence enough to result in the impeachment of the president of the United States,” Bernstein told CNN.
“And really, an immediate call by members of Congress, including his own party, that he resign immediately.”
And that’s the key phrase: in any other presidency.
So like, will anything happen?
The specific bit that might have – and probably did – violate state and federal law is this bit, when Trump told Raffensperger:
“You know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offence. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that’s a big risk.”
Former Justice Department inspector general and lawyer Michael Bromwich said it unless other evidence came to light, it was clear Trump committed a crime.
“Unless there are portions of the tape that somehow negate criminal intent, ‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’ and his threats against Raffensperger and his counsel violate 52 U.S. Code § 20511,” Bromwich said on Twitter.
“His best defence would be insanity.”
However, the New York Times spoke to several legal experts (including Bromwich), many of whom said it was unlikely anything would happen here.
Basically: Trump would have to know he was pushing for Raffensperger to commit election fraud. Given there were several other people on the call, you could argue that he legit did not know what he was asking for is illegal. It’s unlikely federal prosecutors would bring such a case to court, Bromwich said.
Then it comes down to Joe Biden’s Justice Department, after he’s sworn in as president on January 20. As one Republican former chairman of the Federal Election Commission told the NYT: “Even if the Biden Justice Department thinks they have a good case, is that how they want to start off the Biden presidency? That is a policy decision.”
But surely this can’t just… go away?
I mean, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president in 16 days. Trump is still grasping at straws trying to overturn the results of the election, but as of January 20, he will no longer be the president. (The Secret Service have said they’re willing to drag Trump out of the White House, if it comes to that.)
Biden’s senior advisor Bob Bauer released a statement condemning the call, but made no indication of pursuing action.
“We now have irrefutable proof of a president pressuring and threatening an official of his own party to get him to rescind a state’s lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place,” Bauer said in a statement to NBC News on Sunday.
“It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump’s assault on American democracy.”
I’d love to say that Trump or his associates will face some kind of lasting consequences here, but I’m not hopeful. Nobody has ever been so successful as being untouched by scandal as Donald Trump.