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Trump’s attempt to ‘manufacture votes’ in Georgia raises legal questions

President Trump's hour-long phone call with Georgia's secretary of state over the weekend and his requests to change the vote count have raised a number of legal questions. Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the book "Election Meltdown," joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to President Trump's controversial hour-long phone call with Georgia's secretary of state this weekend.

    It raised a number of legal questions.

    For some answers, we turn again to Rick Hasen. He's an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine. He's also author of the book "Election Meltdown."

    Professor Hasen, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    As somebody who studies election law, what was your reaction when you listened to this?

  • Rick Hasen:

    Well, my first reaction was, I can't believe it's January and we are still talking about the 2020 election, not the run-off, but the actual election that we held in November.

    I think that the statements of the president were outrageous. He was clearly trying to pressure the Georgia secretary of state to manufacture votes to flip the results of the election, based on no evidence. It was really the kind of election fraud that he has been railing about for years. An here we have the whole thing on tape.

    It's just — it is a very sad moment for American democracy right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very sad. And you said clearly kind of pressure the secretary of state.

    Are there legal questions about what the president did? Did he cross the line?

  • Rick Hasen:

    I think there is a good argument to be made that he violated both federal law, which prevents one person from trying to get another to procure fraudulent votes, as well as Georgia law, which makes election fraud, ballot box stuffing a crime.

    In both of these cases, I think you have pretty good circumstances standings evidence from the call itself that the president was asking for there to be ballot box stuffing. I think the real question is one of intent. And it is kind of hard to tell. It was an hour-long call, kind of a meandering conversation from the president.

    The real question is, does he believe the kind of wild conspiracy theories that he has been spewing. If he does, then maybe you could make the argument he doesn't have the intent that would be necessary to show that he was trying to commit fraud.

    But I think this would be really a question for a jury. Did he have the intent to defraud the people of Georgia of their right to have a fair election? And it is a serious question that prosecutors on both the federal level and in Georgia on the state level should be looking at.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are the most concerning aspects of the call?

    You have the president saying, I want you to find — he says, "Fellows, I need 11,000 votes," you know, or just exactly the number over the difference between him and president-elect Biden.

    And you — what else did you hear him say that is most concerning, potentially, from a legal standpoint?

  • Rick Hasen:

    Well, he was talking about that he was potentially doing this in other states.

    We're going to have a counting of the votes in Congress that will happen on Wednesday. The president has called for wild protests in the state capital — in the country's capital on Wednesday.

    All of it seems to be geared towards maximum chaos, towards making the — what by all indications, under our legal rules, appears to be a done deal, that Joe Biden is the next president, into something that is up for grabs.

    I don't think it is going to work in terms of how the Senate and House are going to count the votes. It might lead to a delay. But it does suggest that he is still not accepting the election results.

    And we don't know. The next two weeks promise to be a very dangerous time for American democracy, if he continues to resist what courts and election officials have gone through to show that there is not really any question that Joe Biden has won this election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, just quickly, back on thee language the president used on this call, when he said to Secretary of State Raffensperger in Georgia, he said, you're taking a big risk in what you are doing, I mean, it had a threatening tone to it.

  • Rick Hasen:

    Right. It sounds like almost a kind of extortion that could be going on here: You know, if you don't do this, you might face criminal liability.

    I mean, the whole call was — it kind of alternated between trying to flatter the secretary of state and trying to threaten him to get what he wants, which is the manufacturing of votes.

    And that really is about as bad as it gets when it comes to conducting an election, is trying to stuff the ballot box.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I just — again, making notes on some other — he said, "There is nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you have recalculated."

    The suggestion is, the president is saying, find something that didn't happen.

  • Rick Hasen:

    Right.

    And, you know, this election, it was conducted using voting machines that the president has criticized. It was recounted by hand. So, if there had been any problem with the voting machines, it would have been found through the hand recount.

    And there was — there were investigations by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. There have been court cases. There has been no finding of massive fraud anywhere in the country, not in Georgia, not anywhere, that would justify finding additional votes to help the president.

    This is a pure political ploy to try to steal the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we heard Georgia elections officials say pretty much that in his news conference this afternoon, saying what the president said was completely fabricated.

    Professor Rick Hasen, professor of election law, thank you very much.

  • Rick Hasen:

    Thank you.

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