Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Special Reports
CNN Special Report: Trumping Democracy: An American Coup. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 25, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The votes for president of the United States are as follows. Joseph R. Biden Jr., of the state of Delaware, has received 306 votes. Donald J. Trump, with the state of Florida, has received 232 votes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: By the way, that was Kelly Ward in that video from Arizona. But that was Mike Pence closing out the 2020 election.
The scheme didn't work. But now it's under criminal investigation -- Pam?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Right. As you noted, two states, at least two, sent fake certificates to the National Archives.
Marshall Cohen, thank you.
Thank you for joining me this evening. I'm Pamela Brown.
The CNN special report, "TRUMPING DEMOCRACY: AN AMERICAN COUP," is next.
ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN special report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): The violence at the capitol on January 6th, 2021, was just the most visible part --
TAPPER: -- of Donald Trump's attempt to hold onto power.
TAPPER: Tonight, we talk to those who witnessed the whole plot unfurl and tried to stop it. (SHOUTING)
TAPPER: The lies.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election was stolen from you, from me, and from the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you ask how many Republican congressmen believe Donald Trump was reelected, I'd say maybe a couple but 60 percent of our base does.
TAPPER: Conspiracy theories.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: That could have been Mickey Mouse.
REP. ANTHONY GONZALEZ (R-OH): This is the craziest thing I've ever seen and people bought it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They tried to not have your votes counted. They did not want your vote to count.
TAPPER: Potentially, illegal pressure campaigns.
TRUMP (voice-over): I just want to find 11,780 votes.
BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: What he was asking for wasn't supported by the facts, wasn't supported by the Constitution.
TAPPER: Extraordinary scheming.
Let's talk about it.
(on camera): Let about the member.
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-MO): Just breathtaking THAT you would have laid out such a clear game plan that so clearly violated the Constitution.
TAPPER (voice-over): And all too many in the Republican Party --
SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST, "HANNITY": Do you believe this was a free and fair election?
TAPPER: -- and MAGA media, who followed along.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX HOST, "THE INGRAHAM ANGLE": Unverifiable dumps of votes.
TRUMP: We will never give up. We will never concede. CROWD: Stop the Steal! Stop the Steal!
TAPPER: And it all might have worked if not for a few people in key places, notably among them, brave Republicans.
GONZALEZ: In the moments of truth, you need the right people to pass the most difficult tests. We had just enough people on January 6th to pass the test.
PENCE: Pursuant to the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
TAPPER (on camera): Do you think Donald Trump attempted to stage a coup?
GONZALEZ: I don't know what you could call it, other than a coup.
CITY COMMISSIONER AL SCHMIDT (R-PA): I have real concerns about the future of this democracy.
CHENEY: I'm deeply afraid for our country.
TAPPER (voice-over): Tonight, a CNN special report, TRUMPING DEMOCRACY, AN AMERICAN COUP.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.
GONZALEZ: January 6th was the line that can't be crossed. January 6th was an unconstitutional attempt, led by the president of the United States, to overturn an American election and reinstall himself in power.
GONZALEZ: That's fallen-nation territory. That's third-world country territory. My family left Cuba to avoid that fate. I will not let it happen here.
TAPPER (voice-over): That is Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio.
GONZALEZ: I rise today in support of the Cuban people.
TAPPER: Grandson of an immigrant, he has an American success story. A talented wide receiver that played three years for Ohio State, five more in the NFL.
And when injuries sidelined him, he got a business degree from Stanford. All this before age 34, when Gonzalez felt called to run for Congress.
GONZALEZ: I got into this because, look, my family came here from Cuba. My father's family came here from Cuba.
We come from a country that has fallen. We come from a failed nation. And we see what happens when the rule of law is dismantled, when a strong man is allowed to take hold, and Democratic norms cease to exist.
TAPPER: Now the conservative Republican has a warning for all of us about what Trump and his minions tried to do when they tried to steal the election.
GONZALEZ: This country has been through a lot. We fought through it and we've persevered.
As much as I despise almost every policy of the Biden administration, the country can survive a round of bad policy. The country can't survive torching the Constitution. That's the one thing the country can't survive.
TRUMP: There's going to be fraud all over the place.
A weak election. There's going to be fraud.
TAPPER: Donald Trump's plan to undermine began months before the votes started.
TRUMP: What's he going to do with these ballots. Where are they going?
TAPPER: With the lies he had been telling for years.
In 2012, he tweeted, quote, "More reports of voting machines switching Romney votes to Obama. Pay close attention to the machines. Don't let your vote be stolen."
