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Fact-checking Trump’s call to the Georgia secretary of state

In a phone call on Jan. 2, President Trump insisted he won the state and threatened vague legal consequences. Here are excerpts from the call. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

Our colleague Amy Gardner had a terrific scoop Sunday, obtaining the audio of a one-hour call between President Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in the state.

Her article provided a quick summary of the various false claims that the president made in the call, but here’s a quick guide on the facts so readers can see how the president framed these statements himself. We will go through the claims, more or less in the order in which they were presented. What is clear is that the president is relying on highly dubious sources of information as he continues to contest the election results.

I think it’s pretty clear that we won. We won very substantially in Georgia.”

No, Trump lost. President-elect Joe Biden has been certified as the winner of the state, after two recounts.

“You even see it by rally size, frankly. We’d be getting 25-30,000 people a rally, and the competition would get less than 100 people. And it never made sense.”

Trump has long been obsessed over the size of the crowds at his rallies. In the final days of the election campaign, according to our database of Trump’s false and misleading claims, Trump repeatedly hyped the number of people at his rallies — he rarely attracted more than 25,000 people — and often remarked that his crowds were bigger than any previous American or even world figure. (Not so.) He also knocked Biden for having small crowds, even though the Biden campaign was purposely trying to model good behavior during the pandemic.

In these comments, Trump echoes something he said often in his final rallies — that he could not possibly lose because of the crowds he attracted. He constantly inflated the size of the “tractor rallies” and “boat rallies” on his behalf. But it’s absurd to believe crowd sizes translate into votes. Many losing presidential campaigns — such as George McGovern’s in 1972 — attracted huge crowds in the last days of the campaign.

“The crowds at campaign events were large and enthusiastic,” recalled McGovern in a 2012 article. “I didn’t pay undue attention to the polls, and I wasn’t overly concerned that there would be no face-to-face debates with Nixon. But when election night came and the early returns revealed one of the most lopsided victories in U.S. history, I was genuinely stunned.” (McGovern lost 49 states to Richard M. Nixon.)

“Anywhere from 250 to 300,000 ballots were dropped mysteriously into the rolls.”

Only someone unaware of how ballots are counted would think something is mysterious. Trump is referring to the counting of mail-in ballots — almost two-thirds of the 1.3 million absentee ballots in Georgia were cast for Biden — that were generally counted after in-person ballots had been tabulated. In Georgia, absentee ballots can be processed (such as removed from envelopes and signature checked) upon receipt, but they cannot be counted until Election Day.

Much of that had to do with Fulton County, which hasn’t been checked. We think that if you check the signatures — a real check of the signatures going back in Fulton County — you’ll find at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures of people who have been forged.”

Trump is making up numbers here. There were only about 147,000 absentee ballots cast in Fulton County, making it impossible for “a couple of hundred thousand” forged signatures.

“People that went to vote and they were told they can’t vote because they’ve already been voted for. And it’s a very sad thing. They walked out complaining. But the number’s large. … You also have a substantial numbers of people, thousands and thousands, who went to the voting place on November 3, were told they couldn’t vote, were told they couldn’t vote because a ballot had been put on their name. And you know that’s very, very, very, very sad.”

This has been a persistent claim by the Trump campaign in various states — that Trump supporters went to vote, only to find their ballot had already been cast (presumably by Democratic operatives) and thus they were given a provisional ballot. No evidence has ever emerged to prove this. “There have no reports of anyone being turned away on Election Day,” Raffensperger told CBS Evening News, noting the situation described by Trump surely would have been reported.

There were no Republican poll watchers. Actually, there were no Democrat poll watchers, I guess they were them. But there were no Democrats, either, and there was no law enforcement. Late in the morning, early in the morning, they went to the table with the black robe and the black shield, and they pulled out the votes. Those votes were put there a number of hours before — the table was put there — I think it was, Brad, you would know, it was probably eight hours or seven hours before, and then it was stuffed with votes. They weren’t in an official voter box; they were in what looked to be suitcases or trunks, suitcases, but they weren’t in voter boxes.”

During a campaign rally for the Senate runoff races in December, Trump made a similar claim, which we debunked at the time.

The surveillance video at State Farm Arena, which comprises four security camera feeds — shows no irregularities, illegal behavior or evidence of malfeasance on behalf of poll workers. The supposed “suitcases” have been repeatedly identified by election officials as the standard boxes used in Fulton County to transport and store ballots. The video also fails to show any act of hiding or obscuring any ballots or election materials. Additionally, the video shown doesn’t prove the Trump campaign’s assertion that GOP monitors were told to leave the counting room in order for poll workers to engage in illegal ballot counting.

