Georgia secretary of state describes call where Trump pressured him to find evidence of voter fraud

Last weekend, President Trump called Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, imploring him with veiled threats and lies to change the outcome of the November election. Raffensperger talks to Scott Pelley about why he didn't give in.

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Why did the president help incite the riot that killed five people at the Capitol?  It may be because, four days earlier, he failed to get the state of Georgia to take away Joe Biden's victory. A week ago, Saturday, Georgia's top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spent an hour on the phone listening to the president lie and threaten. Mr. Trump spun tales of fraud and told Raffensperger he needed to find 11,780 votes. One more vote than Biden's winning margin in the state. Raffensperger is a life-long Republican, voted for Mr. Trump and contributed to his campaign. But facing the president's wrath he would not choose loyalty over duty.

Brad Raffensperger: I believe I said, "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is that you have bad data. Our data shows that you did not win the race." Because we have the facts, and the facts are on our side.

Brad Raffensperger had declined to take the president's call. The Trump campaign was suing Georgia officials and Raffensperger felt the call was inappropriate. But the White House kept insisting.

raffenspergerthumbnails1.jpg
Brad Raffensperger

Mark Meadows on White House call: OK, all right. So - Mr. President everybody is on the line...

It was about three in the afternoon, Saturday, January 2, when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows started the conference call introducing Mr. Trump's lawyers, an attorney for the state of Georgia, Ryan Germany, and secretary of state Raffensperger.

Scott Pelley: Did you know that the call was being recorded?

Brad Raffensperger: No.

Mark Meadows on White House call: So, Mr. President I'll turn it over to you.

Someone gave the recording to the Washington Post. 

President Trump on White House call: OK, thank you very much. Hello, Brad and Ryan and everybody…

From the start, the president seemed delusional.

President Trump on White House call: And we won the House, but we won every single statehouse and we won Congress.

Mr. Trump repeated, 30 times, that he won the election. He said he could still win Georgia if Raffensperger would play along. 

President Trump on White House call: So, look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes.

Scott Pelley: What was the president asking you to do?

Brad Raffensperger: He was asking us to recalibrate or recalculate, I believe it was, recalculate-- somehow get a different answer. But I'm an engineer. And anyone that's good with numbers knows you can calculate all you want, but the numbers are the numbers.

President Trump on White House call: So, what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.

Scott Pelley: But the words used by the president and the president's chief of staff, "Give me a break," "Cooperate," "Compromise," were they asking you to join them in a conspiracy?

Brad Raffensperger: I guess maybe they were just trying to intimidate me and-- cajole me into something. It wasn't gonna happen.

Sterling refutes election conspiracy 05:08

We have learned the call on January 2, was not Mr. Trump's first attempt. Sources tell us that, last month, the president himself phoned one of the Georgia secretary of state's investigators. A person briefed on the call said Mr. Trump told the investigator they would be a national hero if they found evidence of fraud. But no evidence was found that would change the outcome of the election. Still, on the call with the Georgia secretary of state, Mr. Trump badgered Raffensperger with fantasies of criminality. 

President Trump on White House call: The other thing, dead people, so dead people voted. And I think the number is close to 5,000 people.

Scott Pelley: The president said in the call that 5,000 Georgians voted in the name of dead people.

Brad Raffensperger: Right. Well, it was two. Two dead--

Scott Pelley: 2,000?

Brad Raffensperger: No, two. Yeah.

Scott Pelley: A total of two?

Brad Raffensperger: Two people, right. Right here, one, two. Two dead people, not thousands, not hundreds. Two people. 

Scott Pelley: How do you know that?

Brad Raffensperger: Because we went back and looked at it, and we searched all the death records, and we looked at day, month, year.  So we had two people that had passed away and we'll investigate and see if we can find out who those people were that fraudulently voted for those two dead people.

That is just one of dozens of investigations launched after the election by the Georgia secretary of state.

Scott Pelley: How would you describe the president's claims of vote fraud in Georgia?

Gabriel Sterling: Fantastical, unreasonable. Lacking in any factual reality.

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  Gabriel Sterling

Gabriel Sterling, also a Republican, and a Trump voter, is the chief operating officer for the secretary of state. He walked us through surveillance video that the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, use as their slam-dunk evidence. Here, Giuliani is explaining to Georgia state senators his selectively edited version of the video.

Rudy Giuliani to Georgia state senators: When you look at what you saw on the video, which to me was a smoking gun, powerful smoking gun, well, I don't have to be a genius to figure out what happened. I don't have to be a genius to figure out that those votes are not legitimate votes.

In national ads, the Trump campaign shows just a clip of the video that reveals cases filled with ballots being removed from under a table. 

Trump campaign ad: America deserved an honest election. This is what they got: suitcases of ballots added in secret in Georgia… 

Gabriel Sterling showed us that Rudy Giuliani was right, you don't have to be a genius to figure out what happened, when you look at all of the video. Sterling says the election workers were told before 10 o'clock election night that they would be going home and would finish the count the next day.

Gabriel Sterling: It's before 10:00. The observers and the press are still in the room to see all of this occur. 

With Republican and Democratic observers visible on the video, the still uncounted ballots were placed in official boxes which were labeled, locked with tamper-proof seals and stored below the table.

Gabriel Sterling: This is where they're packing up because they think they're going home. They're packing up to seal them so that nobody can, you know, mess with the ballots when no one's there.

But, less than an hour after the boxes were stored, Sterling says the staff was told they would have to keep counting through the night. So, the ballots were pulled out and counted. Sterling told us President Trump's team had always had the entire, unedited, video.

