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Trump’s call to Georgia election officials draws condemnation

President Trump faces new cries of foul on Monday, after his most blatant attempt yet to manufacture an election win for himself. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump faces new cries of foul tonight, after his most blatant attempt yet to manufacture an election win for himself.

    His critics today called it everything from disgraceful to outright illegal.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A bombshell phone call and a president trying everything and anything to stay in power.

    In just over two weeks, the term of President Trump, who lost the election, ends, but he is refusing to face that fact. Instead, on Saturday, he personally made this demand of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger: Overturn the state's election results.

  • President Donald Trump:

    All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.

    So, what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellows, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know, we have that in spades already.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Raffensperger's office recorded the hour-long call. The audio was first released Sunday by The Washington Post.

    President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes. And the state has counted the ballots three times. But President Trump repeatedly insisted Raffensperger override that outcome.

  • Donald Trump:

    The people of Georgia are angry. The people of the country are angry. And there's nothing wrong with saying that you have recalculated.

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger: Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.

  • Donald Trump:

    You should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican.

  • Brad Raffensperger:

    We believe that we do have an accurate election.

  • Donald Trump:

    No. No, you don't. No. No, you don't. You don't have. You don't have, not even close. You have got — you're off by hundreds of thousands of votes.

    So, tell me, Brad, what are we going to do? We won the election, and it's not fair to take it away from us like this, and it's going to be very costly in many ways.

  • Brad Raffensperger:

    Mr. President, you have people that submit information. And we have our people that submit information. And then it comes before the court. And the court then has to make a determination.

    We have to stand by our numbers. We believe our numbers are right.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Before the two men spoke Saturday, the White House had called the secretary of state's office 18 times trying to connect them.

    This afternoon, in Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, a top state elections official, refuted the president's allegations of fraud.

  • Gabriel Sterling:

    This is all easily, provably false. Yet the president persists, and, by doing so, undermines Georgians' faith in the election system.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On Twitter today, President Trump again rejected the election results, without evidence.

    He wrote — quote — "How can you certify an election when the numbers being certified are verifiably wrong?"

    The call sparked a new storm of outrage. Biden campaign lawyer Bob Bauer said the call — quote — "captures the whole disgraceful story about Donald Trump's assault on American democracy."

    With the Georgia U.S. Senate run-off elections scheduled for tomorrow, both Biden and Trump went to the state today. At a rally in Atlanta, Biden attacked President Trump's response to the pandemic.

  • President-Elect Joe Biden:

    The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Joe Biden:

    I don't know why he still wants the job. He doesn't want to do the work.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At the Capitol, Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the number three Republican in the House, spoke out. She called the phone call — quote — "deeply troubling."

    House Democrats urged the FBI to open a criminal investigation into the president's actions.

    Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York:

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    The voters have spoken. The Electoral College has spoken. The courts have spoken. Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States of America, notwithstanding the delusional fantasies of some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He was alluding to Republican senators who say they will object to the certification of the presidential results in Congress on Wednesday.

    This weekend, one of the 11, Ted Cruz of Texas, spoke on FOX News.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz:

    We together will object to certification in order to force the appointment of an emergency electoral commission to perform an emergency audit of the election results to assess these claims of fraud.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The effort is separate from that of Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who will also object to certification. But a number of other Republicans, including Trump allies Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have rejected that stance.

    They join with moderate Republicans, including Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, among others, who acknowledge, correctly, that the election is over.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just in the last few minutes, we have learned that Georgia Senate candidate — or Senator Kelly Loeffler, up for reelection, announces that she will also oppose the electoral count from the election.

    But, right now, to talk to more of to talk through more of the fallout from this weekend's news, Yamiche joins me, along with congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins.

    Hello to both of you.

    Yamiche, just in the last few minutes, we have heard fallout from this call. But you have been talking to people around President Trump, the Biden people. What more are you learning about reaction to it?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well President Trump and allies of the president are standing by his stance on that phone call, saying that he is doing nothing wrong, even though it's clear, Judy, that is he trying to undermine the integrity of the election and have the election overturned in his favor.

    President-elect Biden, as well as his allies, are condemning this phone call, condemning the president's actions to try to overturn the election. But, also, they are saying that they need to be busy with the work that is ahead of him, because, of course, president-elect Biden is coming into office in 16 days.

