(CNN) — The staggering new evidence of a desperate President Donald Trump, recorded trying to steal the election, exposes the depth of his corruption and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill make them complicit in his attempt to thwart the will of the voters.
In a blatant abuse of power, Trump attempted to intimidate a senior Georgia Republican official into seeking votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state. The staggering phone call, the audio of which was obtained by CNN and first reported by The Washington Post, represents the most serious threat yet posed by his authoritarian instincts to American democracy.
Even before the latest outrage, this week already represented a watershed moment for Biden’s next presidency, a damaged Republican Party, and for the integrity of America’s political system.
A Republican attempt, for example, to block Congressional certification of Biden’s victory based on lies and false conspiracy theories about a fraud on Wednesday has no chance of success, but will further convince millions of Trump voters of that the election was rigged. Dozens of Republican lawmakers plan to elect the defeated president and his voters on the cherished principles of free elections in a fracture that will have lasting consequences for the Republican Party and the nation.
On Tuesday, two second-round elections in Georgia will decide whether Republicans will retain their majority in the Senate and retain power to block Biden’s broad agenda and hopes of swiftly confirming a cabinet at a time of national crisis.
All of this is coming to a head as Trump incited protests in Washington in an attempt to disrupt the electoral certification effort, amid fears of violence, and while ignoring a serious pandemic and the consequent deaths of 350,000 Americans.
Indeed, on Sunday, the president called the death toll in the United States “fake news,” disregarding mounting evidence that his White House has neglected launching crucial new vaccines just as it did in the early stages. of the pandemic.
But US Surgeon General Jerome Adams contradicted Trump’s false claim on CNN’s “State of the Union” and told Jake Tapper, “From a public health perspective, I don’t have any reason to doubt those figures.
‘I just want to find… votes’
The publication of the shocking phone conversation between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State, Republican Brad Raffensperger, intensified the constitutional crisis that Trump began to fuel even before his electoral defeat.
“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, “said Trump, in a comment that was at best an abuse of power and could raise legal issues. Throughout the hour-long call, the president repeatedly urges Raffensperger to accept his false claims that thousands of votes were cast illegally, that some ballots were destroyed or came from deceased persons or voters in other states. Georgia’s secretary of state tells the president that his information is false.
A series of tallies, audits and legal cases have confirmed Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia in November, in one of the decisive states he won en route to obtaining 306 electoral votes and a clear victory over the president.
The recording recalled the kind of coercive and corrupt behavior that led to Trump’s impeachment over a call with the president of Ukraine, but which all Republican senators, with the exception of Mitt Romney, decided last year did not deserve his impeachment.
On the latest call, Trump is heard trying to convince Raffensperger to announce that he had recalculated the vote totals and that the president won, and threatening criminal retaliation if his fellow Republican failed to act.
“At the very least it is an abuse of presidential power that in normal times would be subject to impeachment,” said CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftali.
John Dean, a former White House legal adviser on the Watergate scandal, told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield that Trump was “on the brink of extortion.”
Biden’s chief legal advisor, Bob Bauer, said in a statement that the recording provided “irrefutable evidence that a president pressured and threatened an official in his own party to rescind a state’s legal and certified vote count and make another in its place.
“Fully Captures the Shameful Story About Donald Trump’s Attack on American Democracy.”
The call increases pressure on Republican Trump supporters
Trump’s call with Raffensperger suddenly piled up new scrutiny over Republican members of the House and Senate who have pledged to challenge the routinely pro forma certification of congressional election results.
As they criticize the results already upheld by Republican-appointed judges and the conservative-majority Supreme Court, as well as state officials, many of whom are Republicans, they must now decide whether to support Trump’s blatant attempt to overturn the rule of law in Georgia.
A total of 12 Republicans, including Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, have said they will seek to discontinue certification on Wednesday. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, has shown support for a measure that could be endorsed by a majority of his House members, CNN reported.
“Do Republicans … want to be on the side of an abuse of power or a criminal conspiracy?” Naftali asked.
The shallowness of the Republican effort is revealed in legislators’ arguments that it is being pursued not on the basis of new evidence of fraud, but on the basis that millions of Trump voters believe the election was corrupt.
“We have an untenable situation in this country where there are tens of millions of people who do not see the outcome of this election as legitimate,” said Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, one of the senators planning to support an objection, on the “Meet the Press »from NBC.
But Trump and his acolytes have spent months making false claims about voter fraud, with the help of conservative media organizations and White House officials who have blatantly lied about an election that Trump’s Justice Department and other designated officials have said. that they were free and fair.
Meanwhile, the corruption revealed in Trump’s call to Georgia removes any doubt that the president is trying to steal the election. That makes it harder for Republicans to argue that they are replicating token objections to the results of congressional elections adopted by isolated Democrats in previous years.
A republican gap
Sunday’s staggering events sharpened the split in the Republican Party, after Hawley’s decision to challenge the results opened a gap that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been trying to fix for weeks.
The certification challenge and a commission’s lawsuit on false allegations of voter fraud is just the latest in a long line of efforts by Capitol Republicans to appease a wild and lawless president who threatens to back challengers in primaries. of those who face it.
But several Republican senators, including Romney from Utah, Susan Collins from Maine and Ben Sasse from Nebraska, have expressed frustration with their colleagues.
“The heinous ploy to reject the voters’ decision may elevate the political ambition of some, but it dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic,” Romney said in a statement Saturday. “I never would have imagined seeing these things in the largest democracy in the world. Has ambition at the beginning so eclipsed? ‘
His 2012 running mate, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, voiced his concerns in a rare public statement on Sunday, saying: “Efforts to reject Electoral College votes and cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory are a blow to the foundation of our republic.
Republican leaders are upset that Hawley, a potential presidential candidate in 2024, has effectively forced his colleagues to participate in a vote on the election that is doomed but leads them to choose between democracy and a Republican president who is popular. between the base.
“I think if you have a plan, it should be a plan that has some chance of working. And neither of the two proposals that have been put forward will produce a result, ”said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership.
As McCarthy backs the challenge, House Republican third-rank Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming sent a memo to colleagues Sunday warning that this sets a “dangerous precedent” that threatens to wrest responsibility from states to carry out your own choices.
“This directly contradicts the plain text of the Constitution and our fundamental beliefs as Republicans,” he wrote.
Another group of seven House Republicans, including a pair from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, also spoke out Sunday, calling on their colleagues to “respect the authority of the states,” even though “doing so may frustrate our immediate political goals.”
Trump is heading to Georgia
Trump’s explosive call could affect what is shaping up to be two closed races in Georgia where Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face off with voters. Republicans only need one of them to prevail and thus retain a majority in the Senate. If Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock are elected as new senators, the House will be split 50-50, allowing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to cast decisive votes on tied legislation.
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who earned credit for helping Biden win in the state, told “State of the Union” that the results could take several days to clear.
But he said he believed the strong turnout from Democrats who vote by mail had put the party in a strong position.
“This is going to be a very tough battle, but it’s absolutely within the realm of what is possible, actually, the realm of what is probable, that the Democrats can win,” Abrams told Jake Tapper.
Republicans need a strong turnout on Election Day to compete. But there are fears among local activists that Trump’s relentless attack on the probity of the Georgia presidential election will convince his supporters that their votes will not count in the second round of the Senate.
The president will seek to rally his base when he travels to Georgia for a rally on the eve of the elections on Monday. However, based on the content of his call with Raffensperger, it is unclear whether his intervention will help.
CNN’s Ryan Nobles and Arlette Saenz contributed to this story.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism