Trump allies draw Georgia into election conspiracy claims

Georgia was drawn into a vortex of conspiracy theories over the 2020 presidential election on Thursday as President Donald Trump’s lawyers and a prominent Atlanta supporter pressed unfounded claims that the state was a hotbed of fraud.

In a hearing late Thursday, a federal judge in Atlanta rejected a request to bar state officials from certifying that former Vice President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Georgia. State law requires election results to be certified by Friday.

U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg, a Trump appointee, said he found no evidence of irregularities that affected more than a nominal number of votes. Biden beat Trump by more than 12,000 votes in Georgia.

Grimberg said halting the election’s certification could have invalidated 1.3 million absentee ballots cast by Georgia voters.

“It harms the public interest in countless ways, particularly in the environment in which this election occurred,” Grimberg said at the end of a nearly three-hour hearing. “To halt the certification at literally the 11th hour would breed confusion and significant disenfranchisement.”

U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg - shown at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year after being nominated by President Donald Trump - found no justification for potentially rejecting more than 1.3 million absentee ballots in Georgia. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Senate Office of Photography.

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Grimberg ruled in a case brought by Atlanta attorney L. Lin Wood, who claimed that improper procedures by election officials harmed him not only as a voter but as a Republican campaign donor.

The decision represented another legal defeat for Trump, who has spread unsubstantiated allegations of widespread fraud in states that, like Georgia, flipped from Republican to Democratic. It came hours after a news conference in which Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, claimed a global conspiracy turned the election in Biden’s favor.

Giuliani strongly criticized “crooks” who run such cities as Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia, which he claimed were rife with corruption and election fraud. All those cities are heavily Democratic and have large populations of African-Americans.

Giuliani also implicitly attacked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican whose office this week concluded a manual review of about 5 million ballots cast in the presidential contest. The review affirmed Biden’s victory.

“The recount in Georgia will tell us nothing,” Giuliani said. “They wouldn’t provide the signatures to match the ballots.”

He was referring to the special envelopes that absentee voters sign as they send in their ballots. After election workers verify that a voter’s signature matches registration records, the envelope is stored separately to guarantee ballot secrecy.

Another lawyer for Trump, Sydney Powell, claimed the president’s team has uncovered evidence of improper benefits provided to “people who spent $100 million to buy a statewide voting system” — an apparent reference to Georgia and to Raffensperger, who oversaw the $104 million purchase of new voting equipment from Dominion Voting Systems.

“A full-scale criminal investigation needs to be undertaken immediately,” Powell said. “President Trump won by a landslide. We are going to prove it.”

Raffensperger has denied Trump’s allegations of wrongdoing in Georgia’s election.

Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican who once counted Trump as one of his staunchest supporters, declined to comment on the allegations.

In an email Thursday, a spokesman for Kemp said, “The governor supported a full audit of the results and believes that only legal votes should be counted.”

A stronger rebuttal came from Erick Erickson, the conservative commentator and talk radio host who supported Trump for re-election. “There are a lot of broken people who are being lied to,” Erickson wrote on Twitter, “and many of them want to believe the lie because their religion has become politics and they cannot believe their god is abandoning them.”

In the news conference, Powell and Giuliani also alleged that Dominion —founded in Toronto and now headquartered in Denver — was connected to the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, and that the firm had produced software that allowed votes to be changed electronically at a massive scale. They offered no evidence to support the claims.

Giuliani additionally suggested that a Dominion executive who was involved with bringing the company’s equipment to Georgia was affiliated with the antifa and Black Lives Matter movements. He called the executive “a vicious, vicious man.”

On its website, Dominion denied the allegations. It also cited a statement by the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency that dismissed claims of tampering with election systems and called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.”

In the news conference, Giuliani claimed to have evidence of double-voting in Georgia elections and of out-of-state residents casting ballots. He said this alleged fraud involved more than twice as many votes as Trump would need to overturn the Georgia results.

But, while imploring reporters to read his evidence, Giuliani released only a few sworn statements by witnesses to purported fraud. Those statements, most from Republican poll watchers or election workers, described routine election procedures, such as verifying voter signatures on absentee ballots, as evidence of wrongdoing.

Giuliani pointed to an affidavit filed with Wood’s lawsuit in Atlanta from an unidentified person who claims to be a former member of the presidential security detail in Venezuela. He alleged he was present when Chavez and representatives of a Florida voting-equipment company conspired to create software to secretly change votes. He also said that company was connected to Dominion, Georgia’s election equipment vendor — a claim that is untrue.

It is not clear why Wood filed the Venezuelan’s affidavit in his lawsuit, and it did not come up during the court hearing in Atlanta.

Wood sued this week to stop certification and to request a statewide manual recount. Wood is a vocal Trump supporter who represented Richard Jewell, the security guard who was wrongly suspected in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. After federal authorities cleared Jewell, Wood sued numerous media organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The suit against the AJC was dismissed in 2011, with the Georgia Court of Appeals concluding the coverage — which reported that law enforcement officials suspected Jewell — was substantially true at the time of publication.

During the hearing, Wood’s lawyer, Ray Smith, said Georgia’s voting was “tainted with impropriety, unfairness and fraud.” He asserted that because of a record number of absentee ballots and new procedures for rejecting those with signatures that did not appear to match registration records, “signature matching for absentee ballots wasn’t done or wasn’t done properly.”

But Russ Willard of the state attorney general’s office, representing Raffensperger, said election workers appropriately verified absentee voters’ signatures and suggested Wood had no evidence to the contrary. “It wasn’t until his preferred candidate lost the election” that Wood complained about the absentee ballot verification process, Willard said. Rather than accept the election results, Willard said, Wood sought “the largest disenfranchisement of eligible electors since the abolition of the poll tax and other laws of the Jim Crow era.”

Wood did not speak in court — but was posting on Twitter during and after the hearing. He promised to appeal Grimberg’s ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, defended Giuliani’s allegations about Dominion and attacked the media and the fact-checking site Snopes for rebutting claims about Venezuelan interference in the election.

“LIE,” he wrote. “Snopes is paid to publish propaganda. Ignore it.”

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