Washington Post Issues Correction Three Months After False Report On Trump’s Georgia Call

The Washington Post caused a stir last week after admitting that it published a false account of statements made by President Donald Trump in a call with a Georgia election investigator. While the Post has been chastised by many of us for failing to address other false or ethically questionable articles, it did acknowledge that it got the story wrong (albeit three months later). The real problem is how such false stories are used to create an indelible narrative and lasting damage. Various experts used the false quotes to declare clear criminality while the House managers relied on the false account for the impeachment. None of these members or experts have acknowledged the changed record or the earlier reliance on a false account.

There were two calls on the Georgia electoral challenge and this correction concerns the six-minute exchange between the former president and investigator Frances Watson December 23, 2020. The transcript was published by the Wall Street Journal. The recording was found in a trash folder of the Georgia investigator and would not have been located absent the push from the WSJ.

In both calls, Trump pushed the officials to “find” the uncounted votes. There was pending litigation on such alleged uncounted votes and the other call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (and both legal teams) was a settlement discussion. The entire stated purpose of the challenges was to count what the Trump campaign alleged were uncounted votes that surpassed his 11,780 deficit. Trump put forward different theories of how many more votes were destroyed or not counted. He continued to return to the fact that they only need to confirm 11,780 of those hundreds of thousands of allegedly uncounted ballots.

The Post now admits that it’s bombshell report from early January was wrong and that Trump never told Watson to “find the fraud” and that she would be “a national hero.” Rather, Trump stated that if the officials did a neutral investigation “you’re going to find things” including “dishonesty” – a position consistent with his electoral challenge. I still view Trump’s statements to be irresponsible and unwise. He should not have been on these calls in the first place and many of us criticized his rhetoric leading up the January 6th riot.

CNN has also been criticized for claiming that it confirmed the statements independently.  Other  media outlets confirmed the account as true and neither Watson nor any other official familiar with the calls corrected the false account for months. The story notably ran just before the Georgia elections and was used extensively in the coverage and the campaign.

I previously wrote about these exchanges in challenging arguments by figures like NYU law professor (and former Mueller deputy) Andrew Weissmann that Trump’s remarks clearly established the basis for a criminal charge. As a longtime criminal defense attorney, I believe these statements fall short of the type of clear criminal intent asserted by Weissmann.

Yet, other legal experts rushed to join the declarations of presumptive guilt.  Worse still, the House eagerly latched on to the story to support Trump’s second impeachment. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., repeated the false quote and insisted that “Trump urged him [sic], ‘Find the fraud,’ and claimed the official would be a national hero if he [sic] did. Let’s call this what it is. He was asking the official to say there was evidence of fraud when there wasn’t any.”

The controversy perfectly embodies the political and journalistic failures of the last four years with a false account being used in a rushed impeachment. Once again, the story was true because it had to be true; because people wanted it to be true. In the media, there is an old saying that there are simply “some facts too good to check.” The Post story fit the narrative and that is what mattered.

Legal experts have long joined “the coalition of the willing” in running columns eagerly proclaiming “smoking guns” and clear crimes against Trump.  It does not matter that many of these same experts have declared a long litany of such crimes for years without their being used in an actual charge or an impeachment. Indeed, many declared Trump clearly and openly committed the crime of incitement in January. House managers insisted that he not only committed that crime but that he had no defenses (a position supported by dozens of professors and experts). Yet, he has yet to be interviewed, let alone charged, with that crime.

For Congress, there was even less interest in actually confirming such facts.  When I testified in the first Trump impeachment, I criticized the House for proceeding on the thinnest record and in the shortest time of any presidential impeachment. In the second impeachment, the House outdid that record. They held no hearing at all. They conducted no investigation. They did not even give Trump a formal opportunity to respond in a one-day hearing. They used a “snap impeachment” for the first time in history. Due process be damned. Facts be damned. Like the impulse-buy reporting, this was an impulse-buy impeachment.  The House did nothing for weeks before the Senate trial to confirm basic facts. It could have easily subpoenaed this recording, but decided to use a false press account. It did the same thing on facts surrounding the Jan. 6th riot. Rather than use weeks before the trial to call key witnesses and confirm basic facts, managers cited news sources like the Washington Post. It left the proof to the press and the press has little to prove when it comes to Trump.