In 2016, quote, "Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa. He stole it."
And this, after he won the Electoral College, hence the presidency, in 2016. Quote, "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."
Also not true.
BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: President Trump started a commission to look for that in 2017. He could find nothing. They disbanded before they could even file a report.
TAPPER: In 2020, mail-in ballots, which were going to be more prevalent because of the pandemic, became a perfect new foil for Trump's old claim.
TRUMP (voice-over): Voting by mail is wrought with fraud and abuse. When you do all mail-in voting ballots, you're asking for fraud.
TAPPER: Alyssa Farah Griffin, the White House director for then- President Trump from April through December 2020.
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: We actually had to hold another meeting in the Oval to remind him that many of our voters, particularly senior citizens, were going to vote by mail and that we were deterring people from turning out and from voting in the way that they would.
TAPPER: All of this caught the attention of Congresswoman Liz Cheney. A rock-red conservative and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. At the time, she was number three in House Republican leadership, the conference chair.
CHENEY: It concerned me, because we wanted people to be able to vote as Republicans. I wasn't concerned about it from a constitutional perspective at all. Those concerns clearly came later on.
TRUMP: There's going to be millions of missing ballots --
TAPPER: Cheney's constitutional concerns came about five weeks before Election Day.
Then-President Trump was asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Win, lose or draw in this election, will you commit here today for a peaceful transfer of power after the election?
TRUMP: Well, we're going to have to see what happens. I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster.
TAPPER (on camera): You tweeted a response to that. You wrote, "The peaceful power of transfer is fundamental to survival of our republic. American leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath."
But that suggests to me you that were worried?
CHENEY: I was. It's such a basic, fundamental thing. Every president really responsible for safeguarding peaceful transfer of power.
TRUMP: We're going to have to see what happened.
CHENEY: So for President Trump not to be willing to make that commitment was stunning.
TAPPER (voice-over): That was September 2020, when Donald Trump also stunned Republican Al Schmidt.
SCHMIDT: We needed to either get them onboard or move the polling place.
TAPPER: At the time, Schmidt was one of three city commissioners in Philadelphia. His job was to oversee the city's elections.
TRUMP (on camera): It was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went in to watch. They're called poll watchers. They were thrown out. They weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things.
TAPPER (on camera): So you're watching the debate. President Trump says bad things happen in Philadelphia. What goes through your mind?
SCHMIDT: I think I said out loud, I see what you're doing. We had the sitting president trying to discredit the results coming from the city of Philadelphia before a single vote was cast in the city.
TRUMP: Watch those ballots. I don't like it.
(voice-over): Thousands of ballots all over the country are being reported. Some thrown in garbage cans with my name on them.
(on camera): Oh, did you see today? There was a big mishap with the ballots. Another one.
TAPPER (voice-over): Not only was Trump spreading distrust of the electoral process --
TRUMP: Did you see they found 50,000 ballots in, like, a river?
TAPPER: -- he was doing it in states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan where the margins were expected to be tight and the wait for results expected to be unusually long.
CHRIS STIREWALT, FORMER FOX NEWS POLITICS EDITOR: In most of America, there's a big traditional skew between early votes and Election Day votes. The Republicans usually win Election Day, and the Democrats usually one early voting and absentee voting.
All this vote flowing in in Pennsylvania and -
TAPPER: Chris Stirewalt was part of FOX News' 2020 Decision Desk.
STIREWALT: The question is, do Republicans do well enough on Election Day to offset it?
TAPPER: In 2020, the divide was expected to be more pronounced than usual because Trump had been telling Republicans not to trust mail-in ballots. This set the stage for what experts predicted, with Trump's misleading early vote counts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There may be what some folks call a red mirage. So that Trump's numbers may be highest on election night and then there's a long tail called the blue wave as more votes of absentee votes come in, that in the last couple of decades, have come in overwhelming Democrat.
The big caveat is we've never had early voting like this.
TAPPER (on camera): We all new that some states were going to show him up and then it was going to get closer. Did he not know that?
No. He had been told that repeatedly and he didn't care.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": He had decided before the summer, frankly, when it was clear that the pandemic was going to change the way "by mail" voting worked, and a number of states had expanded it, he started laying the groundwork for this can't be trusted.
TRUMP: This is not right. What they're doing is not right.
TAPPER (voice-over): Everyone who followed the elections closely knew about this.
But then -
STEVE BANNON, PODCAST HOST, "AMERICASVOICE.NEWS & FORMER TRUMP ADVISOR: We've got some breaking news we've got to talk about.
