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Recording reveals details of Trump call to Georgia’s chief elections investigator

After falsely saying he won the election, then-President Donald Trump on Dec. 23 urged a top investigator in Georgia's mail-in ballot audit to find wrongdoing. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Donald Trump encouraged Georgia’s chief elections investigator in a December phone call to uncover “dishonesty” in her investigation of absentee ballot signatures in an effort to reverse his defeat against Joe Biden in the state, according to a recording of the call released this week by the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

“The people of Georgia are so angry at what happened to me,” Trump told Frances Watson, the chief investigator for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, according to the recording. “They know I won, won by hundreds of thousands of votes. It wasn’t close.”

He added, “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.” Later on the call, he said, “You have the most important job in the country right now.”

The Washington Post reported on the substance of Trump’s Dec. 23 call in January, describing him saying that Watson should “find the fraud” and that she would be a “national hero,” based on an account from Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state, whom Watson briefed on his comments.

In fact, he did not use those precise words.

Rather, Trump urged the investigator to scrutinize Fulton County, where she would find “dishonesty,” he said.

He also said, “whatever you can do, Frances, it would be — it’s a great thing. It’s an important thing for the country. So important. You’ve no idea. So important. And I very much appreciate it.”

When The Post first reported on the call, state officials said they did not believe that a recording existed. 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, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal process.

Watson has not responded to requests for comment. The Post originally withheld her name because of the risk of threats and harassment directed at election officials. In an interview with WSB-TV, she said she was “shocked” by Trump’s call but did not feel pressured by his outreach.

A spokesman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

The recording was first reported Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal.

At the time Trump called her, Watson was leading an audit of mail ballot signatures in Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta. Legal experts have said the president’s outreach — and another call he placed directly to Raffensperger on Jan. 2 — may have amounted to obstruction of a criminal investigation.

The Fulton County district attorney’s office has launched a probe into the efforts by Trump and his allies to subvert the results in Georgia.

Georgia prosecutors open criminal investigation into Trump’s efforts to subvert election results

On the call, Watson sounds surprised and flattered to find herself on the telephone with the U.S. president — but also careful to reveal little about the investigation she was conducting in partnership with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“Well, Mr. President, I appreciate your comments,” she said. “And I can assure you that our team and the GBI, that we’re only interested in the truth and finding, you know, finding the information that’s based on the facts.”

She added: “I know that you’re a very, very busy, very important man. And I’m very honored that you called. Quite, quite frankly, I’m shocked that you, that you would take time to do that. But I am very appreciative.”

Trump said he called on the suggestion of his chief of staff at the time, Mark Meadows — who had returned from a visit to Georgia the previous day to see the signature investigation in action.

Raffensperger had called for the audit after Trump and his allies claimed without evidence that thousands of absentee ballots with forged signatures on their envelopes had been improperly accepted by local election officials.

In November, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) called Raffensperger directly to inquire about the feasibility of rechecking ballot signatures and discarding all absentee ballots in counties with high mismatching rates, Raffensperger told The Post last year. Graham denied that he was trying to toss votes, saying he was merely seeking information to better understand how the state verified mail ballots. It would be impossible to discard the ballots associated with individual ballot envelopes, as they are separated early in the tabulation process to protect voter privacy.

On the call with Watson, Trump urged her to check the envelope signatures against older signatures on file rather than a current file — an apparent attempt to inflate the numbers of nonmatching signatures.

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.

“I hope you’re going back two years as opposed to just checking, you know, one against the other because that would just be sort of a signature check that didn’t mean anything,” Trump said. “But 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, the dishonesty that we’ve heard from, just good sources, really good sources.”

“But Fulton is the mother lode, you know, as the expression goes. Fulton County,” he added.

Trump also urged Watson to continue investigating past the Christmas holiday “because, you know, we have the date, which is a very important date” — an apparent reference to Jan. 6, the day a joint session of Congress was scheduled to formalize the electoral college results.

Trump was fixated on that date as a last opportunity to overturn the election results, encouraging thousands of his supporters to descend on Washington and protest the vote. The ensuing riot at the U.S. Capitol left five people dead, including one police officer. Dozens of officers were injured. In the aftermath of the violence, Congress formally recognized President Biden’s win that night.