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Trump scrambles as threat of other possible indictments looms

To hear Donald Trump tell it, his alleged election interference in Georgia was permissible because Brad Raffensperger didn’t seem outraged. That's ... odd.


Donald Trump clearly isn’t pleased about having been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, but the former president also seems painfully aware of the fact that he’s facing several other ongoing criminal investigations, each of which might lead to additional charges.

And he’s not handling that especially well, either.

On the investigation into his retention of classified documents, he published an item to his social media platform last night, calling the scandal a “hoax.” (It’s not.) The missive came just days after the Republican, giving a post-arraignment speech at Mar-a-Lago, peddled a series of related falsehoods about the case.

My personal favorite was Trump’s insistence that he was “working with” the National Archives and Records Administration “very nicely” until the FBI showed up at his glorified country club. In reality, of course, NARA practically begged the former president to return the materials he took, but he refused. (He also said that under federal law, he was supposed to “negotiate” with the Archives. That was absurd, too.)

But the threat of an indictment in Georgia also has Trump’s attention. He published this item last night:

Just like New York, the Racist District Attorney in Atlanta, who presides over one of the most deadly and violent jurisdictions in the U.S. (and does nothing about it!), is having an impossible time showing that my ‘PERFECT’ phone call was bad, when none of the many lawyers on the call interjected that I was saying something wrong or improper — Not even a word of admonishment. They never hung up or said ‘how dare you.’ That’s because, as everyone knows, there was nothing wrong with the call!

He pushed a similar line at Mar-a-Lago last week, telling supporters, “Nobody said, ‘Sir, you shouldn’t say that.’ [Nobody] hung up in disgust because of something I inappropriately said, because nothing was said wrong.”

As amazing as this might seem, Trump seems convinced that this line is the key to his entire defense: He called officials in Georgia; they didn’t seem upset; so the call must’ve been fine.

If this argument sounds at all familiar, it’s because Trump has pushed the same line repeatedly for months. On Jan. 9, for example, the former president argued that while he leaned on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, “nobody ‘hung up’ or was offended!”

On Jan. 24, Trump reiterated the line, asking, “[H]ow come not one person said, while on the call, that I acted inappropriately, or made a statement of protest at what I said, & then slammed down the phone.” He added that among the people on the line, there was “NO ADMONISHMENT at all.” He tried the same pitch again in February.

I continue to find this hilarious because it’s so terribly odd.

To briefly recap, Trump called Raffensperger on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021, and told the Georgian he wanted someone to “find” enough votes to flip the state’s election results, even if that meant overturning the will of the voters. The then-president added, while pressuring Raffensperger, “[T]here’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”

As we discussed soon after, Raffensperger recorded the call, offering the public the opportunity to hear Trump explore ways to cheat, begging others to participate in his scheme, and even make some subtle threats toward the state’s top elections official.

But Trump keeps trying to convince us that the call was benign — because Raffensperger didn’t “admonish” him or hang up the phone. It’s as if the former president believes he’s found some kind of loophole: Election interference must be seen as legally permissible if the relevant state official doesn’t express immediate outrage.

This isn’t how reality works. Raffensperger was speaking at the time to the sitting president of the United States. Maybe the Georgia Republican stayed on the line as a courtesy. Maybe he waited to see if Trump would apologize. Maybe he was stunned by the scandalous lobbying effort.

Whatever his reasoning at the time, as Trump’s lawyers really should’ve explained to him, the fact that Raffensperger was polite is not exonerating. There is no rule that says illegal election interference is only a problem if the person being pressured hangs up on the person doing the pressuring.

What’s more, the former president continues to brush past the fact that the call in question wasn’t the only call Trump made to officials in Georgia after his 2020 defeat.

If the best the Republican can come up with to defend his conduct is that no one yelled at him over the phone, he’s in a world of trouble.

This post revises our related earlier coverage.