On Saturday, in a phone call that might have been even more brazen than the one that got him impeached, Donald Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” for him in order to flip the state into his column in the presidential election. During the hourlong call, which also included White House chief of state Mark Meadows, Raffensperger’s general counsel Ryan Germany, and several election lawyers working for Trump, the president repeatedly insisted that he’d actually won Georgia, marshaling a number of falsehoods about voter fraud to support his claims. The Washington Post published a recording of the call as well as a transcript on Sunday.
Throughout the call, Raffensperger and Germany calmly rebutted each of Trump’s claims, versions of which they’ve apparently encountered as Trump, his campaign lawyers, and far-right media sources have insisted that the vote in the Peach State was fraudulent. (In fact, there have been two hand recounts and a voter signature audit that affirmed Joe Biden won Georgia, as well as multiple lawsuits on behalf of Trump, some of which have failed and some of which are pending.) At one point, Raffensperger said, “Mr. President, the problem you have with social media, they—people can say anything,” to which Trump replied: “Oh, this isn’t social media. This is Trump media.”
While little Trump said during the phone call had much to do with the truth, it’s worth decoding his claims as he continues to try to overturn the election. They tell you a lot about the information well Trump is immersed in, and which sources are continuing to poison it.
The Broken Water Main and the Suitcases Full of Votes
“They ran out because of a water main break, and there was no water main. There was nothing. There was no break.”
“They weren’t in an official voter box; they were in what looked to be suitcases or trunks, suitcases, but they weren’t in voter boxes.”
Trump referenced an incident in which a water leak at State Farm Arena, which served as a polling place in Fulton County, Georgia, held up voting for two hours on Election Day. Right-wing conspiracy theorists have alleged there was an evacuation to allow poll workers to sneak in fake ballots, partly based on surveillance footage showing workers at the arena retrieving containers that look like suitcases. This footage surfaced on Dec. 3 in Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s presentation before the Georgia State Senate, from multiple prominent conservative social media accounts like Restoration PAC, and on the pro-Trump One America News Network and Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.
In actuality, a urinal leak did occur that resulted in a delay, but poll watchers at the arena weren’t asked to leave because of it. In addition, the “suitcases” were in fact storage containers that poll workers typically use for packing and transporting ballots. Investigators with the Georgia secretary of state’s office watched hours of surveillance footage and ultimately found that nothing was amiss.
Compromised Poll Worker
“We had at least 18,000—that’s on tape, we had them counted very painstakingly—18,000 voters having to do with [redacted name]. She’s a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler [redacted name].”
Trump was referring to a poll worker in the State Farm Arena footage who has been the target of false allegations that she introduced thousands of invalid ballots from the “suitcases” in to the count. (News organizations have been withholding her identity since the claims Trump has made against her are unfounded.) As NBC News reports, she and her daughter have faced harassment from followers of QAnon, a conspiracy theory holding that the world’s major institutions are controlled by satanic pedophiles. QAnon accounts further fueled false rumors that she’d been arrested. Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog known for misinformation, also revealed the worker’s identity and has continued to disseminate the hoax.
“And this may or may not be true … this just came up this morning, that they are burning their ballots, that they are shredding, shredding ballots”
False claims that election fraudsters were destroying ballots in Georgia took root online in late November, when the state was conducting a recount. AP News reported at the time that L. Lin Wood Jr., the pro-Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist, was key in disseminating this misinformation when he posted a series of photos and videos taken by a Georgia resident of shredding trucks stationed at the West Parking Government Center and Jim R. Miller Event Center in Cobb County. After Wood amplified the images, Cobb’s election officials refuted the claims by explaining that the truck at West Parking Government Center was in fact there for a routine shredding of tax documents; the county tax commissioner’s office shares the building with the elections office. The truck at the Jim R. Miller Event Center, on the other hand, was helping with the routine destruction of nonrelevant election materials. Items essential for the recount remained on file.
Wood has since then tweeted out QAnon-linked conspiracy theories that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is part of an elite pedophile ring and called for Vice President Mike Pence to be executed for treason.
More Votes Than People in Pennsylvania
“In Pennsylvania, they had well over 200,000 more votes than they had people voting.”
Trump mentioned this supposed irregularity while trying to convince the Georgia officials that widespread voter problems had appeared in other states as well. According to Snopes, the apparent source of this false factoid, which Trump has tweeted out a number of times, is a press release that Pennsylvania State Rep. Frank Ryan issued on Dec. 28. (Ryan joined dozens of his fellow lawmakers in requesting that Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation not recognize the state’s electors.) The Pennsylvania Department of State subsequently released a statement in response to the representative, pointing out that his analysis used incomplete data that was missing several counties. The department called it “another perfect example of the dangers of uninformed, lay analysis combined with a basic lack of election administration knowledge.”
Dead Voters in Michigan
“But they had as an example, in Michigan, a tremendous number of dead people that voted. I think it was, I think, Mark, it was 18,000.”
The New York Times reported in early November that Republican Twitter circles were rapidly spreading spurious claims that thousands of ballots bearing dead people’s names had been submitted in Michigan. According to the Times, one of the main purveyors of this theory was Austen Fletcher, a prominent right-wing internet personality also known as “Fleccas.” He tweeted a day after the election that he had found registration documents for four Michigan voters who listed their birth dates as falling between 1900 and 1902. He later released a list of 10,000 supposedly dead voters. Conservative figures like Candace Owens and James Woods soon glommed onto his claims. It turns out, however, that he’d in many cases ended up highlighting typical clerical errors such as digital voter roll systems defaulting to 01/01/01 when a birth date wasn’t on file. The BBC gathered a sample of 31 names from his list and found that all but three were still alive. Fletcher has made other unfounded claims, some of which have been amplified by the Trump family, and was instrumental in promoting lawyer Sidney Powell’s false narrative about widespread voter fraud.
Dominion Voting Machines
“I mean, in other states, we think we found tremendous corruption with Dominion machines, but we’ll have to see.”
“Do you think it’s possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that’s what the rumor is. And also that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their, uh, machinery.”
Trump repeatedly suggested during the call that the election technology company Dominion had either removed machines from Fulton County, Georgia, or replaced certain parts in those units in order to cover up supposed vote tampering. As NBC News reports, QAnon dabblers like Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood Jr. have been the principal drivers of elaborate conspiracy theories surrounding Dominion. Trump has also recently been retweeting One America News Network interviews about vulnerabilities in Dominion’s machines featuring Ron Watkins. Watkins is famous for being the administrator of 8kun, the seedy image board where Q, the leader of QAnon, posts messages to his followers. Though he claimed to have resigned from his position on Election Day, Watkins has the ability to take over the Q account whenever he wants to and has played a crucial role in Q’s rise. NBC also notes that many of the rumors that Watkins has been spouting about Dominion are sourced from 8kun and its predecessor 4chan.
Support Slate’s politics coverage
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Join Slate Plus to support our work. You’ll get unlimited articles and a suite of great benefits.