TAPPER: Right before the actual Election Day, a convenient alternative explanation.
BANNON: This project of a system called Hammer.
TAPPER: A false conspiracy theory popped up in right-wing media.
LT. GEN. THOMAS MCINERNEY, RETIRED U.S. AIR FORCE: It's going to look good for President Trump, but they're going to change it.
TAPPER: There would be many, many more conspiracy theories in the days ahead.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Voters are in the final hours of making a monumental decision for this country.
TAPPER: We're keeping an eye on voting under way across the country, especially in those key battleground --
BLITZER: CNN predicts President Trump will win the state of Florida. A wig win --
HABERMAN: Former President Trump was in his residence. He had people coming up and down. But there were staffers, aides, friends, hangers on, all sorts of people in the East Room, munching on mini burgers, and celebrating what they believed, once the state of Florida was called for Trump, was going to be a repeat of 2016.
BLITZER: A big win for President Trump in Florida. HABERMAN: Trump was in a decent mood until FOX called Arizona for
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The FOX News Decision Desk is calling Arizona for Joe Biden. That is a big get for the Biden campaign.
HABERMAN: He believed, told by advisers after winning Florida, this is looking good for us, just like 2016. The states supposed to go for Biden are going for you. And then got to the Arizona call and it all fell apart.
CHRIS WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR & FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: A significant victory for Joe Biden. As I say, the first flip of the night in the presidential race.
TAPPER: The FOX News Decision Desk made that call hours before the Associated Press, and days before the major news networks.
STIREWALT: People were sending me what people were saying on social media. It was this sort of, you know, psychotic murderous rage about us and we don't do anything.
We're just lettermen. I'm telling you where the storm is going. I don't make the weather.
TAPPER (on camera): He started calling talent at FOX and urging them to retract.
GRIFFIN: Right, as though it was the call that made that true not the votes that were cast.
HABERMAN: He had made up his mind weeks before he would go to the podium if election night showed he was losing and he was going to say he won. That's exactly what he did.
TRUMP: This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.
TRUMP: We did win this --
TAPPER (voice-over): Then he said this:
TRUMP: We want all voting to stop. We don't want them to find any ballots at 4:00 in the morning and add them to the list. OK?
TAPPER: But nobody was voting. They were just counting.
The focus at this point was mostly on mail-in ballots. In 2020, more Democrats voted this way than Republicans. TRUMP: We were winning everything, and all of a sudden, it was just
TAPPER: What an ideal time to stop the counting if you're a Republican president who wants to hold on to office no matter what the voters actually want.
TRUMP: I've been saying this from the day I heard they were going to send out tens of millions of ballots. I said --
BILL GATES, (R), ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY & CHAIRMAN, MARICOPA BOARD OF SUPERVISORS (voice-over): I love this country. I love this democracy. And it makes me very sad to see what many in my party are doing.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bill Gates is a conservative Republican who worked on voter integrity issues for the Arizona Republican Party for years.
GATES (on camera): I'm one of these kind of Alex P. Keaton kids from the '80s. I've been a Republican my whole life.
Thank you so much --
TAPPER: Nowadays, chairman of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors, the governing board for the county, which is Arizona's most populous.
Among the board's responsibilities, running elections.
GATES: This election was run well. There was no fraud involved in this. No corruption.
Why do I feel confident about that? Because this has been the most scrutinized election we've ever run.
My job was to make sure there wasn't anything improper or fraudulent that was going on.
TAPPER (on camera): You weren't discounting anything?
GATES: No. My job is to investigate what was being brought to me. So I followed up on those with our elections officials.
TAPPER: And --
GATES: And there was nothing to it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, sir.
TAPPER: For Gates and his colleagues, the madness began in the hours after the polls closed.
TRUMP: As far as I'm concerned, we already have won.
TAPPER: Before the tally was finished --
TAPPER: -- supporters who believed then-President Trump when he said he won Arizona began flocking to the site.
GATES: It was a circus. I mean, it was really Lollapalooza for all- right. And they were outside of the election center, which is, I mean, really off the beaten path.
TAPPER: Across the U.S., local election officials were scrambling to get a record number of mail-in ballots counted.
Among them, in Philadelphia, was Al Schmidt. At the time, he was one of three city commissioners, the only Republican. He ran for office promising to protect election integrity.
SCHMIDT: One of the things I was involved in, as part of the Republican Party in the city and the Republican Party in the state, was election integrity.
Since coming into office in 2012, I've referred more than two dozen cases for investigation to city, state and federal law enforcement.
