With his chances of winning Georgia slipping away in December 2020, then-President Donald Trump hit upon a novel scheme to stay in power: State legislators would name him the winner.
So, while his allies spun dubious tales of voting fraud at the Georgia Capitol, Trump’s campaign called nearly 120 Republican legislators to ask whether they would appoint a slate of presidential electors who would vote for Trump instead of Democrat Joe Biden. A log of those phone calls recently released by congressional investigators shows some lawmakers were eager to help.
“Hell, yes,” said one. “100%,” replied another. “Very supportive and ready to go,” a third lawmaker told the campaign.
In all, about 30 Republican legislators expressed some level of support for allowing the General Assembly to name Trump the winner of the presidential election, according to the call log. The log and other documents released by investigators suggest scores of other lawmakers also may have supported the plan.
The documents appear to offer the fullest picture yet of Trump’s effort to pressure legislators to help him overturn the election — and the willingness of lawmakers to go along with that plan.
Some lawmakers say the documents are not accurate. Fourteen legislators the Trump campaign identified as supporting his plan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they either do not remember receiving such a call or said they never supported a plan to appoint Trump electors.
“I do think there were some issues with the election,” said state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton. “But that was not the way to go.”
No legislator contacted by the AJC admitted to taking the Trump campaign’s call. Seventeen lawmakers the campaign identified as supporting Trump’s plan did not respond to requests for comment or could not be reached.
The reluctance of some lawmakers to talk about Trump’s plan is in stark contrast to the climate that gripped the Georgia Capitol in the wake of the 2020 election. With the president demanding loyalty and bullying politicians who failed to get in line, plenty of Georgia lawmakers were willing to publicly support his efforts. Calls to convene a special session to tighten voting rules quickly evolved into calls for legislators to “take back the power to appoint electors.”
The congressional documents don’t reveal the stance of every Republican lawmaker, and they don’t necessarily reflect how legislators would have voted if given the chance to overturn the election. That chance never came — Gov. Brian Kemp and legislative leaders rejected calls to convene a special session that would have allowed the General Assembly to name Trump the winner.
But the documents suggest plenty of lawmakers were ready to reject the will of a majority of Georgia voters on the flimsiest of pretenses.
A blitz of phone calls
Trump and his supporters spent weeks challenging Biden’s victory with unsuccessful lawsuits. But his campaign also pursued another strategy: convincing legislators in Georgia and other states that fraud had cost Trump the election, and that lawmakers had the authority to set things right.
The strategy was dubious from the beginning. Trump’s fraud claims were investigated and debunked. In Georgia, a hand recount of every ballot confirmed Biden’s victory.
What’s more, legal experts across the political spectrum rejected the idea that legislators could determine the outcome of the election after the fact. But some Georgia lawmakers were willing to try. Several dozen sought to convene a special session of the Legislature to “take back the power to appoint electors.”
In addition, a dozen Georgia lawmakers signed a letter — released by congressional investigators — urging Vice President Mike Pence to delay congressional certification of Biden’s victory so legislatures could consider “certification or decertification of the election.” And 28 Georgia legislators filed a brief in support of an unsuccessful lawsuit that sought to allow state lawmakers to decide the election.
Much of this was done publicly. But documents and interviews released by congressional investigators have shed new light on what was happening behind the scenes.
The AJC reviewed thousands of pages of interview transcripts and documents released by a U.S. House committee that spent months investigating the events that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The committee’s final report, released in December, details Trump’s effort to use false voting fraud allegations as an excuse to overturn his loss.
The documents reviewed by the AJC highlight Trump’s extraordinary campaign to pressure legislators in Georgia and other states to overturn Biden’s victory.
The campaign used TV ads, social media and text messages to urge Trump supporters to call elected officials. They asked them to demand that legislators convene to investigate and address the fraud claims. Lawmakers received hundreds of calls.
The Trump campaign also pressured lawmakers directly.
The Jan. 6 committee found the campaign called more than 190 Republican legislators in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan alone in late November and early December 2020. A log of the calls released by the committee shows 119 of them went to Georgia legislators.
