Democratic members of Congress late Sunday joined the chorus denouncing outgoing President Donald Trump’s desperate attempt to pressure Georgia’s top election official to “find” enough votes to overturn the state’s November results, a failed effort that lawmakers and legal experts said amounts to an attack on democracy and a blatant criminal offense.
“This is clearly an impeachable offense and I believe there is nothing under the law giving Trump immunity from criminal process and indictment for this conduct,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “The law and order party is a farce.”
At turns pleading and threatening, the lame-duck president’s hour-long Saturday call with Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—a recording of which was obtained and published by several media outlets on Sunday—contained remarks that some legal experts said constitute clear violations of both state and federal law.
Ryan Locke, a criminal defense lawyer and former public defender in Atlanta, told the New York Timesthat Trump could be prosecuted under a Georgia law that makes it a felony to “solicit, request, command, importune, or otherwise attempt to cause another person to engage in election fraud.”
“He’s telling the secretary of state to ‘find votes so that I can win—votes that are not due to me,'” Locke said. “The recording alone is certainly enough to launch an investigation. It’s likely probable cause to issue an indictment.”
The Times noted that “at the federal level, anyone who ‘knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process’ is breaking the law.”
“Donald Trump once again abused the power of his office, demanded interference in our elections, betrayed this country, and attacked our democracy,” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “We must hold him fully accountable, even after he leaves office. There must be justice.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Democrat in the Senate, called for a “criminal investigation” into what he described as Trump’s “disgraceful effort to intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting the legally confirmed vote totals in his state.”
“Those who encourage and support his conduct, including my Senate colleagues, are putting the orderly and peaceful transition of power in our nation at risk,” said Durbin, referring to the Senate Republicans who plan to join 140 of their House GOP allies this week in attempting to contest President-elect Joe Biden’s decisive victory.
The burden of whether to pursue federal criminal charges against Trump for what one House Democrat called “illegal election tampering” will likely fall to the incoming Biden administration. In an August interview, Biden questioned whether attempting to prosecute Trump for crimes committed during his four years in the White House would be “good for democracy,” but added that he would not “interfere with the Justice Department’s judgment.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), who in November demanded that the DOJ prosecute Trump for his “innumerable crimes against the United States,” said Sunday that “this latest attempted election-rigging felony” should be added “to the bill of indictment.”
“Trump on tape yesterday asking Georgia’s top election official to ‘find’ new votes seems like an open-and-shut federal (and state) crime,” said Pascrell. “Trump must be prosecuted once he leaves office.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement late Sunday that Trump may have “subjected himself to additional criminal liability” by threatening Georgia election officials in his effort to overturn his loss and remain in office.
“The American people will draw a straight line from President Trump’s phone call, where he implores a state official to ‘find’ the 11,780 votes he needs to overcome his margin of defeat in Georgia, to the efforts of certain members of the House and Senate to block President-elect Biden’s victory when the Electoral College results are certified,” said Nadler. “Both tactics are reckless, deeply selfish, and place love of power over commitment to our democratic process.”