Tricia Raffensperger’s text message, six days after the 2020 elections, was as blistering as it was direct.
Hours after Kelly Loeffler, then Georgia’s junior U.S. senator, called for her husband, Brad, to resign from his post as secretary of state in a bid to appease then-President Donald Trump, the typically measured grandmother made clear exactly how she felt about Loeffler.
“Never did I think you were the kind of person to unleash such hate and fury on someone in political office of the same party,” Tricia Raffensperger wrote, noting that her family is under siege “because you didn’t have the decency or good manners to come and talk to my husband with any questions you may have had.”
“I hold you personally responsible,” she added, “for anything that happens to any of my family, from my husband, children and grandchildren.”
Note: Texts in this story have been recreated based on documents obtained by the AJC.
The message came on Nov. 9, 2020, the same day Loeffler — then locked in a tight runoff battle against Democrat Raphael Warnock — and her Georgia colleague, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, called for Brad Raffensperger’s ouster. They cited no evidence beyond his unspecified “failures” administering the state’s elections.
Tricia Raffensperger’s text did not appear to receive a reply from Loeffler. And a few weeks later, the former financial executive ended up losing her Jan. 5, 2021, runoff to serve the final two years of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term after he stepped down.
But the message, which appeared on one of 59 pages worth of texts from Loeffler’s iPhone obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, offers a rare peek into Loeffler’s private deliberations during her final weeks in office as she fought to hold onto her Senate seat while Trump and his allies cast doubt over the election results.
They provide a more personal view of the private maneuvering and mounting pressure on Loeffler in the runup to the Jan. 5 runoff and the storming of the U.S. Capitol the day after by a pro-Trump mob that led her to reverse her decision to cast a vote to block Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
The copies of the text exchanges were sent to the AJC anonymously, and it’s not immediately clear how the messages were obtained. The AJC’s efforts to identify who sent the text messages were unsuccessful, though the metadata accompanying the document sent to the paper show it was created July 25.
The messages appeared to relate directly to the 2020 election and 2021 runoff, and they were collected in a document with the name of a vendor typically used by law firms to respond to subpoenas. It didn’t include other texts, such as personal messages to friends and family.
The AJC confirmed the veracity of the exchanges with four people who were participants in some of the conversations. Reporters contacted everyone identified in the exchanges cited in the story. Several declined to comment; others didn’t return phone calls and text messages.
In a statement, Loeffler spokeswoman Caitlin O’Dea said the messages were a “desperate attempt to distract voters 20 days from the election.”
The texts, which span from November 2020 to February 2021, almost entirely involve discussions between Loeffler, her aides, allies and supporters about election fraud, her runoff campaign and certification of Biden’s victory.
There are several ongoing investigations involving attempts by Trump to overturn his defeat.
A spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said the office “has not released any documents related to Senator Kelly Loeffler.” And spokesmen for the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The texts also show Loeffler scrambling to respond to developments such as the Dec. 1, 2020, press conference during which senior state election official Gabe Sterling said Loeffler and Perdue were complicit in the threats against election workers because they hadn’t spoken out against Trump’s lies.
Preparing for challenges
Within days of the November 2020 election, Trump advisers began hashing out a scheme to overturn Biden’s victory. It involved enlisting legislators in swing states that Biden won such as Georgia to overturn the election. As it evolved, it included asking Republicans in Congress to refuse to certify Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021.
The plan involved slates of Trump electors in the targeted states casting their ballots as if he’d won the election. They had no legal authority, and they now are the subject of criminal investigations by the Justice Department and Willis.
One of Georgia’s fake electors, attorney Daryl Moody, was also involved in Loeffler’s campaign. The day before the GOP electors gathered to vote, Moody sought the senator’s permission to participate.
“Since Biden was certified as the winner, I hadn’t planned to go,” he wrote to Loeffler. “Since I’m technically an officer on your leadership team, I wanted to make sure I’m making choices that reflect well on you. Please let me know if you have any input.”
A few hours later, Loeffler told campaign staffers: “I let him know we had no issues with that.”
Moody replied the next morning that he was “not super thrilled about trying to vote as an elector. But, I’ve been told we could lose important national support for our Senate races if we don’t, so I hope it’s helpful.”
As Trump’s plan to overturn the election on Jan. 6 unfolded, Loeffler came under increasing pressure from her Georgia colleagues, Republican activists and some of her own aides to join in.
One of the most ardent voices who sought to enlist Loeffler was then-Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene.
A month before the conservative firebrand was sworn into the U.S. House, Greene asked Loeffler to talk “about a plan we are developing on how to vote on the electoral college votes on Jan 6th.”
“I need a Senator!” Greene wrote on Dec. 2, 2020, “And I think this is a major help for you to win on the 5th!!”
Less than three weeks later, on Dec. 20, Greene invited Loeffler to a White House meeting the following day that she said she organized with Trump, his legal team and members of Congress “who are going to challenge the electoral college votes for Joe Biden in several key states on January 6th.”
