President Trump’s call to the Georgian Foreign Secretary on Saturday suggested that Mr Trump had violated laws prohibiting meddling in federal or state elections, but attorneys said Sunday that such a charge would be difficult to prosecute.
The tapping of Mr Trump’s conversation with Georgian Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger, first reported by the Washington Post, led a number of election and defense lawyers to conclude that he was pressuring Raffensperger to “find” the votes He would get to reverse the election result in the state, Mr. Trump either broke the law or got close to him.
“It seems to me that what he’s done is clearly against the laws of Georgia,” said Leigh Ann Webster, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney, citing a state law that makes it illegal for anyone “to try something asks, it asks, commands, is important or otherwise tries to cause something to the other person involved in election fraud.
At the federal level, anyone who “knowingly and willfully deprives, cheats, or attempts to rob or cheat the residents of a state of a fair and impartial electoral process” is breaking the law.
Matthew T. Sanderson, a Republican electoral attorney who has worked on several presidential campaigns – including those of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor – said that Mr. Trump appeared to have tried, Mr. Raffensperger wasn’t realized that he was breaking the law.
That’s because while Mr Trump has clearly indicated that Mr Raffensperger could face legal ramifications if he fails to find additional votes for the President in Georgia, Mr Trump would not stop saying he was making the threat against Mr Raffensperger and his own himself would take on legal counsel, Ryan Germany, said Mr Sanderson.
“You know what you did and you don’t report it,” the president said during the call, referring to his unsubstantiated claims of widespread electoral fraud. “This is a criminal – this is a crime. And you can’t let that happen. This is a huge risk for you and your lawyer, Ryan. And that’s a big risk. “
In the absence of additional clear evidence of Mr. Trump’s intent to pursue an overt threat, including the possible criminal charges that he proposed to Mr. Raffensperger or his office, Mr. Sanderson said, “Ultimately, I doubt this conduct will be prosecuted. ”
Michael R. Bromwich, a former inspector general and attorney for the Department of Justice who represented clients critical of Mr. Trump, said he believed Mr. Trump violated federal law.
But the meandering nature of the phone call, and the fact that the president made no apparent attempt to conceal his actions while other callers listened, could allow Mr. Trump to argue that he did not intend to break the law or to argue that he did not know that a federal law existed that apparently forbids his actions.
Federal law would also most likely require Mr. Trump to know he was pushing Mr. Raffensperger to fraudulently change the number of votes, which meant prosecutors had to prove that Mr. Trump knew he was lying in the allegation that he was confident having won the election in Georgia.
“Federal prosecutors are unlikely to bring such a case,” said Bromwich. “But it was definitely terrible and unbelievable. However, prosecuting a federal crime is obviously an entirely different matter. “
David Worley, a Democrat and supporter of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is a member of the State Election Board in Georgia, wrote to Mr. Raffensperger and other members of the board on Sunday evening asking the Secretary of State who is the chairman of the board to conduct an investigation Initiate the phone call to determine if it violates state law, including a provision prohibiting conspiracy to commit election fraud.
If the board concludes that a law has been broken, it could ask state law enforcement to consider filing criminal charges or a civil case against Mr Trump.
“To say that I am troubled by President Trump’s attempt to manipulate the Georgian votes would be an understatement,” Worley, who is the only Democrat on the five-member board, wrote in the email. “Once we have received your investigation report, it is the duty of the Board to determine whether there is a likely cause for this matter to be referred.”
Georgia state officials could also face the challenge of bringing proceedings against a federal official or even a former federal official, said Ms. Webster and Ryan C. Locke, a second defense attorney in Atlanta.
Trevor Potter, a former Republican chairman of the federal election commission, said the issue was largely a matter for the Justice Department in the Biden administration.
“There is a good case for Trump trying to get a fraudulent vote by stating that he needs exactly 11,780 votes and threatens the Secretary of State if he does not produce them,” Potter said. “But even if the Biden Justice Department thinks you have a good case, is that how you want to begin the Biden presidency? It’s a political decision. “
Congressional Democrats suggested examining the legal implications of the call. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, said the appeal raised new legal issues for Mr Trump, even if it was not a clear violation of the law.
“By threatening these officials with vague” criminal “consequences and encouraging them to” find “additional votes and hire investigators to” find answers “, the president may also have submitted to additional criminal liability,” Nadler said in an opinion.