U.S. Senate report highlights Trump ‘obsession’ with election loss in Georgia

Georgia wasn’t just a primary target during then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election — some of his critics say recent findings prove it was an obsession.

Trump and his allies pressured Justice Department officials to investigate false claims of fraud and mismanagement in Georgia’s elections, particularly in Fulton County. And they tried to pressure state officials to block Joe Biden’s Electoral College win, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said in a report listing findings of an eight-month investigation.

Many of the details of the campaign have been reported in bits and pieces since Trump’s November loss, followed by Jon Ossoff’s and Raphael Warnock’s victories in the U.S. Senate runoffs in January. But the Judiciary Committee report puts the pieces together in a way that demonstrates in detail just how intensely Trump focused on Georgia and its leaders.

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said Trump zeroed in on his county because its population and heavy Democratic leanings helped ensure GOP losses.

“We delivered the victory to President Biden; we delivered the victory to Sen. Ossoff; we delivered the victory to Sen. Warnock,” Pitts said. “So, it’s for that reason that they’re so focused on us. He’s obsessed with Georgia and Fulton County because we delivered, so there’s been a target on our back.”

That target, according to the Judiciary report, resulted in U.S. Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak being forced to resign. Then Trump bypassed the customary line of succession, appointing Southern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine to fill the vacancy instead of Pak’s first assistant U.S. attorney, Kurt Erskine.

Richard Donoghue, who served as acting U.S. deputy attorney general during the final weeks of Trump’s tenure, told investigators that Trump appeared to believe that Christine would be more willing to investigate his claims of election fraud. “If he’s good, he’ll find out if there’s something there,” Donoghue remembers Trump telling him.

That didn’t happen, though. Christine was just as resistant as Pak to investigating claims that had already been deemed baseless.

The report also outlines how various Trump allies also attempted to pressure Justice Department officials to investigate election claims. It singles out Cleta Mitchell, a Trump legal adviser, who was a participant in his Jan. 2 call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. It was on that call when Trump encouraged Raffensperger to “find” the votes he needed to overturn his loss in Georgia by about 12,000 ballots.

In all, Georgia is mentioned 317 times in the 394-page report. That is more than the combined 270 mentions of three other states where Trump and his allies attempted to overturn Biden’s win: Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Fulton comes up in the report 40 times, and the word “Atlanta” is found 25 times.

On the day the committee, led by Democrats, released its report, a Republican member, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, issued a rival version that defended Trump’s actions.

”The documentary evidence to date, once considered in proper context and stripped of political insinuations, shows that the facts differed sharply from the narrative that the Democrats attempted to create,” Grassley’s report says. “The documentary evidence and witness testimony currently available shows that throughout President Trump’s interactions with DOJ (Department of Justice) officials concerning election matters, he did not abuse his constitutional authority.”

Trump has not responded publicly to the document, which was published last week. But he continues to push falsehoods about the election’s outcome and has been critical of the U.S. House investigation into both the election and the insurrection led by Trump loyalists who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“The 2020 Election was a fraud rife with errors, irregularities, and scandal,” the former president wrote in a Tuesday statement.

The following day, he encouraged fellow Republicans to boycott next year’s election and the 2024 presidential contest if “we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020.”

Ossoff serves on the Judiciary Committee and sat in on the closed-door meeting where Pak shared his recollections of the pressure campaign facing him after the general election.

“In late 2020 and early 2021, then-President Trump pressured the governor of Georgia, Georgia election officials, and the U.S. Department of Justice — including U.S. Attorney BJay Pak — to overturn Georgia’s election results based on lies fabricated by his attorneys,” Ossoff, an Atlanta Democrat, said in an email. “The president’s brazen attempt to steal the presidency led to death threats against election officials in Georgia and an attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump loyalists who attempted violently to prevent the certification of election results.”

Noah Bookbinder is president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that filed various complaints against Trump with state and federal agencies regarding his attempts to overturn the election. Bookbinder said that the Judiciary report is just more proof of problematic actions that deserve not just attention but action.

“It is certainly my hope that between that process and what the House Jan. 6 select committee is doing that we’re really going to learn more,” he said. “And the more that we learn, the better the chance will be that prosecuting offices and others will have what they need to ensure some real accountability for this attack on democracy.”