Our election operations were centered in the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Centre City, Philadelphia.
And there was one TV on that I happened to walk past --
SCHMIDT: -- and the president saying, "Why are they still counting? They already got the results."
TRUMP: We're winning Pennsylvania by a tremendous amount of votes.
TAPPER (on camera): And I want to be very clear about what then- President Trump was calling for. He wanted millions of Americans to be disenfranchised.
SCHMIDT: Which is completely at odds with democracy. It was pretty upsetting to see that.
BLITZER: Let's get a key race alert in some of the battleground states.
SCHMIDT: When half your voters, in our case, 325,000 voters vote by mail, it takes days to count the ballots. Because you can't even begin processing the envelopes they came in until 7:00 Wednesday morning.
TAPPER: Because that's the law that the Republicans made?
SCHMIDT: That is the law the Republicans made and refused to change.
TAPPER (voice-over): And this is a key point, especially in Pennsylvania.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most significant modernization of our elections -- elections code in decades.
TAPPER: Expanded vote by mail legislation passed before the pandemic. In 2019. By the Republican legislature. These were Republican rules.
STIREWALT: The refusal to count those mail votes early and be prepared really hurt the country.
And if you can't get the ballots counted accurately, efficiently, expeditiously, you create this space for Trump and his squad and these goons to go out there and plant lies to try to steal this election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to prove to the American people that Arizona is Trump country!
TAPPER: It was happening most notably in swing states.
In Arizona, there was Sharpie-gate. The Trump campaign falsely alleged Sharpie markers on the ballots made them unreadable by the counting machines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the beginning of this. Let's start --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and throw chum out in the water for boats that would try to overturn this election.
TAPPER: In Georgia, a big lie that spread on the Internet was that this legal case of ballots was actually a secret suitcase of false Biden votes being added to the count.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw four suitcases come out from underneath the table.
TAPPER: Something the Republican Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and colleagues looked into and found completely without merit.
LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN, (R-GA): It was cut and spliced. Take the time to watch it from beginning to end, there's a very a sequenced pattern that can be explained all the way through there.
And those weren't suitcases. Those were actually pre-approved cases already used all over the state.
TAPPER: In Philadelphia, Trump did better than he had in 2016. Better than Romney in 2012 or McCain in 2008.
He was losing Pennsylvania, because he did so much worse in the Philadelphia suburbs.
TAPPER: Nonetheless, because Trump decided discrediting big cities was going to be one of his false political attacks.
In Philadelphia, Trump's lawyers falsely claimed Republican observers had been barred from the counting rooms.
(on camera): One of the attorneys for Trump asks a judge, Judge Diamond, for an emergency order to stop the counting. And they're claiming that he they had no people in the room. That's what they had been claiming outside the courtroom.
But inside the courtroom, this Trump lawyer concedes that there were a, quote, "non-zero" number of their own observers in the room. And essentially the case is laughed out of court.
SCHMIDT: Short of that lawyer lying to the judge and committing perjury, clearly, went as far as it could. We had Republican observers there every minute of every day that we were operating and counting votes, right in front of us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is rampant corruption.
TAPPER (voice-over): Despite this barrage from Trump and his allies --
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We will await more votes to come into Pennsylvania.
TAPPER: -- that counting ending quite momentously the Saturday after the election.
(on camera): Ultimately, the final decision of this very long election week came down to Philly.
And after Philly was decided and announced --
BLITZER: CNN projects Joseph R. Biden Jr is elected the 46th president of the United States.
TAPPER: -- Joe Biden declared victory. What was that like?
SCHMIDT: To have our voters votes result in the election being called was an incredible thing to watch.
SCHMIDT: While all of that is happening, we're also aware that Rudy Giuliani is coming to Philadelphia.
GUILIANI: Wow. What a beautiful day. Thank you.
SCHMIDT: He's going to the Four Seasons Landscaping place to say that our voters votes shouldn't be counted.
TAPPER: I was about to bring up Four Season Landscaping because --
GIULIANI: In Philadelphia --
TAPPER: -- it was --
GIULIANI: They keep the votes of dead people secret.
TAPPER: -- the most --
GIULIANI: -- very suspect method of voting.
TAPPER: -- degrading --
GIULIANI: There was no security. Zero.
TAPPER: -- pathetic --
GIULIANI: People of this country have no assurance at all --
TAPPER: -- preposterous --
GIULIANI: -- that those ballots were actually cast.
TAPPER: -- farcical moment, in my view, of this post-Election Day challenge of this all.
SCHMIDT: And appropriate?
