WASHINGTON — One of Georgia’s top election officials rebuffed claims that his office is not cooperating with Fulton County prosecutors investigating former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of last November’s election, saying his office is in active discussions with prosecutors about turning over internal documents relating to Trump’s conduct.
The official, Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said in an interview with the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast that lawyers from his office are “talking back and forth” with the prosecutors on a regular basis. He said he is fully prepared to testify before a grand jury about Trump’s conduct if he is subpoenaed to do so.
“Well, the main thing is that report is basically a load of crap,” Sterling said of a CNN report over the weekend that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s office was frustrated with the lack of cooperation by Sterling’s office. “We’ve been cooperating with the office; our attorneys are dealing with them. They literally put in a request on Tuesday for some documents. We got back to them and said, ‘OK, we can have it to you by this day.’ And in the meantime, CNN calls us and we’re like, ‘What the hell are you talking about? We’re literally talking with them.’”
Jeff DiSantis, a spokesperson for the Fulton County district attorney’s office, declined to comment about the dispute, saying that “at this point” his office is not providing any updates on the investigation. But the CNN report — and the response of Sterling and other officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — has shed some new light on one of a handful of criminal and civil probes that threaten Trump’s post-presidency.
The Fulton County probe, overseen by Willis, is focused in part on Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call to Raffensperger urging him to “find 11,780 votes” — just enough by one to flip Georgia’s electoral votes. Sterling said during the podcast that he wasn’t on the call, but if he had been, “I would have lost my mind.” When he listened to a tape shortly afterward, “I was sitting there yelling at my computer going, ‘That’s not true, push back!’” He added that Raffensperger and office chief counsel Ryan Germany — both of whom rejected Trump’s claims of election fraud — “did a very fine job of standing up for the rule of law and the facts and being very calm in a situation that I probably would not have been able to do.”
Sterling, a Republican, gained nationwide attention in December when he pleaded with Trump to stop his false claims of election fraud, saying that the baseless assertions were “inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed.”
But more recently, Sterling has ruffled Democratic feathers by defending Georgia’s controversial new election law, saying on the “Skullduggery” podcast that criticism that the new measures are equivalent to segregationist Jim Crow measures — or, as President Biden said, “Jim Crow on steroids” — is “ridiculous.”
“Jim Crow was a systematic system of highly oppressive laws that were literally ripping people off of the rolls, setting up impossible hurdles for people to meet. And it was obviously directed at African Americans because they had the grandfather clauses in there to let older poor white folks get onto the things,” he said.
Sterling argued that, in contrast, the new Georgia law expands weekend voting and codifies for the first time the provision of drop boxes for the casting of absentee ballots. Citing one of the most publicized parts of the new law — barring political partisans from supplying food and water to people waiting in line to vote — Sterling said this is a reasonable measure to prevent partisans from seeking to influence how someone casts their ballot. “These are simple things that people are spinning up into stuff that’s just lies, and it’s just become more and more frustrating,” he said.
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He compared Democrats’ fundraising off the new law to Trump allies raising money by claiming that last year’s election was stolen. But there is, says Sterling, one difference. Stacey Abrams’s cries of voter suppression have the effect of motivating more African Americans to vote, but Trump’s cries of a rigged election have the opposite effect: discouraging his supporters to vote. The result, said Sterling, was that Republicans lost both Senate seats in January’s special election.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked whether he thought the GOP defeat was Trump’s fault. “One hundred percent, foursquare, on his shoulders, on his back. It should be on his epitaph and on a gravestone at the end: ‘Yes. It’s Donald J. Trump’s fault that the Republicans lost control of the United States Senate.’”
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