When Donald Trump set about attacking Georgia governor and fellow Republican Brian Kemp this weekend for failing to fraudulently overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory there, he may have inadvertently revealed more details of a scheme that could land him in prison.
That the former president tried to coerce Kemp into calling a special legislative session to give Trump the state’s electoral votes rather than Biden has been known publicly since shortly after their Dec. 5 phone call.
But Trump during his rally in Perry, Georgia, on Saturday twice stated that he had asked Kemp to call a “special election” — a request that would mesh with some of his advisers’ recommendations to him to declare martial law in a handful of states he narrowly lost and to force them to hold new elections.
“The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime,” said Norm Eisen, who served as an ethics lawyer in the Barack Obama White House and more recently worked for the House committee overseeing Trump’s first impeachment. “He dug his grave a little deeper on Saturday.”
Gwen Keyes Fleming, a former district attorney in Georgia’s DeKalb County, said Trump’s comments will certainly raise eyebrows. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Fulton County district attorney and her investigators aren’t watching very closely,” she said.
Eisen and Fleming are among the authors of a recent Brookings Institution report detailing the various misdemeanors and felonies with which Georgia prosecutors could charge Trump for his attempts to overturn the election — most famously in a recorded Jan. 2 phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump told him to “find” the 11,780 votes he needed to surpass Biden in the presidential results.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating Trump’s actions since days after that Jan. 2 call. Spokesperson Jeff DiSantis said Wednesday he could not comment specifically on Trump’s statements but that “all acts that were potentially illegal attempts to influence the administration of the election are subject to that probe.”
Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington said Trump meant to say “special session,” not “special election.”
“He was talking about the need for a special legislative session, which had to be called by the governor,” she said. “He clearly meant special session.”
Trump’s exact words, though, were “special election” as he described the Dec. 5 call with Kemp.
“Remember we wanted to call a special election,” Trump said, and less than a minute later: “Brian, listen. You have a big election integrity problem in Georgia. I hope you can help us out and call a special election and let’s get to the bottom of it for the good of the country.”
Fleming, the former Georgia prosecutor, said Trump may have helped Willis build her case with those comments. “Any actions that are done even now, months later, could be brought up in a DA’s case … There are those who viewed this who might see this as an admission,” she said.
One former Trump White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Trump could have been referring to both a special session as well as a special election. “He wanted a special session where they would send a different slate of electors, and he wanted him to rule that that the election was fraudulent and hold another election,” the official said. “He was throwing spaghetti at the wall. See what would stick.”
Trump and his allies had been pushing for GOP lawmakers and officials in a half dozen states to ignore Biden’s victory and, citing Trump’s lies about “voter fraud,” instead certify Trump’s slate of supporters to the Electoral College. But some of his advisers were pushing Trump to declare those elections invalid on his own.
“He could also order — he could order, within the swing states, if he wanted to — he could take military capabilities, and he could place them in those states and basically re-run an election in each of those states,” former national security adviser Mike Flynn said to Newsmax on Dec. 17 — advice he took to the Oval Office the following day, and which Trump expressed some interest in.
White House aide Peter Navarro, though, has said that Trump knew he could not count on the military to help him with the election. “The Pentagon, Esper and Milley, they fought that tooth and nail,” Navarro said about former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley during a March 16 appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast.
On Saturday, Trump attacked Kemp repeatedly during his hour-and-a-half speech, claiming that it was his support that got Kemp elected in 2018, and that the governor refused to help Trump two years later. He told his audience in Perry that they would have been better off had Democrat Stacey Abrams been elected.
Trump has also attacked Republican elected officials in other states who refused to go along with his attempt to overturn his election losses, but nowhere is there more public evidence of his actions than in Georgia. In addition to his attempts to coerce Kemp and Raffensperger, Trump also pressured Attorney General Chris Carr not to oppose a lawsuit backed by Republican officials in some pro-Trump states that would have thrown out the results in Georgia and three other states that voted for Biden, resulting in the disenfranchisement of millions of voters.
All three offices have been cooperating with Fulton County prosecutors’ investigation.
If Trump were to be charged and ultimately convicted of Georgia’s criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, he could face as much as three years in state prison. If his overall pattern of behavior led to his conviction under Georgia’s RICO statute — Willis’ office hired a RICO expert to assist in the Trump investigation — he could face as much as 20 years in prison.
“Even if he called for a special session, he’s at risk. If he called for a special election in the first instance, that’s even worse. If he’s changing his story intentionally, that’s evidence of guilt. If it was a slip, that also shows a desire corruptly to overturn a legitimate election. Under Georgia law, it’s important evidence,” Eisen said. “After a crime has been committed any attempt by a person accused to mislead and which indicates a consciousness of guilt is admissible against him when shown to be false.”
Trump spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election he lost, starting his lies in the predawn hours of Nov. 4 that he had really won in a “landslide” and that his victory was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states.
After the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump instead turned to a last-ditch scheme to pressure his own vice president into canceling the ballots of millions of voters in several states Biden won and declaring Trump the winner during the pro-forma congressional certification of the election results on Jan. 6.
Trump asked his followers to come to Washington that day, and then told the tens of thousands who showed up to march on the Capitol to intimidate Vice President Mike Pence into doing what Trump wanted.
The mob of supporters he incited attempted to do just that by storming the building. They even chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after Pence refused to comply with Trump’s demands.
A police officer died after being assaulted during the attack, and four others took their own lives in the days and weeks that followed. One of the rioters was fatally shot as she climbed through a broken window into an anteroom containing still-evacuating House members, and three others in the crowd died during the melee.
While the House impeached Trump for inciting the attack, all but seven Senate Republicans, led by their leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, chose not to convict him — thereby letting Trump continue his political career.
Trump and his allies are now engaged in a campaign to portray the rioter who was shot, Ashli Babbitt, as a martyr and the hundreds of others who have been arrested as victims of political persecution. Trump himself continues to suggest he will run for the 2024 GOP nomination and is using his Save America committee’s money to continuing spreading the same falsehoods that culminated in the violent assault on Jan. 6.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter