Trump Call to Georgia Official Might Violate State and Federal Law

The call by President Trump on Saturday to Georgia’s secretary of state raised the prospect that Mr. Trump may have violated laws that prohibit interference in federal or state elections, but lawyers said on Sunday that it would be difficult to pursue such a charge.

The recording of the conversation between Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, first reported by The Washington Post, led a number of election and criminal defense lawyers to conclude that by pressuring Mr. Raffensperger to “find” the votes he would need to reverse the election outcome in the state, Mr. Trump either broke the law or came close to it.

“It seems to me like what he did clearly violates Georgia statutes,” said Leigh Ann Webster, an Atlanta criminal defense lawyer, citing a state law that makes it illegal for anyone who “solicits, requests, commands, importunes or otherwise attempts to cause the other person to engage” in election fraud.

At the federal level, anyone who “knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process” is breaking the law.

But the meandering nature of the phone call and the fact that the president made no apparent attempt to conceal his actions as other call participants listened could allow Mr. Trump to argue that he did not intend to break the law or to argue that he did not know that a federal law existed apparently prohibiting his actions.

The federal law would also most likely require that Mr. Trump knew that he was pushing Mr. Raffensperger to fraudulently change the vote count, meaning prosecutors would have to prove that Mr. Trump knew he was lying in asserting that he was confident he had won the election in Georgia.

“It is unlikely federal prosecutors would bring such a case,” Mr. Bromwich said. “But it certainly was god awful and unbelievable. But prosecuting a federal crime is obviously a very different thing.”

David Worley, a Democrat and a supporter of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. who is a member of the State Election Board in Georgia, wrote Sunday evening to Mr. Raffensperger and other members of the board asking the secretary of state, who is the board chairman, to open an investigation into the phone call to see if it violated state law, including a provision prohibiting conspiracy to commit election fraud.

If the board concludes a law has been broken, Mr. Worley said, it could ask state law enforcement authorities to consider filing criminal charges or a civil case against Mr. Trump.

“To say that I am troubled by President Trump’s attempt to manipulate the votes of Georgians would be an understatement,” Mr. Worley, who is the sole Democrat on the five-member board, wrote in the email. “Once we have received your investigative report, it will be the board’s duty to determine whether probable cause exists to refer this matter.”

State officials in Georgia might also face a challenge in bringing a case against a federal official, or even a former federal official, said Ms. Webster and Ryan C. Locke, a second Atlanta criminal defense lawyer.

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