GIULIANI: They would have had to have been almost unanimously cast for Joe Biden in order to catch up.
TAPPER: They, obviously, did not mean to have this at Four Seasons Landscaping, in an industrial area right across the street from a crematorium and next to a sex shop.
TAPPER (voice-over): And it was the day Trump got the news he did not want to hear.
HABERMAN: He was told by two of his top political advisers that basically it was over. He listened and decided he wanted to keep fighting.
TAPPER: So -- HABERMAN: Trump decided to put Giuliani in charge, and exactly what he
did. Giuliani was willing to do what he wanted.
TAPPER (voice-over): And that is what led to this now-infamous press conference mid-November 2020, featuring Rudy Giuliani and another lawyer named Sidney Powell.
SIDNEY POWELL, ATTORNEY: The Dominion counting systems were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election.
GIULIANI: The only thing left is the vote. That could have been the same person 30 times.
POWELL: One of its most characteristic features is its ability to flip votes.
GIULIANI: Thank you.
TAPPER: Ben Ginsberg, preeminent REPUBLICAN Party election attorney, who has battled with Democrats on many recounts and recalls, was watching.
GINSBERG: When I first heard that press conference, I said, oh, my god, can that really be true? Because if there was nothing there, they wouldn't just be making it up.
And then went through the entire press conference, and I sort of remember looking out the window and saying, they just made all that up.
TAPPER: They did.
This campaign memo from six days before the press conference, first reported by the "New York Times," says, "Dominion has no company ties to Venezuela."
Dominion and one of its former many employees would later sue Giuliani and Powell for more than a billion dollars.
A court document filed by Powell's lawyer said, quote, "No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact."
Someone should tell that to the Republican National Committee, because they still have Powell's lies in its social media feed.
In a deposition for another related case, Giuliani said he got his information about a former Dominion employee having Antifa ties from social media.
GIULIANI: There were social media posts that get all -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Social media postings?
GIULIANI: Or something else. I think it was Facebook.
TAPPER: He also admitted he didn't, quote, "have the time" to investigate the claims himself.
Alyssa Farah Griffin was White House communications director when all of these lies were being fed to then-President Trump.
(on camera): You're saying, in November, there seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement by the president that he lost. But then something changed?
GRIFFIN: Yes. Something did change.
And I think this was when the -- the more conspiracy theorists individuals started getting access to the president. The Sidney Powells, the Mike Lindells, Michael Flynns and even Steve Bannon was in his ear.
And it did take a turn. I think he believes it.
TRUMP: This election was a fraud.
GRIFFIN: The former president believes that he won the election. And that's scary.
And the other thing, though, that your viewers need to know is the people around the president, the same ones, know that he did not win. And they are lying to you and they are lying to him when they suggest that the election was stolen.
TAPPER (voice-over): There were more than 60 lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign or its supporters. They only prevailed in one case from Pennsylvania. But the number of ballots affected was too small to change the results from the state.
GINSBERG: None of the claims he made were found meritorious by any court, in any way that would have reversed the results of the election.
TAPPER: Georgia faced more than a dozen of these suits.
RAFFENSPERGER: These lawsuits, just wanted to throw out the results. Then have the general assembly pick their own set of electors.
TAPPER: Brad Raffensperger, Georgia the secretary of state, a conservative Republican who supported Trump and has fought with Democrats on election issues, ordered a statewide hand count.
That hand count confirmed there was no widespread fraud involved with the machine count.
RAFFENSPERGER: No, we never saw enough fraud that would ever have overturned the results of the election.
TAPPER: Still, then President Trump hate tweeted about him. And both Raffensperger and his wife were threatened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People start threatening her, sending her sexualized text. Those kinds of intimidations.
TAPPER: Bill Gates got threats too. So did Al Schmidt, who testified about them in Congress.
AL SCHMIDT, FORMER PHILADELPHIA CITY COMMISSIONER: Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot. Included, our address, included my children's names, included a picture of our home. Cops can't help you. Heads on spikes treasonous Schmidt.
GEOFF DUNCAN, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: We've not had any sort of credible incidents raised to our level yet.
There was an interesting timeline that started to happen. A pattern is probably a better way to put it. So I would go on T.V., I would speak the truth. If there's an issue out there. We want to make sure we understand it, investigate it. And within minutes, he would send a tweet out that would say something derogatory or inflammatory.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: His latest target is the Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, quote, Georgia lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, Georgia, is a RINO never Trumper. Too dumb or corrupt to recognize massive evidence of fraud in Georgia and should be replaced.