There is still a criminal investigation in Georgia and a grand jury was recently impaneled. As a criminal defense lawyer, I do not doubt the ability to secure an indictment from a grand jury. (The stronger allegations remain tax and fraud claims from Trump’s businesses rather than his presidency). However, I was skeptical before and only more skeptical now on the ability to not just secure a conviction but defend it on appeal. We will have to wait for the evidence to fully evaluate any case against Trump. However, as with the criminal incitement claims, there are ample defenses available to Trump if any charge is based solely on these recordings. It is easier to proclaim such cases on television than to prosecute them in court. If charged, these cases could backfire in vindicating rather than convicting Trump of these crimes. Just in time for the 2024 presidential election.


108 thoughts on “Washington Post Issues Correction Three Months After False Report On Trump’s Georgia Call”

  1. Anything said or done to support The Party IS the Party’s TRUTH. V.I.Lenin and every socialist since they were spawned

  2. Jonathan: Chastising the Washington Post for misquoting Frances Watson during her 5 min. call with Trump on 12/23/20 is not in any way a game changer in terms of the outcome of the impeachment trial. Trump apparently used the word “dishonesty” instead of “fraud” and “when the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised” instead of “a national hero”. “Fraud” is a synonym for “dishonesty”. No doubt any newspaper should use accurate quotes but the error does not change the meaning of what Trump wanted from Watson–he wanted her to change the Georgia election results. So I don’t agree that the Post misquotes caused “lasting damage”. Most Republican Senators had already made up their minds before the trial. They would rely on your discredited argument that a former president cannot be tried or convicted. The House impeachment managers did not rely only on the Watson conversation. Their case rested on the many statements and actions by Trump before, during and after the election that led up to the insurrection on Jan. 6. You say Trump should not have been on these calls [12/23 and 1/3] in the first place…” Why not? As an experienced defense attorney you know Trump is his own worst enemy. But a narcissist rarely takes advice. He always knows what is required at any given moment. Trump couldn’t rely on Rudy because Giuliani had discredited himself by losing all the court challenges to the election. Trump’s attorneys who sat in on the 1/3 call were in an uncomfortable position. They didn’t want to be accused of also violating federal or state election laws. So it was up to Trump to lead the charge with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger–that is now the subject of a criminal investigation. This is really the smoking gun call that you don’t discuss in your column.

    When Trump called Raffensperger he knew his back was against the wall. He had lost all his legal challenges to the election results. Now he had to use extra-judicial means to overturn the election. So Trump did what he often does in business negotiations–bully, badger and threaten, He dominated the call with Raffensperger, often interrupting his own attorneys and aides. Trump made so many false claims it’s hard to keep an accurate account. He told Raffensperger that 5,000 dead people had voted in Georgia. Raffensperger tried to point out that after a full investigation it was found that only 2 dead people voted. Trump wasn’t interested in facts. He went on to falsely claim that one of the vote counters, Ruby Freeman, was a “vote scammer” who ran Biden ballots through a counting machine three times. Trump then falsely claimed there were thousands of forged ballot signatures, that the Dominion voting machines were rigged and there were thousands of Biden votes where the voter was not on the official voter registration list. Trump falsely claimed he had won the Georgia election by 400,000 votes. This is where Trump dropped the bomb, He asked Raffensperger to find one more vote than Biden’s winning margin and added a threat: ” You know the election was dishonest, Brad”.. “Why wouldn’t you want to find the right answer?”…” They’re laughing at you Brad”… “shredding ballots”…”that’s a criminal offense, that’s a big risk for you” “I’m notifying you that you are letting it happen”. Despite the threats Raffensperger and his aides refused to change the vote count. After an hour Trump finally realized he had lost the argument and ended the call. This is when Trump knew he had to resort to the nuclear option–to call on his Proud Boy friends and other right-wing supporters to show up on Jan. 6 and prevent the certification of the Electoral College votes.