The blitz was timed to coincide with a December hearing at which Trump attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani laid out numerous voting fraud allegations.
“Right now, Mayor Giuliani is presenting experts and witnesses from Georgia to the Senate judiciary committee who will show the vote totals are fatally flawed and do not accurately represent the will of the voters,” stated a script that campaign staffers recited to lawmakers.
Angela McCallum was one of the staffers who made those calls. She told investigators most of the calls went to voicemail.
One of McCallum’s voicemails to a Michigan legislator was leaked to the press. In the recording, she recites the script she read to Georgia lawmakers, with minor changes, such as the name of the state.
The Georgia script urged the lawmakers to “reclaim your authority to send a slate of (presidential) electors that will support President Trump and Vice President Pence.” It closed by asking each lawmaker, “When there is a resolution to appoint electors for Trump, can the president count on you to join in support?”
If she reached a lawmaker, McCallum said she made “a note about what that person said when the phone was answered.” According to the call log, 30 Georgia lawmakers answered “yes” when asked whether they were willing to support Trump’s plan. Another said he was “likely” to support it, and one said “maybe.”
None of the lawmakers are recorded as saying “no,” though a few hung up on the callers or said they couldn’t talk. The campaign staffers’ notes indicate they skipped calling lawmakers they did not believe would be supportive, as well as many legislative leaders.
The call log includes comments allegedly made by some legislators. When asked whether he would support Trump’s plan, then-Rep. Dale Rutledge, R-McDonough, said “hell yes,” according to the log.
In an interview with the AJC, Rutledge, who lost a reelection bid in 2020, said he did not remember receiving a call from the Trump campaign. When asked whether he supported appointing Trump electors, Rutledge said the proposal “doesn’t even make any sense.”
“I don’t think our system is set up to do that,” he said.
Rep. Martin Momtahan, R-Dallas, allegedly told the campaign he was “100%” supportive. He told the campaign Georgia’s U.S. senators should lobby for a special legislative session and new electors, according to the log. Momtahan declined to comment.
Then-Rep. Dewayne Hill, R-Ringgold, allegedly told the campaign he was “very supportive and ready to go.” He told the AJC he did not remember the call.
Others were less definitive. Rep. James Burchett, R-Waycross, was listed as supporting Trump’s plan, but he told the Trump campaign he “wanted to see the evidence” for fraud, according to the call log. Burchett did not respond to requests for comment.
Some legislators pointed to discrepancies in the call log. It identifies Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, as someone who said “yes” to Trump’s plan. But it also says his call went to voicemail.
“Obviously you have some bad information,” Corbett said in an email.
Former Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, noted that he’s listed as a female in the call log column that identifies each lawmaker’s gender. After reviewing the call log and script, England said he “can confirm I never got that call.”
Others also told the AJC that they don’t remember the call or did not support a plan to appoint Trump electors.
Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, said he “never expressed support for a resolution to appoint electors for Trump after the 2020 election.” He provided a screen shot of a Jan. 7, 2021, Facebook post in which he denounced members of Congress who had sought to overturn Biden’s victory the day before.
Because most of the calls apparently went to voicemail, it’s hard to determine the extent of support for Trump’s plan among Georgia lawmakers. But there are some indications of widespread support.
Then-Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, told the campaign he’d been working with other Republicans “to get Gov to open session in order to do this,” according to the call log. Morris told the caller he believed about “96 of 103 would be on board.”
Morris, now a member of the State Transportation Board, did not respond to a request for comment.
The investigation documents indicate the Trump campaign may have doubted the willingness of some Georgia lawmakers to overturn the election.
Joshua Findlay, an attorney, provided the campaign regular reports from Georgia. On Dec. 6, 2020 — just a few days after the phone calls to legislators apparently began — Findlay noted Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s public opposition to convening a special session and offered his analysis.
“Based on what I have heard, most senators do not want to be put in the position of choosing alternative electors, even though they want to give all of the tools necessary to investigate the election,” Findlay wrote. “This statement (by Duncan) was likely the LG shielding the majority of members that do not want to vote on alternative electors from being put in that position.”
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