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Trump presses Georgia governor to help subvert election

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump fruitlessly pressed Georgia’s governor on Saturday to call a special legislative session aimed at subverting the presidential election results in that state as Trump’s fixation with his defeat overshadowed his party’s campaign to save its majority in the Senate.

Trump and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp spoke by phone hours before Trump was to appear at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, where Republicans hoped the president would dedicate his energy to imploring their supporters to vote in two runoff elections Jan. 5.

But it remained an open question whether his first postelection political rally would be a mission to help his party or himself.

Hours before the event, Trump asked Kemp in the phone call to order the legislative session; the governor refused, according to a senior government official in Georgia with knowledge of the call who was not authorized to discuss the private conversation and spoke on the condition of anonymity. A person close to the White House who was briefed on the matter verified that account of the call.

According to a tweet from the governor, Trump also asked him to order an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes from the presidential race in his state, a step Kemp is not empowered to take because he has no authority to interfere in the electoral process on Trump’s behalf.

Trump vented his frustrations on Twitter after the call.

“Your people are refusing to do what you ask,” he complained, as if speaking with Kemp. “What are they hiding? At least immediately ask for a Special Session of the Legislature. That you can easily, and immediately, do.”

Trump’s personal contact with the governor demonstrated he is intent on amplifying his conspiratorial and debunked theories of electoral fraud even as Georgia Republicans want him to turn his focus to the Jan. 5 runoff elections and encourage their supporters to get out and vote.

They’re worried that Trump is stoking so much suspicion about Georgia elections that voters will think the system is rigged and decide to sit out the two races, where Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to withstand Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively, and keep the Senate under Republican control.

In his tweet, Kemp said: “As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times (11/20, 11/24, 12/3) to restore confidence in our election process and to ensure that only legal votes are counted in Georgia.”

But a recommendation is all he can do; the governor does not have the authority to order an audit in the race. Moreover, the race in Georgia was certified for President-elect Joe Biden and affirmed by the state’s Republican election officials as a fairly conducted and counted vote, with none of the systemic errors Trump alleges.

The president’s aides publicly scoffed at the idea that Trump might do anything at the evening Valdosta rally other than encourage Republicans to back Perdue and Loeffler.

“I believe it’s the start of these two senators crossing the finish line,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on the eve of Trump’s visit. McEnany credited Trump with being his party’s biggest turnout driver, noting that Republicans narrowed House Democrats’ majority while several vulnerable Republican senators survived challenges by comfortable margins.

But after two pro-Trump lawyers this past week questioned whether voting again is even worth it — in echoes of the president’s baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud — even Vice President Mike Pence betrayed concerns that the Republican coalition could crack under the force of Trump’s grievances.

“I know we’ve all got our doubts about the last election, and I hear some of you saying, ‘Just don’t vote,’” Pence said Friday while campaigning with Perdue in Savannah. “If you don’t vote, they win.”

Republicans need one more seat for a Senate majority. Democrats need a Georgia sweep to force a 50-50 Senate and position Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking majority vote.

Few Republicans in Washington or Georgia believe wide swaths of the electorate in this newfound battleground would opt out of voting because of Trump’s false claims or his denigration of the Georgia governor and secretary of state for certifying Biden’s victory in the state.