Here’s our video fact check of this claim:

Video pushed by President Trump fails to support the claims of voter fraud it alleges happened on Election Day in Fulton County, Ga. (Video: The Washington Post)

“It was late in the evening, late in the, early in the morning, and there was nobody else in the room. Where were the poll watchers, and why did they say a water main broke, which they did and which was reported in the newspapers? They said they left. They ran out because of a water main break, and there was no water main. There was nothing. There was no break.”

Later in the call, Trump referenced a supposed water main break used to clear the room of poll watchers, a key focus of right-wing conspiracy theory websites. Officials have explained that a urinal had created a “little slow leak” in the arena.

“You had out-of-state voters. They voted in Georgia, but they were from out of state, of 4,925.”

During the call, secretary of state counsel Ryan Germany told Trump that his numbers were wrong. “They’re not accurate,” he said. “Every one we’ve been through are people that lived in Georgia, moved to a different state, but then moved back to Georgia legitimately.”

“You had drop boxes, which is very bad. You had drop boxes that were picked up. We have photographs, and we have affidavits from many people.”

Germany previously told the state House Government Affairs Committee that video reviews found this to be false.

“The other thing, dead people. So dead people voted, and I think the number is close to 5,000 people. And they went to obituaries. They went to all sorts of methods to come up with an accurate number, and a minimum is close to about 5,000 voters.”

Another ludicrous number. During the call and at the state hearing, Germany said they have found a total of two dead people who voted. “Usually, that’s somebody who died recently, and a family member votes with [the name],” Germany said. “That handful of instances are consistent with what we see in every election. Again, it’s not okay.”

The bottom line is, when you add it all up and then you start adding, you know, 300,000 fake ballots.”

It is easy to add up nonsense numbers and come up with an even bigger number.

“They are burning their ballots, that they are shredding, shredding ballots and removing equipment. They’re changing the equipment on the Dominion machines and, you know, that’s not legal.”

As Raffensperger explained during the call, none of this is true. At a news conference Monday, Georgia’s voting system manager Gabriel Sterling expressed bewilderment at Trump’s claim about Dominion machines being altered. “This is not a thing,” he said.

During the call, Raffensperger pointedly noted that Trump’s claims about Dominion machines could not possibly be true “because we did a hand re-tally, a 100 percent re-tally of all the ballots, and compared them to what the machines said and came up with virtually the same result. Then we did the recount, and we got virtually the same result.”

“Remember, her reputation is — she’s known all over the Internet, Brad. She’s known all over. I’m telling you, ‘Where’s [name]’ was one of the hot items … [name] They knew her. ‘Where’s [name]?’ So Brad, there can be no justification for that.”

At one point, Trump referenced by name an election worker at the State Farm Arena who has been subject of feverish speculation by QAnon followers, who falsely believed she had been arrested. (The Washington Post is not printing her name.) Trump here demonstrates how deep in the conspiracy theory swamps he has swum.

“Brad, why did they put the votes in three times? You know, they put ’em in three times.”

“Mr. President, they did not put that,” Raffensperger replied. “We did an audit of that, and we proved conclusively that they were not scanned three times.”

“They supposedly shredded I think they said 300 pounds of, 3,000 pounds of ballots. And that just came to us as a report today.”

This is more crazed Twitter speculation, with no basis in fact. Cobb County officials explained on Nov. 24 that a shredding company every election is hired to “dispose of non-relevant materials that cannot be easily disposed of,” such as mailing labels and sticky notes. “None of these items are relevant to the election or the re-tally,” Elections Director Janine Eveler said. “Everything of consequence, including the ballots, absentee ballot applications with signatures, and anything else used in the count or re-tally remains on file.

“In Detroit, we had, I think it was, 139 percent of the people voted. That’s not too good.”

This has been debunked repeatedly. As we previously reported, Trump campaign allies mixed up precincts in Minnesota and Michigan. Someone had apparently mixed up two states that started with “Mi.” The precincts were not in Wayne County but in some of the reddest parts of Minnesota — Trump country. It turns out that about 51 percent of the registered voters in the city cast a ballot.

“In Pennsylvania, they had well over 200,000 more votes than they had people voting.”

Another debunked statement, based on a misunderstanding of an incomplete voter registration database, which was missing numbers for some of the most populous counties in the state. “To put it simply, this so-called analysis was based on incomplete data,” said Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which labeled the claim as “obvious misinformation.”

“She got you to sign a totally unconstitutional agreement, which is a disastrous agreement. You can’t check signatures. I can’t imagine you’re allowed to do harvesting, I guess, in that agreement.”

The “she” here is voting-rights advocate Stacey Abrams. Trump is referring to a March settlement under which voters were to be contacted if problems arose with their absentee ballot. But Trump wrongly believes it did not allow signature verification and that it allows “harvesting,” the collecting of ballots in bulk permitted in some states. But not in Georgia, as Raffensperger quickly pointed out.

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