April 17, 2021

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Trump Call to Georgia Lead Investigator Reveals New Details – The Wall Street Journal

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ATLANTA—Then-President Donald Trump urged the chief investigator of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office to look for fraud during an audit of mail-in ballots in a suburban Atlanta county, on a phone call he made to her in late December.

During the six-minute call, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Trump repeatedly said that he won Georgia. “Something bad happened,” he said.

“When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” Mr. Trump told the chief investigator, Frances Watson.

She responded: “I can assure you that our team and the [Georgia Bureau of Investigation], that we are only interested in the truth and finding the information that is based on the facts.”

The Washington Post reported on the call in January, but this is the first time the recording has been released.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has launched a criminal investigation into alleged efforts to have officials in Georgia overturn the state’s results of November’s presidential election. In a February letter to officials, Ms. Willis said a grand jury would convene this month.

In early January, media outlets, including the Journal, published news of a recording of a telephone conversation between Mr. Trump and several supporters and Mr. Raffensperger and his staff. During that Jan. 2 call, Mr. Trump urged Mr. Raffensperger to “find” votes to change the election outcome. He berated Mr. Raffensperger for not doing more to overturn the election.

Representatives of the former president didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a January phone call, President Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state and repeatedly made unfounded assertions about voting irregularities. Photo: Associated Press/Brynn Anderson/STAR MAX (Video from 1/3/21)

President Biden won the state by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast. Two statewide recounts confirmed Mr. Biden won, making Mr. Trump the first sitting Republican president to lose the state since 1992.

After the recounts, the Georgia Secretary of State conducted a forensic audit of about 15,000 mail-in ballots in Cobb County, checking signatures on ballot envelopes to make sure they matched signatures on file with the county. It was during that audit, just before Christmas, that Mr. Trump called Ms. Watson. Mr. Trump said in the call that he contacted Ms. Watson at the request of Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff. The audit found no evidence of fraud.

More on the Presidential Race in Georgia

During the call, Mr. Trump told Ms. Watson that she had the most important job in the country at the time and urged her investigators to review signatures going back several years, according to the recording. While her audit was focused on Cobb County, he said she should look at Fulton County, the state’s most populous county that includes most of Atlanta.

“If you can get to Fulton, you are going to find things that are going to be unbelievable,” he said.

In the call, Mr. Trump offered no evidence of any wrongdoing. At one point, he said his loss in Georgia “never made sense and, you know, they dropped ballots. They dropped all these ballots. Stacey Abrams, really, really terrible,” he said. Ms. Abrams, the 2018 Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, and her group Fair Fight Action registered thousands of new voters in Georgia in recent years.

Mr. Trump offered no explanation for his claim, and Ms. Watson didn’t ask him what he meant.

On the recording, Ms. Watson, who isn’t a political appointee, said she was surprised that he was calling her.

“I do know that you are a very busy, very important man and I am very honored that you called,” she said. “And quite frankly I’m shocked that you would take time to do that, but I am very appreciative.”

Ms. Watson declined to comment through the Secretary of State’s office.

Mr. Raffensperger’s spokesman Ari Schaffer said in a statement to the Journal: “This phone call is just one more example of how Secretary Raffensperger’s office’s public comments also reflect what was said in one-on-one conversations: We would follow the law, count every legal vote and investigate any allegations of fraud. That’s exactly what we did, and how we arrived at the accurate final vote tally.”

For months after the election, Mr. Trump and his supporters pressed for the Georgia results to be overturned. Mr. Trump directed much of his ire at Republican leaders in Georgia, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger.

The White House forced the U.S. attorney in Atlanta to resign after he declined to launch a federal investigation into the Georgia election, according to people familiar with the matter.

In February, Ms. Willis sent letters to top Georgia officials, including Mr. Raffensperger, ordering them to preserve records relating to the 2020 election. The letters stated that Ms. Willis’s office had launched a criminal investigation into “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”

Write to Cameron McWhirter at cameron.mcwhirter@wsj.com

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