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Legal experts blast Prof. Jonathan Turley for excusing away Trump call

Legal experts blast Prof. Jonathan Turley for excusing away Trump call

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, on Thursday claimed that former President Donald Trump was merely seeking a recount when he demanded Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” enough votes to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state.

Trump called Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, and pressured him to “find” the 11,780 votes he needed in order to declare him the victor. Raffensperger’s office had completed a recount of the votes the month prior at Trump’s request, marking the third time public officials counted the state’s votes, which Trump lost each time.

Turley, who was a Republican witness during Trump’s first impeachment inquiry, told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Trump was merely seeking another recount when he made the call.

“I think this is criminalizing the challenging of elections,” Turley said during the segment. “Basically, you have a Democratic prosecutor saying, ‘How dare you challenge a Democratic victory?'”

He then compared Trump’s attempts to push public officials to congressional Democrats voting against certifying the former president’s 2016 victory.

“But in Donald Trump’s case, he insists that he does believe that Georgia could have been flipped with a recount. And the way [District Attorney Fani Willis] portrayed that phone call to Raffensperger I think is really evidence of the bias and unfairness of aspects of this indictment,” he added.

“You know, it makes perfect sense when you’re challenging an election to say, you know, ‘I only need around 11,000 votes,'” Turley continued. “So, if you do a statewide review, that’s not a lot in a state like Georgia. That’s not criminal. That’s making a case for a recount.”

The Trump-Raffensperger call is one of the more than 160 acts listed as evidence of an alleged plot to overturn the 2020 election in the indictment handed up by an Atlanta grand jury earlier this month. The former president was charged with 13 counts related to his efforts, one of which pertains to claims Trump made in the call, and is one of 19 defendants.

According to The Washington Post, Turley leveled a similar argument in Trump’s defense earlier this month, asserting in another Fox News appearance that the “more obvious explanation” for Trump’s request during the call was that he was advocating for a recount.

“The Georgia officials were saying that further state recounts might not be necessary. It would be natural for Trump to say, look, you only need to find 11,000 to turn the outcome of this election,” he said. “So I don’t need that many votes. Thus, a state recount is justified.”

The Post notes, however, that 11,000 votes is a pretty sizeable sum when it comes to a recount. While recounts in federal or statewide races may scrounge up a few hundred votes that were uncounted or miscounted the first time, those random omissions typically benefit candidates randomly with changes in results being much smaller than the uncovered votes.

“It’s only in the closest races that a recount can make a difference — and 11,000-plus votes is not a particularly close race in that sense,” wrote WaPo columnist Philip Bump.

Bump went on to detail the call between Trump and Raffensperger in the analysis of Turley’s defense, pointing out that the former president never once asked for a recount during the exchange and outlining the “litany of suppositions about where there might have been errors or flaws in the votes cast” Trump had said.

“All of which is to say that Turley’s argument is obviously weak. A candidate simply hoping to ensure that all avenues were closed — even after months of scrutiny and multiple recounts — would receive information that those avenues had already been demonstrably closed with resignation and acceptance,” Bump concluded. “That was not the way Trump received Raffensperger’s pushback.”

Turley himself even criticized Trump for the phone call when The Post first reported it in 2021.

“Telling Raffensperger to ‘find’ the votes on the Saturday before the certification is breathtaking,” he wrote on Twitter, the platform rebaranding as X, linking to the article. “I am as mystified by the request as I am the logic. Such an opportunistic move to secure the 16 electoral votes would not work to change the outcome.”

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Turley walked back his 2021 comment in a statement to Mediate two weeks ago, arguing that he was misinformed about the conversation because the “transcript presented a sharply different context and meaning.”

“The next day, I gave interviews on those differences and I then ran a column stating that the transcript shows a clear alternative meaning,” he said in the statement. “I later wrote on the errors in The Post account of the calls. To its credit, The Post admitted the errors in its original story. I stated, as I have continued to state, that reasonable people can disagree on that meaning.”

However, Turley’s account, Bump says, is misleading. While the outlet did correct an article about a different call where Trump attempted to pressure Georgia officials, the article linked in his tweet remained accurate.

“Notice how he conflates the two, describing them as the ‘Post account of the calls’ and suggesting that it was our error that misled him,” Bump said. “In reality, the error was — and continues to be — his own.”

Legal experts called out Turley’s defense on social media.

“I’m not asking every law professor out there to agree with my view. But… would a fourth recount weeks after certification and just a couple of days before Congress convened have changed the election? No. This argument is obscene. Simply because it is devoid of logic and reason,” wrote Georgia State Law Prof. Anthony Michael Kreis.

“There’s just no way if someone understood the basics of what happened in Georgia or cared to look at the timeline of events in at least a superficial way, that the Trump phone call comes off as a casual chat,” he added, pointing out that “One might also want to ask why anyone felt the need to record the phone call if the entire episode was so innocent. It sure seems that folks had reason to be suspicious of Trump’s overtures.”

Longtime Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias called Turley’s defense of Trump “more proof that Jonathan Turley is Mike Lindell with tenure,” referring to the MyPillow founder who continues to espouse election conspiracy theories while facing multiple defamation lawsuits.

“A disgrace to my profession,” wrote Eric Segall, the Ashe Professor of Law at Georgia State University.

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