    When we look at what President Trump was doing today, he was really lashing out at Republicans, trying to get them to come on his side. He was calling some Republicans who are against his pushes to overturn the election the surrender caucus.

    Another thing is, what's extraordinary about this call is that we have seen the president use the same language out publicly. He's been tweeting it. He's been making videos about these false claims.

    And, here, we heard in a phone call, of course, in extraordinary terms, in troubling terms, him trying to push the Georgia secretary of state to find votes for him.

    But when I talked to Biden officials, they say, yes, it's true we condemned it in a statement, but we want to move on from this. This is, they say, theatrics on the part of the president. They also say that this underscores why it's dangerous for President Trump to stay in office.

    Instead, they said that they're focused on the coronavirus pandemic, on president-elect Biden's first 100 days. They also, of course, have a lot of work to do, because they have not named an attorney general, so many other things on their plate.

    But it's striking to see the president of the United States in a country like ours that exports democracy say here that he wants democracy to be overturned.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And to Lisa.

    Lisa, you have been reporting on the Hill. What are you seeing, what are you hearing in reaction from there?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    First, it's important, Judy, to understand that nearly everything leaders in Congress say right now is calculated based on whether it affects the Georgia Senate races, either side.

    Today, Senate — House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about the Georgia phone call the president had. He ignored those questions, did not have comment. Other Republicans have tried to tell me they believe perhaps the president literally meant finding boxes of votes that perhaps were laid aside or thrown away.

    But Democrats, they say they — many of them say they think this could be a criminal offense. One of them, Dean Phillips, House member, told me he thinks it's impeachable.

    And I also want to note that we have had a call for an FBI investigation. The two — I want to show a picture of two House members, Ted Lieu and Hank Johnson. They are calling for a censure resolution of the president. And so we will see what happens with that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, meantime, Yamiche, there's also strong reaction from former Cabinet officials, from leaders outside of government. What are you hearing there?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    Well, today, we have really heard a chorus of people saying that this action by the president is wrong and also pushing for the Congress and others to move forward, to go on, so that the election can be fully certified, and that Joe Biden can come into office.

    Now, we saw 10 — the former 10 living secretaries of defense come out. These are secretaries of defense who served both Democrats and Republicans in office, including Leon Panetta, as well as Dick Cheney.

    I want to read you part of what this op-ed in The Washington Post that they wrote said. It said, in part here: "Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory."

    They called also on the Pentagon and military officials to welcome the new Biden administration. They also said that they should resist any attempt to try to get them not to do so.

    We also heard from nearly 200 business leaders. These are big businesses, including Microsoft, Pfizer, which, of course, makes the coronavirus vaccine, one of them, as well as the NBA. And they all said that this really is an election that is over. They said that they want Joe Biden to turn to the coronavirus pandemic, because it's going to be impacting businesses, including their own.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And then, separate from all this, Lisa, what's going on this week is, Congress has gotten under way, first week of the year. It's going to be a very busy week.

    What should we know about that? What's coming up?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    And apologies for that audio problem I had. I think we're all fixed.

    Well, we saw yesterday — I was in the House for Speaker Pelosi being reelected as speaker. Even though she has a more narrow majority, she will be the Democratic leader again.

    But I think the real standout story from this opening of Congress was the COVID concern. We know today that one of the representatives who was in the chamber yesterday, Kay Granger of Texas, after she voted, after she was there several times during the day, tested positive, or received her positive COVID results.

    Now, I want to also show you a picture of what the House chamber looked like during one of the swearings-in yesterday. You can see that there was a real lack of social distancing. Now, I will say most members were wearing masks. However, they were in each other's proximity. I watched it from above, myself social distancing.

    And there was very little social distancing. There is a real concern that perhaps the opening of the House session yesterday itself could have been a super-spreader event. We're going to have to wait for the next few days to see if other members are quarantined, having to quarantine, or test positive.

    And, of course, we have a major joint session about the Electoral College just two days away.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which will involve a lot of people, Lisa, in the House chamber.

    Well, we certainly hope that no one else tests positive, but everyone's on the lookout.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both.

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