DUNCAN: And then within minutes after that, either me or my wife would start to get threats would show up on her phone. I mean, like blood curdling threats from just the most awful sounding individuals and, indeed, meaning, that we know things about you and your family that they intentionally were trying to scare us and intimidate us. It was all to try to get us to sit down and be quiet.
TAPPER: Then President Trump wanted some Republicans to sit down. Others, he invited to Washington.
And he starts bringing in state legislators from Pennsylvania.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
TAPPER: Party leaders from Michigan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He starts having them come to the White House, yes, to visit with him. And again, this is part of the sales job that he thinks he's doing. He's telling them that really he won, and that they ought to consider that and that they ought to consider how they, you know, submit electors and how they go ahead and certifying the election in their states, but none of them went along with it at the end of the day.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe Biden ahead now by 61,000 votes.
TAPPER: In Michigan, despite losing to Joe Biden by more than 154,000 votes, Trump waged a fierce fight to keep the results from being certified. It might have worked if one of the two Republicans on the state canvassing board had not resisted intense pressure, and voted with the Democrats to certify.
AARON VAN LANGEVELDE, REPUBLICAN LAWYER: We must not attempt to exercise power we simply don't have.
TAPPER: After that act of courage, state Republicans replaced him on the board. It was all part of a presidential push for legislators to disenfranchise their own constituents based on lies. There was no credible evidence of widespread fraud.
Perhaps the President's most shocking push was in Georgia.
So then President Trump asked Governor Kemp to call a special session of the legislature. So the legislators could appoint their own electors instead of the ones for Biden that the voters had picked.
DUNCAN: You play that out, and you disenfranchise two and a half million people's votes in a state, I don't care if their Ds or Rs, we would have had rioting in every street, in every community. It would have been an absolute attack on democracy.
TAPPER: A version of that, of course, came later.
(CHANTING "FIGHT FOR TRUMP")
TAPPER: As court losses piled up and Inauguration Day crept closer, Trump hoped that U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, with the might of the Department of Justice behind him, would back him and add credence to his fraudulent claims.
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS HOST: Where is the DOJ and the FBI in all of this, Mr. President? Is the DOJ investigating?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Missing in action. I can't tell you where they are.
TAPPER: Barr was investigating.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Bill Barr issued a memo that told prosecutors around the country that they could take overt steps to look into allegations of fraud. It's something that the Department traditionally didn't do until the votes were certified. It was absolutely seen as putting pressure on prosecutors around the country to at least say publicly or have signs that they were investigating voter fraud. Bill Barr was looking for it. And the truth was that it just wasn't there. And he eventually came to realize that.
TAPPER: In an interview with the Associated Press, Barr publicly contradicted Trump's baseless assertions, saying, quote, "To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election."
PEREZ: The president is furious. He calls Barr over to meet with him and the two of them get into a shouting match.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Barr told Trump they had looked into these things, that Trump was asking about, and there was nothing there and Trump got very agitated. And Barr just kept saying, this is not real, sir. And at point, Barr described Giuliani and his ilk as clowns and Trump sort of listened and said maybe, but he wouldn't get off of it.
TAPPER: It was not just characters like Rudy Giuliani peddling the false claims. There were others stepping into aid with the dirty work of trying to subvert the election.
PEREZ: Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General, a big supporter of Donald Trump brings a lawsuit arguing that the ballots from four states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia should be thrown out, because those states had not followed their own laws in allowing mail-in balloting. And in the way that they had carried out their elections. He was arguing that millions of ballots should be thrown out.
TAPPER: The legal filing was so constitutionally unhinged and substantively bereft. The Texas Solicitor General refused to allow his name on the suit. The suit cited a litany of convoluted and speculative allegations and some downright lies.
SCHMIDT: It said that Philadelphia's vote shouldn't be counted because it used Dominion voting machines. Philadelphia doesn't use Dominion voting machines, like basic facts like that, it was completely absurd to read.
TAPPER: Another absurdity. The lawsuit cited a statistical analysis that claimed the probability of Biden winning those four states quote, given President Trump's early lead in those states as of 3:00 a.m. on November 4th, 2020, is less than one in a quadrillion.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For the vote to swing by as much as it did, the probability of that in one state is one in one quadrillion. That's one comma, 15 zeros to happen in all four, it's one comma 15 zeros to the fourth power.
TAPPER: It was nonsense alligned. The analysis completely ignored what everyone including the Trump campaign knew, because of vote by mail, and when states counted early ballots, some states were going to show an early lead for Trump that would not hold. Despite the mendacity of a lawsuit, 17 other Republican state attorneys general signed a legal brief backing it. And overwhelming number of House Republicans were drawn into that effort as well.