    Whether Trump is criminally charged, tried and, maybe, ultimately acquitted, it doesn’t really matter. You claim that an acquittal would mean Trump could claim he is “vindicated. Hardly. There is the more important judgment of history. Historians won’t require criminal “intent” to judge Trump guilty of being the most corrupt president in recent memory. That’s really the judgment that counts.

    1. Hey Dennis — will Joe Biden have to stop using his gender-specific language like “Come on, man”….you know, that annoying line he says all the time when he is pressed for an answer? “Come on, man” he whines, “gimme a break”….as if his entire campaign wasn’t one lucky break after another with the friendly media running cover for him day in and day out…..which they continue to do even now when Biden is clearly ‘hiding’ from and avoiding the mostly friendly media. Just sickening, isn’t it?

    2. To bad you left our credible sources and zero facts but a true example of Marxist Leninism.

    3. Too bad so sad you offered no credible resources nor facts in evidence. But another fine examplke of Marxist Leninism and their rulke of anything done to support the party is the party’s truth.

  3. JT >> perfect segue to talk about the IC finding that the Russians jumped in on trump’s side again in ’20. Better yet, diving into just exactly WTF Manafort was doing in handing over trump’s internal polling in ’16 to a Russian intelligence agent.

    Dare ya.


  4. So a false report is used to impeach a President and nobody is bothered? No in depth scrutiny, no chance to defend against, false evidence. I understand this is politics, but where is the due process? For those of you that think this is OK, remember whips change hands and memories run long. Do not cry the crocodile tears when it happens to your guy and I fully expect it will in the future. This is bigger than an irritating individual President. If a President is not given due process, how do you expect the rest of us to have due process?

    The damning part of this is that it makes Trump look correct that “they” were out to get him.

    1. No false report was used to impeach a president. He was impeached the second time for inciting the January 6th Capitol riot. He was impeached the first time for extorting a foreign country with government resources for personal gain. It didn’t hinge on those recordings which materially say the same thing as was reported. We have a full year of Trump lying publicly about election fraud setting up what happened on the 6th. He spent a full year setting up the stage for if he lost a close election and January 6th was the result. It was about the only good thing about Trump, you didn’t need the media to tell you he engaged in this stuff, he did it publicly. I don’t care what party the person is in, if you cannot understand how disgusting his actions were and the damage it did to our democracy, once again, for his own personal gain, then you, like Turley here, just have fundamental moral problems. You care about a maintenance of a power structure and that is about it. There are no discernible values that I can see. Any candidate of any party that engages in this should be impeached and disqualified. I vote in Georgia, it was never even a possibility that the machines changed votes. You get your own paper ballot printed out after your touch screen vote, for you to look at for correctness, which you place in the ballot box yourself. No one ever touches your paper ballot.

      This was simply a bunch of lies set forth for two reasons, 1. To make a case if Trump lost a close election and 2. To make GOP voters think there was widespread voter fraud so the nonsense voter suppression tactics that are going on right now in Georgia and other states would have support. It is disgusting.

      I wish Turley gave a crap about people’s right to vote, like he cares about people’s non-existent right to free speech on a business’s platform. Platforms are making a choice as to the customers they want to keep. I left social media because of the crap that Turley wants to call free speech. I have since returned to Twitter since they have made an effort to clean up their platform. They have a right to protect their business. Sorry, Turley side rant. I came to Georgia as a libertarian republican and I am now voting democrat almost exclusively until this Trumpism and hatred for democracy is stamped out of the GOP. When a party chooses the path of impeding people from exercising their vote to win elections instead offering a platform that people want to vote for, that party deserves to lose. it is not a party I will ever consider voting for while this is their path.

      1. Hear! Hear!

        Well spoken Bruce.

        You really have to question the intelligence and/or integrity of anyone who supports Trump.

        He is such an obvious crook and charlatan, but he couldn’t con his way out of a pandemic.

        Just be glad he’s gone.

        The silver lining in Coronavirus – it swept Trump out of office and we don’t have to listen to his BS and blather.

        Hopefully he is going to prison.

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