Right-wing media scramble to spin Trump’s threatening phone call with Georgia election officials

Conservatives offer competing reactions: Downplay the damage, praise Trump’s performance — or lock up the leakers

Right-wing media are now grappling with President Donald Trump’s phone call over the weekend with Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, published by The Washington Post, in which Trump repeatedly sought ways to overturn his narrow loss to President-elect Joe Biden in that state.

Despite Raffensperger’s repeated efforts to debunk Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories and misinformation about the election, the outgoing president threatened Raffensperger with potential criminal prosecution for allowing this purported election malfeasance to go on — while also putting a specific number on how many votes Trump would need to overcome his loss in the state.

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Citation January 2, 2021, via The Washington Post

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The ballots are corrupt. And you are going to find that they are — which is totally illegal — it is 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 can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. And that’s a big risk. But they are shredding ballots, in my opinion, based on what I’ve heard. And they are removing machinery, and they’re moving it as fast as they can, both of which are criminal finds. And you can’t let it happen, and you are letting it happen. You know, I mean, I’m notifying you that you’re letting it happen. So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.

One attempt: Nothing to see here, folks

NBC News contributor Hugh Hewitt sought to dismiss the whole story as an example of “Trump derangement syndrome,” as he played through the call on his radio show. Hewitt maintained that it was just like Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine in 2019, which led to Trump’s impeachment for seeking to pressure a foreign country into providing political dirt against Biden — another incident for which Hewitt was a vociferous apologist and conspiracy theorist.

Hugh Hewitt dismisses recording of Trump’s Georgia phone call as “Trump derangement syndrome”

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Citation From the January 4, 2021, edition of Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show

HUGH HEWITT (HOST): I just want to tell you at the beginning, TDS has taken so many people — Trump derangement syndrome has just infected so many people, especially in the media, they cannot separate a phone call pleading for a recount, imploring the secretary of state to do something, for a criminal act. It’s not. It’s being taped — it’s just silly — it’s like the Ukraine phone call, just damn silly. But I want you to hear it.

I’m going to play the whole phone call. Why? Because you’re going to see a lot of headlines that say the president committed an impeachable offense, and he committed a crime. And you’ve got to hear the whole phone call. And he didn’t do any of those things. He was pleading for various remedies — none of which I would give him, by the way. I haven’t seen any evidence to support any of this. But it’s a phone call. Once again, the truth on The Hugh Hewitt Show.

Just to be clear, Georgia already had two full recounts, which did not substantially change the original result – a point that Raffensperger tried to explain to Trump on the call, to no avail.

Newsmax's Emerald Robinson defended the call, saying that the full hour-long recording showed “very legalistic talk.” Robinson would add that Trump had laid out his demands “very articulately” and that, "When you listen to the call in full context, it has a very different connotation than the narrative that was put out there in the rest of the media.”

The host then pointed to an article on Newsmax's site that declared, “Trump Ga. Transcript Shows Case for Vote Fraud, President Acted Properly.” The article additionally claimed the Post’s reporting was “false” for noting “that in his talk with Raffensperger, Trump ‘repeatedly urged him to alter the outcome of the presidential vote in the state.’”

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Citation From the January 4, 2020, edition of Newsmax's Wake Up

Fox “news side” anchors implore: Don’t sabotage the Republican senators

On Monday afternoon’s edition of Outnumbered, Fox Business anchor Dagen McDowell accused the people who had recorded the call of trying to damage Georgia’s two Republican senators in tomorrow’s runoff election.

“It's one thing if you are going to be on a call with an individual, and you think that context, the call itself would be disputed, to tape them,” McDowell said. “But it feels like somebody in the Georgia secretary of state's office wants Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to lose — that you would release that, you would leak this audio two days before the runoff races.”

After Fox contributor Karl Rove bemoaned that the whole discussion was taking time and attention away from the Georgia races, especially with Trump set to hold a campaign rally there Monday evening, Fox anchor Martha MacCallum agreed.

“I think that the president has a decision to make when he goes out there,” MacCallum advised. “Is it going to be about him, or is it going to be about the things that he cares about? And if it’s about the things that he cares about, and the issues that he has brought to the forefront over the course of the last four years, that’s what he’s going to say to the people there.”

The bottom line, MacCallum said: “He needs to look at something larger than himself for, you know, an hour and whatever time period he is out there, if, indeed, his role when he gets here, is to try to pull these two senators across the finish line.”