Integrity of Georgia's election 01:15

Gabriel Sterling: From my point of view, they intentionally misled the state senators, the people of Georgia, and the people of the United States about this to cause this conspiracy theory to keep going and keep the disinformation going, which has caused this environment that we're seeing today.

Scott Pelley: Are you saying they lied to the--

Gabriel Sterling: Yes.

Scott Pelley: --Georgia State Senate?

Gabriel Sterling: I'm saying that Rudy Giuliani looked them in the eye and lied.

Brad Raffensperger: And Rudy Giuliani knows that. He also, I believe, you know, he has some ethical standards as a member of the bar. He knows that what he said was not true. But our state senate did not ask us to come in there so that we could rebut what they said. And it was actually left as the gospel truth, and it wasn't. It was fabricated.

In the call, President Trump slanders one of the election workers in the video, a woman named Ruby Freeman, who Georgia officials say is not suspected of tampering with anything.

President Trump on White House call: 18,000 voters having to do with Ruby Freeman. She's a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler, Ruby Freeman. That was the tape that's been shown all over the world that makes everybody look bad.

The president claimed Freeman put the so-called "ballots hidden in suitcases" through the counter three times resulting in 54,000 bogus votes.

President Trump on White House call: And Brad, why did they put the votes in three times? They put them in three times.

Brad Raffensperger on White House call: Mr. President, they did not put that - we did an audit of that and we proved conclusively (that) they were not scanned three times.

Ruby Freeman is in hiding because of threats – death threats that sterling says other election workers are also receiving.

Gabriel Sterling: And I finally saw one that s-- said the young man's name. It said, "You are a traitor, may God have mercy on your soul." And it had a GIF of a noose slowly swinging. At that point I snapped. I essentially lost it and said, "This has gotta stop."

Sterling news conference: Mr. President...

Five weeks ago, Gabriel Sterling addressed this directly to the president.

Sterling news conference: What you don't have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed.

Scott Pelley: Now that we saw the mob attack the Capitol, is that what you meant?

Gabriel Sterling: Yes. That's exactly what I meant. And continuing the disinformation and spinning up people's anger while they're emotionally raw, this is exactly what you're going to see. 

Ga. election officials receive death threats 01:24

Even Raffensperger was threatened by the president who said the Georgia secretary of state was culpable in the fantasy fraud. 

President Trump on White House call: ...It's more illegal for you than it is for them. Because you know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's a criminal, that's a criminal offense. And you know you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer, and that's a big risk.

Brad Raffensperger: Well, I think it was obviously a veiled threat, maybe a direct threat. But there was no substance to what he was saying.

President Trump on White House call: So tell me, Brad, what are we going to do? We won the election, and it's not fair to take it away from us like this. And it's going to be very costly in many ways.

Scott Pelley: When you heard those words, what did you think? "Very costly"?

Brad Raffensperger: I heard the threat. I don't know what that meant, exactly, but it wasn't gonna move me off center.  

President Trump on White House call: But I mean, all of this stuff is very dangerous stuff. When you talk about no criminality, I think it's very dangerous for you to say that.

Scott Pelley: The president of the United States is saying, "Brad, this could be very dangerous for you."

Brad Raffensperger: Well, really what it did is I think it really revealed for us was his character. And it was just a sad moment to really hear that.

The president also suggested that someone tampered with Georgia's voting machines. But Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state's chief operating officer, told us the state hand-counted all of the voting machine's paper ballot receipts. 

Scott Pelley: The state of Georgia hand-counted how many ballots?

Gabriel Sterling: A little over 5 million. 

Scott Pelley: And when you hand-counted the 5 million, how did that compare to what the electronic machines were saying?

Gabriel Sterling: They came back at 0.1053% off in the total number of ballots, and 0.0099% off the margin, which is incredibly close.

Scott Pelley: You would consider that to be virtually identical.

Gabriel Sterling: Yes.

Scott Pelley: I wonder how it feels, trying to push back against the president of the United States, who is making all of these claims.

Gabriel Sterling: It's like having a shovel in your hand and trying to empty the ocean. 

Scott Pelley: When the president was making his speech on Wednesday, inciting that mob in Washington, he complained about weak and pathetic Republicans. 

President Trump on Wednesday: No, it's amazing. The weak Republicans, they're pathetic Republicans… 

Scott Pelley:  He was talking about you.

Brad Raffensperger: Well, I think he was talking about others I think actually I showed that I had some courage, I had some gumption, that I actually would do my job. The ones that kowtow to him, that just bent over and did his bidding, and not looking into the facts, I think that's weakness.

Brad Raffensperger told us he didn't see the bloody attack on the Capitol when it was happening because at that moment, he was busy sending Congress a 10-page point-by-point rebuttal of the president's false claims. He learned later that the members of the House and Senate were under attack.

Brad Raffensperger: It was surreal. We've never seen anything like that in 150 years, maybe even longer, probably 200 years. It was really an affront to the people that founded this nation. People need to go back and read their history books. You know, we had some great founders. I know they weren't perfect men, but they were great people. They were some of the most learned people we had in our society. And that's the high ideal that we all should kinda elevate ourselves to, to be noble people of high character, and patriotic, and love our country.

Produced by Henry Schuster. Associate producer, Sarah Turcotte. Researcher, Jacqueline Kalil. Broadcast associate, Ian Flickinger. Edited by Michael Mongulla.

  • Scott Pelley
    Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"