Testimony: Trump Jr. threatened to ‘tank’ Senate runoffs unless Ga. GOP backed his father

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Donald Trump’s son threatened to “tank” the 2021 Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs if the state Republican Party did not back Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in the presidential election, according to congressional testimony released Friday.

Donald Trump Jr. met with GOP Chairman David Shafer and others two days after the November 2020 election, when votes were still being tallied and it was unclear whether the senior Trump or Democrat Joe Biden would win the state. But then-President Trump was already claiming the election was stolen, and Republicans were torn between focusing on Trump’s complaints or on the two runoff elections that would determine which party controlled the U.S. Senate.

Trump Jr. made it clear where their loyalties should lie, Robert Sinners, a former Trump campaign official, told congressional investigators last June. Although he did not attend the meeting, Sinners said he was told afterward that Trump Jr. said “that if you do not support my dad 100%, we are going to tank your Senate races,” according to Sinners’ interview transcript.

Shortly after that meeting, Shafer and other Republicans appeared with Trump Jr. at a Buckhead rally where some of them repeated election fraud allegations. A few days later, the two Republican U.S. Senate candidates — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — called on fellow Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign over unspecified election “failures.”

It apparently did them little good — they lost the runoffs to Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and Democrats took control of the Senate.

Sinners’ testimony is the latest evidence of the extraordinary pressure that Trump applied to Georgia Republicans as he sought to overturn Biden’s victory. That pressure also included Trump’s demand that Raffensperger “find” the 11,780 votes he needed to defeat Biden and a campaign to persuade Georgia lawmakers to overturn the election.

ExploreInside the campaign to undermine Georgia's election

Sinners’ account suggests Trump’s hardball tactics started before an initial count of ballots was completed.

Though the presidential election was up in the air, it was already apparent that the two Senate races would likely go to runoff elections. Sinners told congressional investigators the party was divided over “do we latch on to Trump or do we run these Senate races independently?”

According to Sinners, Trump Jr. provided the answer.

Trump Jr. visited Atlanta on Nov. 5, 2020. Sinners said Trump Jr. met with Shafer and threatened to “tank” the Senate races if the party didn’t stand by his father. Sinners said supporting Trump meant saying he won the election, but also “calling, you know, for the secretary of state to resign” and “teaming up with, you know, the Lin Woods of the world, and stuff like that.” It was unclear whether Sinners was saying Trump Jr. directed Georgia Republicans to take those steps or whether he believed those steps were just the result of Trump’s threat.

Wood is the former Atlanta attorney who made wild election fraud claims and filed an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia. Numerous state and federal investigations have found no evidence of significant fraud in Georgia or other states.

In his testimony, Sinners stressed he did not attend the Trump Jr. meeting and could not confirm the details. But he said Trump Jr.’s threat was common knowledge — “it was the understanding that Georgia is going to double down on whatever is said, however it’s said, or suffer the consequences,” he told investigators.

Sinners said Shafer “looked like he’d seen a ghost” after the meeting.

Shafer declined to comment. He also spoke with congressional investigators, though a transcript of his interview has not yet been released. Sinners declined to comment Saturday.

At a public rally in Buckhead later that evening, Trump Jr. struck a similar tone.

Surrounded by prominent Republicans — including Shafer, state Sen. Brandon Beach and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins — Trump Jr. cited allegations of voting fraud in Georgia and criticized a Republican Party “that hasn’t had a backbone” to stand up to fraud.

“You’re not going to see that this time around,” he said. “That party is gone, and anyone that doesn’t fight like that should go with it.”

Sinners was Trump’s director of Election Day operations in Georgia. Among other things, he helped organize the slate of “alternative” Trump electors who are now the subject of criminal investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and a Fulton County special grand jury. Sinners told the electors to use “complete secrecy and discretion” as they went about their business.

He now works as Raffensperger’s communications director.

Sinners spoke to a congressional panel investigating the events that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The committee’s final report detailed Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia and other states.

The committee interviewed hundreds of people and has been releasing transcripts of those interviews. Some of the other Georgians interviewed include Raffensperger and the two Fulton County election workers who Trump falsely accused of voting fraud.