A tape, again. Exactly a year ago, Donald Trump had the impeachment procedure on his neck, which began with a controversial phone call between the US President and his Ukrainian counterpart. A few months later, in the middle of the election campaign, investigative journalist Bob Woodward published recordings of interviews that made Trump’s corona policy look bad. And now the New Year has begun in Washington with another tape recording, on which Trump can be heard. The outrage about it: Almost as big as the first two times.
The recording was published by Washington Post, first in excerpts, then in their entire, disturbing length. It proves how Trump, in a one-hour phone call on Saturday, urged, implored and even threatened the Georgia Interior Minister to turn the long-established election result. “I want to get 11,780 votes,” Trump told Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who, in his capacity, is also the state’s top election overseer. Trump’s Democratic opponent Joe Biden had won the Georgia election by 11,779 votes. Raffensperger, who voted Trump twice, had the result certified after two recounts together with the Republican governor of Georgia.
Trump provides no evidence for his adventurous claims
The authorities did not find any evidence of the massive election fraud alleged by Trump – as in any other state. That could not be true, Trump believes. Raffensperger should take another look at the matter, the president urges on the phone: “There is nothing wrong with saying that you have recalculated.” If the interior minister does that, he will be “really respected”, flatters Trump.
Raffensperger does not get involved. Trump’s data are not accurate, but the official data have been confirmed by courts, he replied to the president. Trump takes on a different tone – a threatening one. “You know what has been done and you do not report about it,” he accuses Raffensperger, referring to his theories on electoral fraud. “You know, this is a criminal offense. You mustn’t let that happen. It’s a big risk for you and your lawyer. A big risk.” When the tape recording was released, the conclusions were quickly drawn: “Donald Trump talks like a mafia boss, and not even a particularly clever mafia boss,” said constitutional lawyer Neal Katyal the TV channel MSNBC.
What exactly Trump was hoping for from the call, which also included several of his lawyers and his chief of staff Mark Meadows, is not entirely clear. The conversation took place at a time when the Georgia Interior Secretary could not have changed the result that had already been certified.
What is certain, however, is that Trump’s behavior has caused discomfort in broad circles. Vice-President-designate Kamala Harris spoke of “abuse of power”. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the spokeswoman for the left wing of the Democrats, called for a new impeachment case against the outgoing president. Conservative politicians and commentators also criticized Trump. The Republican MP Adam Kinzinger called his statements “absolutely shameful”. In various US media, lawyers have spoken who believe that Trump could have committed a crime with his behavior – because he wanted to cause election fraud himself. However, charges are unlikely.
What is certain is that the episode will put pressure on Republicans to distance themselves from Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior. Several prominent representatives have recently done so. Liz Cheney, the number 3 Republican in Congress, warned her colleagues not to block the formal announcement of the election result in parliament next Wednesday. The maneuver encouraged by Trump has no political chance of success, but it would allow the president and his allies to further fuel their unfounded allegations of fraud.
Finally, what is certain is that Washington is still nervous about what else Trump could do in the last few days of his term in office. Also on Sunday, all of the surviving former US defense ministers published a joint letter calling on the Trump administration not to involve the military in the election arguments: “That would lead us into dangerous and lawless territory.” That too: unprecedented.