Georgia embodies Trump’s mounting political, legal woes
May 27, 2022 - 03:25 AM
ATLANTA — When most Americans think of Atlanta, they picture vaulting skylines, the thriving music scene and Coca-Cola — but when Donald Trump looks to Georgia’s seat of government, he sees danger on all sides.
The Peach State has become a potent symbol of the headwinds Trump faces as he fends off a criminal probe into his election interference and questions over his continued relevance in the Republican Party.
The former president staked enormous political capital on his endorsements of a trio of candidates he had handpicked in his crusade to exact vengeance on those who were unwilling to overturn the will of the voters in 2020.
His recruits were wiped out in Georgia’s primary elections Tuesday — by a landslide in the case of the governor’s race — as voters pushed back against his meddling in their state.
Trump has inserted himself relentlessly into Georgia politics, pushing for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a now-infamous phone call to “find” enough votes to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.
Earlier this month, in the plush 12-story government complex two blocks from the state capitol in downtown Atlanta, Fulton County’s top prosecutor Fani Willis impaneled a special grand jury to investigate Trump’s attempts to overturn Georgia’s election results.
A potentially year-long process, the probe into whether Georgia laws were violated could end in Trump facing a raft of solicitation and conspiracy charges connected to election fraud and interference.
Investigators have already interviewed dozens of witnesses and the jurors are expected to subpoena 30 people who have declined to testify voluntarily.
In the January 2, 2021 call to Raffensperger, Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed to have won Georgia “by hundreds of thousands of votes” during a bizarre hour-long back-and-forth.
Cycling through a laundry list of conspiracy theories to explain his loss, he demanded that Raffensperger “find 11,780 votes” that could be tossed out — one more vote than the margin of his defeat.
The Washington Post published a transcript and audio of the conversation the following day, sparking uproar in a country already well-versed in Trump’s election theft fantasies.
A month later, Willis announced her criminal investigation, which would take in the phone call and Trump’s public and private pressure on other officials, including the governor, attorney general and the secretary of state’s chief investigator.
A group of Brookings Institution legal experts wrote in October that Trump’s post-election conduct in Georgia “leaves him at substantial risk of possible state charges predicated on multiple crimes.”
The analysis concluded that Trump’s efforts were “well outside the scope of his responsibilities” as president and predicted that his legal arguments in his defense would likely be “meritless.”
Trump has furiously denied wrongdoing, alleging “prosecutorial misconduct” at a rally in Texas in January, in which he called for protests against “radical, vicious, racist prosecutors,” prompting Willis to request beefed-up FBI security.
With the walls closing in, the 75-year-old former reality TV star has turned to the court of public opinion for vindication of his election fraud claims — and a chance of pursuing his dream of a second term in the White House.
But here, too, he is struggling to make headway.
Raffensperger was among three top officials who easily repelled Trump’s attempted ouster in Georgia, alongside Governor Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr.
‘Fair as could be’
Each had rebuffed his attempts to interfere in the 2020 election, raising questions about the Republican leader’s continuing sway over his party in one of the country’s key battlegrounds and the waning patience of the wider public over his election disinformation.
“I voted for him, but I didn’t like some of the accusations towards our state,” retired county government official Elva Dornbusch told AFP at an election eve rally for Kemp in Atlanta’s northwestern suburbs.
The 78-year-old said she hadn’t been taken in by any of Trump’s conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election.
“I think the election was as fair as could be. My husband worked in the polls and he understands the process. And no, I don’t think it was stolen,” she said.
Whether Georgia represents the shape of things to come nationwide remains to be seen, but signs of Trump’s receding influence have been unmistakable in recent weeks.
While he has had some high-profile successes, such as former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who won the Republican nomination for governor of Arkansas on Tuesday, Trump has backed as many losers as winners in his endorsements for governor in this election cycle.
“There’s this sort of narrative, this emerging narrative, about the enduring dominance of a Trump endorsement,” Nse Ufot, CEO of voter support non-profit the New Georgia Project, told AFP.
“As awful of a leader that I think that Brad Raffensperger has been and Brian Kemp has been, they were able to demonstrate how (Republicans) could win without having Trump’s endorsement in a place like Georgia.”