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Citation From the January 4, 2021, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered

Another tack: Trump just wanted transparency, which is good

At The National Pulse, Steve Bannon’s podcast co-host Raheem Kassam ran a post titled “Trump Call Actually Reveals A President Deep Into Detail, With Establishment Republicans Dismissive, Unwilling, And Rejecting Transparency.”

Anyone who actually listens to the call will hear President Trump being detailed and forthright. Understandably frustrated, Trump of course employs some of his characteristic New York businessman bluster. But more importantly: he speaks in a manner of someone who wants openness and transparency. And the other side simply does not.

That tells us all we need to know.

Fox News panelist Gayle Trotter also said that the call “is yet another example where he shows that he's going to the mat for the over 70 million voters who entrusted him to fight back,” praising the president’s continued efforts to overturn his election defeat.

Wait a second: Transparency is bad — and a crime, too

On the subject of transparency, much of the right-wing media’s ire has centered around the fact that the call was recorded and leaked to the public — ignoring that it was released only after Trump himself tweeted an account of the conversation including false claims of election fraud.

Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich accused Raffensperger on Sunday night of having “become an anti-Republican, for reasons we don’t fully understand” by having recorded the call and releasing it just days before the state’s runoff elections for U.S. Senate.

Newsmax political analyst Mark Halperin worried that the call being recorded would have a negative impact on discussions between public officials going forward — though, of course, he said he was “all for transparency.”

“But this is a very dangerous precedent for public officials to start taping each other’s conversations and releasing them,” Halperin said. “I’m all for transparency — I’m all for transparency, I’m all for journalism, but I’ll just say this is going to give some people real pause about who they talk to on the phone. Because, again, if people start taping government officials talking to each other, it’s going to really inhibit conversation.”

Newsmax anchor Rob Finnerty agreed: “Well, yeah, and the free flow of information, and that ultimately will affect the American people.”

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Citation From the January 4, 2020, edition of Newsmax's Wake Up

And others have gone much further, accusing Raffensperger of having committed crimes involving national security.

The Gateway Pundit publisher Jim Hoft declared in a headline on Sunday that Raffensperger’s leaking of the call “Tells You Everything About the Dirty Georgia Leadership,” and he also applauded reports that Trump was planning to both sue Raffensperger and pursue a criminal probe against him, supposedly under the Espionage Act.

“Dirtbag Brad Raffensperger is in serious trouble,” Hoft wrote. “What is with this guy? Why is he so determined to defend the massive fraud in his state?”

One America News White House correspondent Chanel Rion called for Raffensperger to be investigated, on the grounds that recording and leaking the call might be a matter of national security.

Turning Point USA head Charlie Kirk rhetorically asked how Raffensperger could be “calling yourself a ‘Republican’” while recording a call “with the leader of your party,” and said that he should “immediately resign in shame.” Like Rion, he also suggested that recording and leaking a call with the president “is a national security threat and it should be treated as such,” and called for Raffensperger to “immediately be investigated.”

Meanwhile, radio Jesse Kelly accused Raffensperger of violating the “man code” — which apparently supersedes matters of the public interest involving whether to uphold or throw out an election result. Curiously, Kelly did not take issue with Trump’s initial tweet revealing details of the “private conversation.”

The really paranoid

Far-right blogger Patrick Howley took aim at Raffensperger on Monday, with a post accusing him of being a “Manchurian” candidate because he had previously sought the support of Asian American voters during his first run for the Georgia legislature.

NATIONAL FILE has obtained video of Raffensperger speaking at an event with Mandarin-speaking Chinese people, begging the Chinese people to get him more than 100 votes to secure his victory in the election (which he ended up winning by 159 votes). A Mandarin-language newspaper even explained the strategy to place Raffensperger into office by use of “absentee ballots” that could be obtained by one Chinese person and distributed to others. Raffensperger is trying to stop Communist China’s geopolitical foe President Donald Trump from gaining a proper accounting of the votes in the 2020 presidential election.

And far-right accounts on social media also have claimed that the call leak between Trump and Raffensperger was anticipated and scripted by Trump as an attempt to publicly give Raffensperger a last chance to come clean. Gateway Pundit also theorized that Georgia poll workers that it had previously attacked may have been on the call.