Michigan recording further reveals Trump’s efforts to overturn 2020 election

A report from Michigan further peels back the curtain on Trump’s efforts to nullify the results of the 2020 election. The Detroit News listened to a partial recording of Trump and RNC chair Ronna McDaniel reportedly pressuring the Republican chair and another member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers not to certify the results there despite no evidence of fraud. William Brangham reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    A report out of Michigan further pulls back the curtain on former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

    The Detroit News listened to a partial recording of a phone call between Trump, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and two local election officials from late November of that year. In it, Trump and McDaniel can reportedly be heard pressuring the Republican chair and another member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers not to certify the election results there, despite no evidence of fraud.

    William Brangham has been tracking this story today and joins me now.

    William, it's good to see you.

  • William Brangham:


  • Amna Nawaz:

    So what exactly were President Trump and Ronna McDaniel trying to do on that call? And what kind of impact could it have had on the larger election?

  • William Brangham:

    Here's what we know.

    Joe Biden won Michigan by about 154,000 votes. But at the time of this call, Michigan had not certified those votes. And so imagine you're these two local elections officials, and the phone rings, and it's the president of the United States and the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

    And they're saying, don't certify those results. It's crooked. We will send lawyers. There's been rigging going on here. Just imagine the power dynamic difference there, where the president is calling asking you to do this.

    I mean, as we know, Donald Trump in the past had made many unfounded allegations about voting in Detroit, which is where Wayne County is, saying that dead voters had been voting. None of that was true. Michigan was about to announce its results. And these two canvassers did try to rescind their certification, but it was too late. Michigan was declared for Joe Biden. Michigan was critical for Joe Biden's election win.

    And this effort, this phone call, seems to be another effort by the former president to stop that fact from becoming reality.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, we know there are a lot of ongoing efforts to hold President Trump and his political allies accountable for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. How does this episode fit into those larger efforts?

  • William Brangham:

    This effort, this phone call is similar, in a way, to what we know came out of Georgia, where there's a state case against the former president in Fulton County, Georgia, where he called election officials there and said, can you guys find me 11,000 votes?

    We also know the federal case being brought against Donald Trump by special counsel Jack Smith charges him with four felonies. And in that indictment, it does cite Trump's use, alleged use, of deceit to try to fool and persuade state elections officials to overturn elections.

    Wayne County is not in that indictment. We don't know if that's going to end up in evidence in that case. One former prosecutor that I talked to today did suggest that Ronna McDaniel could become a co-conspirator in the federal case in one count of that case if it could be proven that she knew that there was, in fact, no voter fraud, but yet was urging these elections officials to not certify alleging that fraud existed, so still waiting to see on that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And have we heard anything from Ronna McDaniel or President Trump on that phone call?

  • William Brangham:

    Yes, no one disputed the contents of this call.

    A spokesman for President — former President Trump reiterated this ongoing lie that the election was rigged and stolen, and thus he had every reason to make a call to elections officials to try to stop that. Ronna McDaniel made a somewhat similar argument.

    She argued — we can show her quote here. She said: "What I said publicly and repeatedly at the time is that there was ample evidence that warranted an audit of that vote."

    Again, at the risk of repeating myself, there was no evidence of election fraud in Michigan. No court case that was brought ever showed that that was the case. A state review run by Republicans in the state legislature found the same. Joe Biden won Michigan fair and square.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In this case, the efforts to overturn the 2020 election results didn't work.

    But if there was a similar pressure campaign in our upcoming presidential election, is our election system better prepared in any way to handle it?

  • William Brangham:

    This is an enormous ongoing concern.

    In Michigan, last year, they passed a ballot measure that said, canvassers, these — like these two officials, can only certify an election based on the actual vote tally. So Michigan seems to have headed this off.

    But people who study elections worry that there are a lot of other states, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, where similar rules are not being enacted and chicanery could occur.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While we have you, William — and I have been covering all things related to legal matters around Mr. Trump — as we reported earlier, the Supreme Court just today declined to fast-track consideration of Mr. Trump's immunity claim related to charges brought against him for January 6.

    What does that mean for that case?

  • William Brangham:

    This is a huge procedural win for the former president. As you mentioned, special counsel Jack Smith had asked the Supreme Court to basically leapfrog over an appeals court that was ruling on this motion, that the president had made this sweeping assertion that, because he was president, he was immune from any alleged crimes he might have committed.

    Jack Smith said, I know there's an appeals court working on this, but I need the Supreme Court to look at this more quickly, because this is an urgent matter for the nation.

    The Supreme Court said, we're not going to do it. The appeals court must rule.

    The reason this is a victory for Trump is that that delays this process, which we know his legal team has wanted to do in all of these cases, delay them as long as possible. So, the appeals court will rule. It may end up before the Supreme Court, but not right away.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    William Brangham, thanks for unpacking it and making sense of it all. Appreciate that.

  • William Brangham:

    My pleasure.

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