Donald Trump, then president, called Frances Watson, the lead investigator in Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s (R) office, on Dec. 23 to encourage her to look for voter fraud in specific counties, telling her “when the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.” The gist of Trump’s conversation, which preceded Trump’s covertly recorded call with Raffensperger himself, was reported in The Washington Post back in January, but The Wall Street Journal obtained and published the audio on Wednesday. The Post followed suit on Thursday.
Back in January, “state officials said they did not believe that a recording existed,” the Post reports. “Officials located the recording on a trash folder on Watson’s device while responding to a public records request, according to a person familiar with the situation.”
Trump lost Georgia by about 12,000 votes, and in between several false claims that he actually won the state, he urged Watson to check signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes against signatures two years ago, especially in Atlanta’s Fulton County.
“If you go back two years — and if you can get to Fulton, you’re going to find things that are going to be unbelievable,” Trump said. “Fulton is the mother lode, you know, as the expression goes.” That was an “apparent attempt to inflate the numbers of nonmatching signatures” in a Democratic stronghold, the Post explains. “In Georgia and Florida in 2018, thousands of eligible voters saw their ballots rejected because officials checked their signatures against one on file that was older, and the voters’ signatures had evolved in the intervening time.”
Trump also urged Watson’s team to continue investigating past Christmas, “because you know we have that date of the 6th, which is a very important date.” (Jan. 6 did, in fact, turn out to be an important date.) Watson appears to try to end the call several times, telling Trump at one point that she’s “honored that you called” but also frankly “shocked that you would take time to do that.”
Trump’s defenders argued that on both the Watson and Raffensperger calls, the president of the United States was just calling state election officials to check in on what he truly believed was vote fraud, Aaron Blake writes at the Post. “The problem with the argument is that Trump repeatedly indicated he was less interested in finding all supposed fraud than in finding the amount and the specific culprits that would overturn the result.”