House Democrats make a criminal referral to FBI over Trump's Georgia election shakedown call

Rep. Ted Lieu asks FBI to open a criminal probe into Trump phone call to Georgia’s elections chief

Published January 5, 2021 11:53AM (EST)

US President Donald Trump uses his cellphone as he holds a roundtable discussion with Governors about the economic reopening of closures due to COVID-19, known as coronavirus, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump uses his cellphone as he holds a roundtable discussion with Governors about the economic reopening of closures due to COVID-19, known as coronavirus, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

House Democrats are demanding the FBI open a criminal probe following Donald Trump's leaked phone call with Georgia elections officials over the weekend. Reps. Ted Lieu, D-CA, and Kathleen Rice, D-NY, have asked FBI Director Wray to "open an immediate criminal investigation" against the president for possible election interference.

In a letter sent today to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Lieu and Rice call for a criminal inquiry of Trump following his leaked phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In the call, Trump repeatedly pressured Raffensperger for a recount of the Georgia state election, citing a mysterious chunk of 250-300,000 votes that somehow went unaccounted for. Trump alleged that ballots may have been shredded in Fulton County or that voting technology may have been tampered with. When Raffensperger denied the unfounded allegations, Trump ominously warned the Secretary, "[...] You can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that's a big risk."

In their letter, Reps. Lieu and Rice condemn Trump as "[engaging] in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes." Sections 20511 of Title 52 of the U.S. Code on federal election fraud state the following: Anyone who "knowingly and willfully deprives" the U.S. of an "impartially conducted election process, by […] the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the person to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent" should be tried as a criminal. In Section 10307 of Title 52, the law states that "no person acting under color of law shall […] willfully fail or refuse to tabulate, count, and report such person's vote." According to Lieu and Rice, the sole fact that Trump explicitly asked Raffensberger to "find" 11,780 votes –– just the right amount to overturn the election in his favor –– is enough evidence to open an criminal inquiry.

Raffensberger, who shared a recording of the call with the Washington Post, has declined to comment on the legal implications of Trump's entreaties. "I'm not a lawyer," he said in an interview with ABC News on Monday, "All I know is that we're going to follow the law, follow the process."

"Truth matters," Raffensberger added. "And we've been fighting these rumors for the last two months."

In their letter, Reps. Lieu and Rice claim that Trump could be held liable under state law in addition to federal law. Georgia's state code, for example, rules it a federal offense for "a person to [commit] the commit election fraud in the first degree" when "he or she solicits…or otherwise attempts to cause the other person to engage in such conduct." Georgia State Election board member David Worley joined the Representatives' call for action and has sent an additional investigation request to Director Wray. If tried under Georgia state law, Trump would not be able to pardon himself.


By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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