Outgoing President Donald Trump's brazen attempts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" him nearly 12,000 votes in the state he lost would be pathetic if they weren't so dangerous.
Proof of Trump's willingness to abuse the power of his office came in the form of a recording of his hourlong phone call with Raffensperger on Saturday, in which Trump relentlessly bullied, pressured and intimidated the state official, including issuing vague threats of possible criminal action.
Resorting to outright pleading at times, Trump said at one point in the call, "So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break." Then to Raffensperger, he says ominously, "I mean I've been watching you, you know, you don't care about anything … Under law, you're not allowed to give faulty election results, OK? You're not allowed to do that. And that's what you've done." That's coming from an individual who, for now, still has the power of the federal government and Justice Department behind him.
Trump may have crossed a legal line here. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told an editorial writer that while Trump's demand that the needed votes be found was disturbing, what alarmed him most was the hint of retribution and the pressure applied to Raffensperger to circumvent the law to meet Trump's demands.
At one point in the phone call, Simon noted, Trump's lawyers are heard asking whether they could be "deputized" by the Georgia secretary of state to view information they are not now legally allowed to see. "That was stunning," said Simon, a Democrat. "The idea that the secretary should intervene in an extrajudicial way, go around the legal process to put his thumb on the scale at the request of a powerful person is shocking. It is corruption."
Raffensperger and other Georgia election officials have shown an extraordinary amount of courage and fortitude in standing their ground. "It's easy to stand up to adversaries," Simon said. "It's much harder to stand up to those who are allies. Raffensperger is a Trump supporter, but he still had the courage to say no."
On Monday, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's voting systems manager, held a surreal news conference in which he methodically dismantled Trump's fraudulent claims and rebuked the president for willfully misleading the public about election results. Clearly exasperated, Sterling attempted to instill confidence on the eve of historic runoff races in that state that will determine the balance of power in a closely divided Senate. "Everybody's vote did count," Sterling said. "I want to make that abundantly clear." To throw away Tuesday's vote "because you have some feeling it may not matter is self-destructive."
A small — far too small — coterie of Republican senators has come forward to denounce the continued attempts to turn back the results of an election that President-elect Joe Biden won by more than 7 million votes. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Monday said that Trump's call with Raffensperger "represents a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode."
A Trump supporter, Toomey nevertheless commended Republican election officials for "weathering relentless pressure, disinformation, and attacks from the president and his campaign."
More Republicans must finally stand up to this disgraced, defeated president's blatant attempts to cling to power. They should take their cue from an extraordinary statement in which every living former defense secretary, led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, said the election was over.
"The time for questioning the results has passed," the statement said. "The time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived."