Katko breaks with Trump, won’t contest election

U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, is pictured in this March 2020 photo speaking at the Roy McCrobie Civic Center in Oswego. The congressman, who began his fourth term this week, said Monday President Donald Trump needs to accept his electoral loss and the nation must move on. Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow is also pictured at left, and U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi is seen at right.

Congressman: 'No demonstration of widespread fraud'

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. John Katko on Monday said there has been no demonstration of widespread fraud in the presidential election, a day after audio surfaced of President Donald Trump pressuring Georgia's secretary of state to "find" enough votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's win.

The Republican president, who has refused to accept the loss to his Democratic opponent, repeatedly has argued that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger could change the certified results, and in a Saturday phone call directly pleaded with Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes." Katko, who has largely stood behind President Trump and supported his re-election effort, did not reference the phone call on Monday, but said Congress must certify the nation's election result and noted it "is not the role of Congress to usurp the will of the people."

The 2020 election was "unprecedented" with an increase in mail-in ballots, absentee ballots and various waivers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Katko said in his Monday statement, adding he expressed the need to secure election infrastructure and "drive clarity around election administration procedures to reduce confusion and prevent irregularities."

"However, after every ballot was counted and arguments were presented to our nation’s courts, there has been no demonstration of widespread fraud that would warrant overturning the election results," said Katko, R-Camillus.

"Arguments were presented in dozens of court actions across this great land, including the United States Supreme Court, and the burden of proof was never met."

Katko said as a former federal prosecutor "the failure to meet this burden is impactful and cannot be ignored."

"It is not the role of Congress to usurp the will of the people and the electoral college," Katko said. "To do so would irrevocably alter our democracy and electoral processes.  We must certify our nation's election results."

In the recorded phone call with Raffensperger, who is also a Republican, Trump repeatedly cited unproven and debunked claims of fraud and raised the prospect of a "criminal offense" if officials did not change the vote count. The phone call with Raffensperger was the latest step in an unprecedented effort by a sitting U.S. president to press a state official to reverse the outcome of a presidential election.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said in the Saturday phone call. “Because we won the state.”

Georgia counted its votes three times before certifying Biden’s win by a 11,779-vote margin, Raffensperger noted.

“President Trump, we’ve had several lawsuits, and we’ve had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions,” Raffensperger said on the call. “We don’t agree that you have won.”

Audio snippets of the conversation were first posted online by The Washington Post. The Associated Press obtained the full audio of Trump’s conversation with Georgia officials from a person on the call.

Trump’s renewed intervention and the persistent and unfounded claims of fraud came nearly two weeks before he leaves office and two days before twin runoff elections in Georgia that will determine political control of the U.S. Senate.

The president used Saturday’s hourlong phone conversation to tick through a list of claims about the election in Georgia, including that hundreds of thousands of ballots mysteriously appeared in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. Officials have said there is no evidence of that happening.

The Georgia officials on the call are heard repeatedly pushing back against the president’s assertions, telling him that he’s relying on debunked theories and, in one case, selectively edited video.

“It was pretty obvious pretty early on that we’d debunked every one of those theories early on,” Raffensperger told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, “but President Trump continues to believe them.”

Also during the conversation, Trump appeared to threaten Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s legal counsel, by suggesting both could be criminally liable if they failed to find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County had been illegally destroyed. There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

“That’s a criminal offense,” Trump says. “And you can’t let that happen.”

Others on the call included Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and attorneys assisting Trump, including Washington lawyer Cleta Mitchell. Trump lost the Electoral College to Biden by 74 votes, and even if Georgia, with its 16 votes, were to end up in his column, it would have no impact on the result of the election.

The call was the first time Raffensperger and Trump spoke, though the White House had tried 18 previous times to set up a conversation, according to officials.

Democrats and a few Republicans condemned Trump’s actions, including Katko and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the GOP House leadership team who deemed the call “deeply troubling.” Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York made a criminal referral to FBI Director Christopher Wray and called for an investigation into the president.

Legal experts said Trump’s behavior raised questions about possible election law violations.

Biden senior adviser Bob Bauer called the recording “irrefutable proof” of Trump threatening an official in his own party to “rescind a state’s lawful, certified vote count and fabricate another in its place.”

“It captures the whole, disgraceful story about Donald Trump’s assault on American democracy,” Bauer said.

Trump said in a tweet earlier Sunday that he had spoken with Raffensperger. He attacked how Raffensperger conducted Georgia’s elections, tweeting, “He has no clue!” and he said the state official “was unwilling, or unable” to answer questions.

Raffensperger’s Twitter response: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out.”

Various election officials across the country and Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election. Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, key battleground states crucial to Biden’s victory, have also vouched for the integrity of their state elections. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, which has three Trump-nominated justices.

Still, Trump has publicly disparaged the election, raising concerns among Republicans that GOP voters may be discouraged from participating in Tuesday’s runoffs pitting Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Rebecca Green, who helps direct the election law program at William and Mary Law School, said that while it is appropriate for a candidate to question the outcome of an election, the processes for doing so for the presidential election have run their course. States have certified their votes.

Green said Trump had raised “lots of questions” about whether he violated any election laws.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said Trump has shown “reprehensible and, possibly illegal, conduct.”

Trump noted on the call that he intended to repeat his claims about fraud at Monday night’s rally in the heavily Republican area of Dalton in north Georgia.

“The people of Georgia are angry. The people of the country are angry,” he says on the recording.

Biden is also due to campaign in Georgia on Monday. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stumped in Garden City, Georgia, on Sunday, slamming Trump for the call.

“It was a bald, bald-faced, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States,” she said.

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