South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Trump pressures Georgia governor

Kemp urged to help overturn Biden’s win before rally in state

- By Bill Barrow and Ben Nadler

The president asked Gov. Brian Kemp to order a special legislativ­e session aimed at subverting the election.

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump pressed Georgia’s governor Saturday to call a special legislativ­e session aimed at subverting the presidenti­al election results in that state as Trump’s fixation with his defeat overshadow­ed his party’s campaign to save its majority in the Senate.

Trump and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp spoke by phone hours before Trump was to appear at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, where Republican­s hoped the president would dedicate his energy to imploring their supporters to vote in two runoff elections Jan. 5.

It remained an open question whether his first postelecti­on political rally would be a mission to help his party or himself.

But hours before the event, Trump asked Kemp in the phone call to order the legislativ­e session; the governor refused, according to a senior government official in Georgia with knowledge of the call who was not authorized to discuss the private conversati­on and spoke on the condition of anonymity. A person close to the White House who was briefed on the matter verified that account of the call.

According to a tweet from the governor, Trump also asked him to order an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes from the presidenti­al race in his state, a step Kemp is not empowered to take because he has no authority to interfere in the electoral process on Trump’s behalf.

Trump vented on Twitter after the call.

“Your people are refusing to do what you ask,” he tweeted, as if speaking with Kemp. “What are they hiding? At least immediatel­y ask for a Special Session of the Legislatur­e. That you can easily, and immediatel­y, do.

Trump’s contact with the governor demonstrat­ed he is intent on amplifying his theories of electoral fraud even as Georgia Republican­s want him to encourage their supporters to vote.

They’re worried that Trump is stoking so much suspicion about Georgia elections that voters will think the system is rigged and decide to sit out the two races, where Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to withstand Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respective­ly, and keep the Senate under Republican control.

In his tweet, Kemp said: “As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times (11/20, 11/24, 12/3) to restore confidence in our election process and to ensure that only legal votes are counted in Georgia.”

But a recommenda­tion is all he can do; the governor does not have the authority to order an audit in the race. Moreover, the race in Georgia was certified for President-elect Joe Biden and affirmed by the state’s Republican election officials as a fairly conducted and counted vote, with none of the systemic errors Trump alleges.

The president’s aides publicly scoffed at the idea Trump might do anything at the Valdosta rally other than encourage Republican­s to back Perdue and Loeffler.

“I believe it’s the start of these two senators crossing the finish line,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on the eve of Trump’s visit. McEnany credited Trump with being his party’s biggest turnout driver, noting that Republican­s narrowed House Democrats’ majority while several vulnerable Republican senators survived challenges by comfortabl­e margins.

Republican­s need one more seat for a Senate majority. Democrats need a Georgia sweep to force a 50-50 Senate and position Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breakingma­jority vote.

The risk for the GOP is that it wouldn’t take much of a drop-off to matter if the runoffs are as close as the presidenti­al contest: Biden won Georgia by about 12,500 votes out of 5million cast.

However, Trump has been the source of party angst with his recent declaratio­ns that Kemp is “hapless” and Secretary of State Brad Raffensper­ger is an “enemy of the people” because they didn’t block Biden’s Georgia victory. State law gives them no avenue to do so.

Hours before Saturday’s event, Trump tweeted a video of the gathering crowd to build anticipati­on — “See you tonight at 7PM, Georgia!” he wrote— but in another message made clear what election was foremost in his mind.

“Why are these two “Republican­s” saying no?” he asked about Kemp and Raffensper­ger’s refusal to contest the results. “If we win Georgia, everything falls in place!”

A third vote count, this one requested by the president’s reelection campaign, was nearing completion. The result is not expected to change.

At the rally, Gondra Crumbley, a Trump supporter from Adel, Georgia, said he planned to vote in the runoff elections, but understand­s the hesitation from others considerin­g what he feels has been inadequate action from the governor and secretary of state.

“This just ain’t right,” the

53-year-old said. “There’s all this corruption that you see on TV and they’re finding out. And everyone needs to step up when we see this type of corruption.”

 ?? PETE MAROVICH/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? President Trump and first lady Melania Trump leave the White House for a rally Saturday in Valdosta, Georgia.
PETE MAROVICH/THE NEW YORK TIMES President Trump and first lady Melania Trump leave the White House for a rally Saturday in Valdosta, Georgia.

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