Loeffler subsequently shared the invitation with two of her campaign aides, who urged her to respond that she was with Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, all day and couldn’t attend. Loeffler shared the message but added to Greene that “everything is on table with regard to Jan 6!”
Greene’s spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment.
On Dec. 17, three days after Georgia’s official presidential electors cast their votes for Biden, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro — who would also attend the White House meeting with Greene — told Loeffler he planned to object to the certification of Georgia’s results in the House.
“Kelly, I wanted to give you the heads up that I will be contesting the electoral votes on January 6,” Hice wrote in a message. “Wanted to check with you about doing the same in the Senate. … I know you’ve had people ask, I was wondering if you have made a decision?”
The records obtained by the AJC do not indicate Loeffler responded to Hice’s message, and his office didn’t comment on the interaction.
‘Fighting for him’
On the eve of her runoff against Warnock, Loeffler took the stage at a raucous rally in Dalton a few minutes before Trump to make an announcement. After weeks of wavering, she proclaimed she’d object to the Electoral College certification vote on Jan. 6.
“We’re going to get this done. This president fought for us. We’re fighting for him,” she said, triggering loud chants of “fight for Trump” and “stop the steal” from the crowd of thousands.
Privately, Loeffler was more conflicted, according to her texts. A few days earlier, she received a message from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas urging her to join a lengthy statement justifying Congress’ objection to Biden’s victory and calling for election audits. An aide, Wes Coopersmith, urged her to join the group of objectors in a Jan. 2 text.
“I believe you can’t afford to not be on it,” he wrote.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Others in her camp were more hesitant. Malorie Thompson, a media consultant, urged Loeffler to hedge with Trump because “this won’t actually overturn or get to an answer before Inauguration Day anyways.” Other senators, she said, “all have years to message this vote we have hours.”
Loeffler did not sign the statement.
In the final hours of her campaign, Loeffler was trying to keep the focus on Warnock’s perceived character issues. Messages with her staff indicate Loeffler’s campaign believed an announcement that she would object to certifying Georgia’s Electoral College votes would take the focus off Warnock.
But Loeffler ultimately could not resist Trump’s insistence that she support his plan, given threats that he would abandon her campaign. He demanded she announce her support in exchange for Trump holding the last-minute Georgia rally that she desperately needed.
Over the next day, she and her advisers wordsmithed a statement declaring she would vote to give “President Trump and the American people the fair hearing they deserve and object to the Electoral College certification process.”
A few hours before the Dalton rally, she texted aides Taylor Brown and Stephen Lawson: “Please make sure Trump RTs my statement so I don’t get booed off the stage!!” using the shorthand term for ”retweet.”
Even as they were discussing the statement, U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans, urged her to join the objectors to rev up GOP support.
“I think many of the Trump voters in the sideline will be watching tonight and we need a big turnout in North Georgia on Election Day,” Allen wrote. “You might want to consider an announcement when you speak tonight that you are going to stand up and object to the Georgia Electors on behalf of all Georgians who voted legally.”
She promptly responded to him with a link to Fox News coverage of her announcement.
Jan. 6 calculations
After her defeat in the runoff, Loeffler was back at the Capitol on Jan. 6 putting the finishing touches on her speech. Even though she had just lost the election, she was planning to uphold her promise to object to Biden’s win.
Outside, the pro-Trump crowd was gathering, ready to burst through security cordons and ransack the building. The text exchanges obtained by the AJC don’t include any back-and-forth about the chaos that ensued, but they do include conversations about her vote.
After Loeffler noted that U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee still planned to object to the election results, and that Cruz was “trying to hold” other Republicans together following the insurrection, her campaign adviser Thompson wrote of the violence unfolding on TV screens.
“This is a tinderbox and it’s beyond politics now,” she said, adding: “This objection will not ultimately prove to change anything but it will feed into the violence and condone it.”
Thompson urged Loeffler to find a way to lower the temperature, noting that key Republicans “are making political calculations based on jockeying for 2024.”
A few minutes later, Loeffler texted her advisers that she was in a small group with Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley and other GOP senators. Thompson urged her to tell the group “this has gone too far.”
“This isn’t what we signed on to, we said we would debate and present evidence, not shoot our way through the capital,” texted Thompson, who didn’t respond to repeated messages from the AJC seeking comment.
Moments later, Loeffler texted her advisers that she was likely to be one of the only GOP senators to reverse course. Thompson pushed her to follow her “conscience.”
Another aide, Paul Fitzpatrick, told Loeffler she and her husband, Jeff Sprecher, the chief executive of the firm that owns the New York Stock Exchange, face “long term reputational risk” for a vote defending Trump.
Early the morning of Jan. 7, as Congress was certifying Biden’s victory, she delivered a speech reversing course on her plans to object to the Electoral College results. The texts obtained by the AJC have few other exchanges from Loeffler and others after the speech, but they do include a note from Brad Carver in February.
Carver, a well-known GOP activist, was among the 16 fake electors who vouched for Trump. He wanted to let Loeffler know he was proud of her service.
“You should still be in the US Senate,” he wrote. “Now, we need to take back that seat and I think we can.”