At Trump's request, Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana circulated an e-mail to his Republican colleagues, asking them to sign on to the brief, supporting Paxton's lawsuit. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): As the amicus brief was being prepared, I was urging my colleague who was preparing the brief not to do it.
REP. ANTHONY GONZALEZ (R-OH): I didn't sign it, because I thought it was just wrong, frankly. And that's when I started getting some phone calls from people going, hey, wait a minute, you know, aren't you going to fight this thing? Aren't you -- this election was stolen.
TAPPER: In the end, 126 House Republicans signed their names to it. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois, did not.
How many people that signed on to it do you think actually believed the nonsense in it?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): If I had to guess, I'd say five to 10.
CHENEY: I think there was a sense among those who did sign it, at least some of them was sort of, well, we're just going to do this to placate President Trump. And I thought that was not doing our duty. Kevin McCarthy told me directly that he wasn't going to sign it. I said, good. This is not a brief that we got to be associated with. And then a few hours later, he signed it.
KINZINGER: The brief went out without Kevin McCarthy's name. And then the next day claiming that he was inadvertently left off and he signed on to it. That was bad. He initially didn't want to sign it and then realize what the pressure was. What you see there are people that sign on to something they don't believe to avoid political pressure. It's leaders that are afraid of their base and not leading their base.
TAPPER: The Supreme Court declined to even hear the suit.
A majority of House Republicans like two-thirds of them literally saying, I don't want any of the votes from Pennsylvania. I don't want any of them to count based on this lie. I mean, I'll just say for me personally, as a Pennsylvanian, they were trying to disenfranchise my mom and dad based on lies.
SCHMIDT: I don't know how everyone doesn't take that personally. They tried to not have your votes counted. They did not want your vote to count based on nothing, whatsoever. That is so mind bending and so difficult to comprehend.
KINZINGER: So what's going to happen next presidential election? How many people are going to sign some brief that says overthrow this to the Supreme Court? That becomes the bottom line standard. That happens every time in D.C. And a lot of those standards were broken in this season. And I'm worried we'll never get them back.
TAPPER: Up next, Donald Trump's phone call to the top election official in Georgia.
TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes.
TAPPER: Was he telling them to break the law?
DUNCAN: It certainly felt like it.
TAPPER: Before the 2020 election, you were perceived as a rising star in the Republican Party in Georgia. But now you're not running for reelection. So what happened?
DUNCAN: Yes, it's funny. Talking about rising star, I don't know if I would agree with that. But one of the biggest knocks against me when I was running for lieutenant governor was that I was too conservative to actually be a statewide candidate.
Hey, Georgia, it's Geoff Duncan, again, conservative candidate for lieutenant governor.
TAPPER: In 2018, in the increasingly purple state of Georgia, Geoff Duncan ran as a long shot on his conservative values.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please raise your right hand and place --
TAPPER: And he won.
So no one actually can question your conservative bona fide. There's no issue when it comes to social issues or economic issues or foreign policy or that -- there's no way in which you're squishy or a liberal.
DUNCAN: Yes, I'm a conservative because I believe in the principles of it, not because it gets me elected in Georgia. I'm wired to be a conservative. I was raised that way. I think our family is conservative. The businesses that I run are conservative. That's just who I am.
TAPPER: But in 2020, after Duncan pushed back against the wave of false claims --
DUNCAN: It's certainly disheartening to watch folks willing to kind of put their character and their morals out there just so that they can -- they can spread a half truth or a lie in the efforts that maybe flip an election.
TAPPER: Duncan found himself on the receiving end of Republican fury. Just like Georgia's Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, whose office was flooded with calls from voters, urging him to change the results of the election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to talk to Brad Roethlisberger. I want to talk to this piece of (BLEEP) for not (BLEEP) doing the right thing. This election was (BLEEP) stolen.
DUNCAN: We could feel the angst and the hate building in the air over nothing, over a mirage, over shiny object to deflect from the fact that Donald Trump had lost the election fair and squarely.
TAPPER: You could have very easily kept your mouth shut not said anything, gone along. Was all of this worth it, putting it all on the line for the truth?
DUNCAN: The answer is absolutely it was worth it.
TAPPER: The Lieutenant Governor found himself amongst the few willing to speak the truth, but he was not alone. Disgusted by threats his election workers were getting from misled Trump supporters, fellow Georgia Republican Gabe Sterling also became a vocal critic of the public lies.
