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 lawyers said Sunday that such a charge would be difficult to prosecute.
The taping of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, first reported by the Washington Postled a number of electoral and defense lawyers to conclude that Mr. Trump was either breaking the law or getting close to him by pressuring Mr. Raffensperger to “find” the votes he would need to get the election results in the state to reverse.
“It seems to me that what he did is clearly against Georgia law,” he said Leigh Ann Webster, a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, citing a State Law This makes it illegal for anyone “soliciting, asking for, commanding, important, or otherwise trying to get the other person to do it”.
Matthew T. SandersonA Republican electoral attorney who has worked on several presidential campaigns – including those of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rick Perry, former Texas governor – said that while it looked like Mr Trump was trying to intimidate Mr Raffensperger, it did didn’t realize he was breaking the law.
That’s because, while Mr. Trump has clearly indicated that Mr. Raffensperger could face legal ramifications if he couldn’t find additional votes for the Georgia president, Mr. Trump would not stop saying he was making the threat against Mr. Raffensperger and his himself would bring 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 unfounded allegations of widespread electoral fraud. “You know this is a criminal – this is a criminal offense. And you know you can’t let that happen. This is a big risk to you and your lawyer, Ryan. This is a big risk.”
In the absence of additional clear evidence of Mr. Trump’s intent to pursue an overt threat, including the potential criminal charges he proposed to Mr. Raffensperger or his office, Mr. Sanderson said, “Ultimately, I doubt this conduct will be prosecuted. ”
Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department general and attorney who represented clients who were 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 hide his actions while other callers listened, could allow Mr Trump to argue that he did not intend to break the law or argue that he did not know that a federal law existed that apparently forbids his actions.
Federal law would most likely also 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 claim that he was confident he would having won the election in Georgia.
“It is unlikely that the federal prosecutor will bring such a case,” said Bromwich. “But it was definitely terrible and incredible. But prosecuting a federal crime is obviously an entirely different matter. “
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 criminal 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,” said Potter. “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 wasn’t 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.