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‘Hard to Prosecute’: Some Legal Experts Note Challenge in Charging Trump for Call with Georgia Secretary of State


What are the legal ramifications of President Donald Trump‘s phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R)? The audio immediately became controversial upon its publication on Sunday by The Washington Post. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said that it seemed like POTUS was pressuring the official to commit fraud, but this would have been difficult to prosecute.

“It sure sounds like Trump was pushing the Georgia Secretary of State to commit fraud,” he wrote on Twitter. “What the hell was his lawyer doing on this call? Did she approve of this? Trump’s statements were vague enough that they would be hard to prosecute, but they’re obviously highly problematic.”

Bradley P. Moss, a national security lawyer, minced no words.

“The people of Georgia are angry,” POTUS said in audio obtained by The Washington Post. “The people in the country are angry. And there’s nothing wrong with saying that you’ve recalculated.”

He asserted he won the state of Georgia, and he repeated baseless conspiracy theories regarding widespread voter fraud as well as sabotage.

“All I want to do is this,” Trump said on the audio. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

Raffensperger and his general counsel Ryan Germany defended the integrity of the election results in their state. Trump said they were leaving themselves open to criminal prosecution, but he did not seem to indicate who would bring this case.

“You know what they did and you’re not reporting it,” Trump said. “That’s a criminal–that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.”

Moss jumped into some of the online discussion on what kind of crimes that may be relevant this phone call, highlighting a law that prohibits people in federal “administrative” positions from interfering in presidential elections. Law Professor Jennifer Taub, of Western New England University, noted parallels between this call and the phone call that got Trump impeached.

But as Mariotti said, showing illegality would be a tall order. Professor Frank Bowman, of the University of Missouri School of Law, had a similar take. Though he described the Trump call as brazen in a tweet, he told Law&Crime in an interview on Sunday afternoon that it could be difficult to prosecute the president.

He said the call was “certainly impeachable,” though this would not happen as a practical matter since Trump is leaving office. Bowman said that the real problem with trying to do anything criminally with this call is demonstrating the president’s mental state, depending on what hypothetical charge is presented. He said while it sounds like a classic mob boss shakedown, Trump walks very carefully down the line between extortion and pleading. Perhaps the president believes he really was trying to protect the election. Perhaps Trump really believes the conspiracy theories.

“That could be true,” Bowman said, clarifying that Trump may have convinced himself he could not have lost. “How are you going to prove he doesn’t believe that?”

There’s also this:

[Image via Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]

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