A former U.S. attorney has asked Georgia to open an investigation into Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s potentially criminal interference in the state’s election.
Michael J. Moore, who served as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia from 2010 to 2015, sent his request to the Georgia State Board of Elections on Thursday. Moore cited multiple public interviews given by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, in which Raffensperger said that Graham pressured him to throw out valid mail ballots. According to the secretary of state, Graham asked whether he could toss all mail ballots from any county with a high rate of “signature mismatch”—signatures that don’t match those on a voter’s registration form. (Under a federal court order, Georgia is required to let voters cure a mismatched signature.) Signature mismatch disproportionately affects racial minorities, who lean Democratic overall. Graham requested that even ballots with matching signatures be rejected in precincts with large populations of Black voters. It thus appears that Graham wanted Raffensberger to throw enough Democratic ballots to swing the state toward Donald Trump.
In his letter, Moore noted that Graham’s alleged conduct might constitute a criminal offense under Georgia law. The state prohibits solicitation to commit election fraud, which occurs when an individual “solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or otherwise attempts to cause” another person to commit an election-related offense. Disqualifying valid ballots would constitute such an offense and constitute a crime in itself. State law also forbids interference with the performance of the secretary of state’s official election duties—by, for instance, asking him to falsify records. An individual is culpable even if they failed to induce fraud.
If Raffensberger’s account is true, Graham seems to have committed both of these crimes. Solicitation to commit election fraud is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Attempting to interfere with the performance of election duties is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment. Cathy Cox, the dean of Mercer University’s School of Law who previously served as Georgia’s secretary of state, told Slate in November that Graham’s alleged conduct likely violated both these laws.
Georgia law empowers the State Elections Board to conduct an investigation into Graham’s alleged malfeasance. (While Raffensberger is the chairman of the board, he would have to recuse because he is a witness to the alleged crime.) The board has a legal duty to investigate frauds and irregularities in primaries and elections. It must report possible violations of election law to Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, or to a state district attorney, for further investigation and possible charges.
Moore asked the board to commence an investigation quickly given the Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. “Time is of the essence for this investigation,” Moore wrote, “as Senator Graham has also indicated that the purpose of his call to Secretary Raffensperger was to ask questions about the upcoming Senate runoff election.”
In a conversation on Thursday, Moore—who is now in private practice—told me he hopes Georgia’s political leadership will probe this matter “to protect the sanctity of the vote.”
“According to public accounts, Graham asked a state constitutional officer to do away with a number of legal ballots,” Moore said. “Our electoral system is under attack. Officials in Georgia must stand up to say that the votes people cast here are sacred.”
Carr, the state attorney general, has not yet provided any public comment on Graham’s alleged interference. (His office did not respond to a request from Slate.) The attorney general’s wife, Joan Carr, currently serves as chief of staff for Sen. Kelly Loeffler, one of the Republican incumbents in the upcoming runoffs. Given that Graham reportedly sought to interfere in Loeffler’s election, a criminal probe is plainly not in the senator’s political interest. Indeed, Graham is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Loeffler on Thursday afternoon; donations begin at $2,800 per person, and dinner for one couple requires a $25,000 donation. Carr has not said whether he would recuse from an investigation that involves a candidate for whom his wife works.
Moore, a Democrat, told me his concern transcends politics. “You’ve seen some people who are unabashed Republicans come forward to defend the integrity of this election,” Moore said. “I hope we see the attorney general, or a district attorney, look into this episode. What’s important is that we have an investigation and uncover whether individuals intended to do harm to our electoral system. An investigation is a good thing whether it leads to sanctions or not.”