An earlier episode of election-related arm-twisting from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) helped lead Georgia's secretary of state to record Saturday's phone call with Donald Trump, setting off a bombshell story that has dominated news cycles since it broke on Sunday. From a report by Marc Caputo at Politico "Playbook":
It started on Saturday when Trump and his team reached out to talk to [Brad] Raffensperger, who, according to an adviser, felt he would be unethically pressured by the president. Raffensperger had been here before: In November he accused Trump ally and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham of improperly exhorting him to meddle in the election to help Trump win Georgia. Graham later denied it.
So why not record the call with the president, Raffensperger’s advisers thought, if nothing else for fact-checking purposes. “This is a man who has a history of reinventing history as it occurs,” one of them told "Playbook." “So if he’s going to try to dispute anything on the call, it’s nice to have something like this, hard evidence, to dispute whatever he’s claiming about the secretary. Lindsey Graham asked us to throw out legally cast ballots. So yeah, after that call, we decided maybe we should do this.”
The call took place Saturday afternoon. “Mr. President,” announced Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, at the top of the call, “everyone is on the line.” Little did he know. Trump made his ask and did most of the talking for the next hour, trafficking in the same conspiracy theories about election fraud that no court or criminal investigator has found credible. At the end of the call, Trump complains, “What a schmuck I was.”
Raffensperger’s team kept quiet about the call and the recording and waited. The president made the next move, claiming on Sunday morning via Twitter that Raffensperger was “unwilling, or unable, to answer” questions about his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. “Respectfully, President Trump: What you're saying is not true,” Raffensperger replied at 10:27 a.m. “The truth will come out.” It wasn’t an empty promise.
This isn’t the first time that a call or his recorded comments have threatened Trump (see: Access Hollywood, Ukraine president).
Even analysts from the political right have chastised Trump for the phone call, noting its possible negative impact on today's U.S. Senate elections in Georgia:
“This phone call is bad,” Georgia conservative commentator Erick Erickson said on Twitter. We asked him to expand on that, and here’s what he added: “I think the general worry is that the GOP early vote actually came on strong [late] and there’s a real worry that the president shows up tomorrow and messes it all up. The North Georgia GOP has to turn out on Election Day. They’ve lagged the whole state. The President goes to Dalton tomorrow to get them out and now people are worried he spends his time attacking the GA GOP … There is real nervousness.”
Erickson and other Republicans have been concerned since November that the president’s voter fraud rhetoric will dampen turnout, a fear intensified by far-right activists who’ve suggested that Trump voters not go to the polls unless Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue fight harder to somehow cancel Biden’s Georgia win. Trump’s handling of a coronavirus relief package and his vetoing of a defense bill is another concern: Congress overrode the vote, but Perdue and Loeffler skipped out so they weren’t crosswise with Trump. Loeffler on Sunday avoided answering how she would’ve voted on the defense bill.“Look, voters aren’t paying attention to all this stuff, people like us are,” one Georgia Republican strategist who’s working to elect Loeffler and Perdue told "Playbook." “But at a certain point, all these little things that don’t look like they matter could matter. I still feel OK. But this doesn’t help.