GABRIEL STERLING, GEORGIA ELECTION OFFICIAL: I remember we had our warehouse manager at our center for elections, was taking the trash out. This is a young guy, he's been working for a few years. And all these people swarmed around him with, you know, their cameras going go, you're going to prison, you're going to prison. He's just a warehouse guy. I mean, nobody should have to go through that.
TAPPER: On December 1st, 2020, Sterling gave a blistering warning, directed at the most powerful man in the world.
DUNCAN: Two minutes before he was going to go up there, one of my friends called and said, Gabe's about ready to go have a press conference and you might want to watch.
STERLING: Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence, someone's going to get hurt, someone's going to get shot, someone's going to get killed.
Duncan: It felt like me saying those words. He said everything I wanted to say. It was heartfelt.
STERLING: This is the backbone of elections. This stuff getting done. And at that level, it did eat me and I thought, I'm doing something that's vitally important. I just want all Americans to understand their vote is counted.
TAPPER: Despite Sterling's please to tone down the rhetoric, President Trump continued his pressure campaign.
TRUMP: Your governor could stop it very easily if he knew what the hell he was doing. He could stop it.
TAPPER: Just days later, he publicly excoriated Georgia Republicans such as Governor Brian Kemp for not helping him overturn the election, something Kemp could not legally do, and had no grounds to do.
TRUMP: So far, we haven't been able to find the people with the courage to do the right thing.
DUNCAN: And here he was calling us in a question only because we wouldn't lie in front of a national audience for Donald Trump.
TAPPER: And Trump leaned on the state's chief elections investigator.
TRUMP: The people of Georgia are so angry at what happened to me. They know I won. I won by hundreds of thousands of votes. It wasn't close. Whatever you can do, Frances, it would be a -- it's a great thing. It's an important thing for the country.
DUNCAN: The surprising part to me was how granular of a level Donald Trump was actually personally engaged in trying to overturn the election in Georgia. Certainly, we started, you know, hearing about phone calls he was making. And, of course, we all heard the unfortunate 60 plus minute call with Brad Raffensperger.
TRUMP: They are shredding ballots, in my opinion. You had out of state voters. They voted in Georgia, but they were from out of state.
Duncan: That was just a complete disaster and embarrassment to anybody that cares about democracy.
TAPPER: After repeating a litany of false allegations, Trump said he was, quote, notifying Georgia Secretary of State, Raffensperger, that in his view, the Secretary was breaking the law by ignoring his false conspiracy theories.
TRUMP: You're not reporting it. That's -- you know, that's a criminal -- that's a criminal offense. And, you know, you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you.
TAPPER: Did you feel like he was threatening you?
BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: I think you could take that as a form of pressure.
TAPPER: Of everything. He said to you on that call, what sticks with you the most?
RAFFENSPERGER: Well, he continued to circle back on. Well, all I need is --
TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes.
RAFFENSPERGER: He wants us to go out and somehow find additional votes. We had all the ballots. There were no more ballots that we could add. And all those have been tabulated time and time again.
TAPPER: Was he telling him to break the law?
DUNCAN: It certainly felt like it. It's absolutely embarrassing as an American to hear a U.S. President having that type of conversation. There's just no setting where that call is appropriate.
RAFFENSPERGER: What he was asking for wasn't something that was supported by state law, wasn't supported by the facts, wasn't supported by the Constitution. TAPPER: That phone call is now key evidence in an ongoing investigation by prosecutors in Georgia who are looking into whether Donald Trump broke the law in his efforts to overturn the election.
But Raffensperger steadfastness to the law and notwithstanding, Trump was not even close to done in his efforts to overturn the election.
Ahead, a memo that could have destroyed democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a blueprint for how to ignore the vote of the people.
TAPPER: In the weeks following the election, the word from those closest to Donald Trump was that he would eventually accept reality.
HABERMAN: There were people around Trump, Jared Kushner, Mark Meadows, in particular, who were telling, you know, senior Republicans in Congress that he will -- Trump will concede. He was going to get there and he was going to accept it. And it's not clear how much of that was just wish casting.
TAPPER: Most Republicans in Congress spent those first few weeks telling reporters that Trump had every right to pursue legal remedies. But the case is then failed. Over and over, the Trump team had no credible evidence of significant fraud. But most Republicans would not acknowledge reality, not wanting to poke the bear.
That's partly because in 2021, there were Georgia Senate runoff elections coming up, but they needed Trump to help them win.
TRUMP: Kelly fights for me, David fights for me, that I can tell you.
TAPPER: And partly because they had giant spending bills they needed him to sign.