Lesson of the Day: ‘Trump, in Taped Call, Pressured Georgia Official to “Find” Votes to Overturn Election’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘Trump, in Taped Call, Pressured Georgia Official to “Find” Votes to Overturn Election’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “Trump, in Taped Call, Pressured Georgia Official to ‘Find’ Votes to Overturn Election” by Michael D. Shear and Stephanie Saul

The results of the 2020 election are expected to be certified by Congress during a session on Wednesday, recognizing Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the next president of the United States. But in a taped call that was published online by The Washington Post on Sunday, President Trump was recorded pressuring Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” him enough votes to overturn the presidential election results in the state.

“The effort to cajole and bully elected officials in his own party — which some legal experts said could be prosecuted under Georgia law — was a remarkable act by a defeated president to crash through legal and ethical boundaries as he seeks to remain in power,” Michael D. Shear and Stephanie Saul write in the featured article.

In this lesson, you will learn more about why this phone call is making headlines and what it means for the country. Then we invite you to weigh in with your thoughts about whether Mr. Trump crossed any legal or ethical boundaries — and what consequences he should face if he did.

Listen to excerpts from the phone call between President Trump and Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official, in the audio recording below. You can follow along in this transcript (PDF).

As you listen, highlight, underline or take notes on the transcript about what you notice and wonder about the conversation. Which lines stand out to you? What questions do you have?

If you’re in a classroom context, share at least one thing you noticed and one thing you wondered with the class or a partner.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Why is this call between President Trump and Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, making headlines? What is newsworthy about it?

2. Why do some believe that Mr. Trump’s effort to cajole and bully elected officials in his own party constitutes an abuse of presidential power?

3. In what ways might Mr. Trump’s efforts have violated Georgia state and federal laws, according to legal experts?

4. In the call, Mr. Raffensperger tells Mr. Trump that “the data you have is wrong.” Cite at least two pieces of misinformation that Mr. Trump uses to back up his assertion that voter fraud occurred in the Georgia election. How does Mr. Raffensperger respond to these claims?

5. Mr. Trump has made repeated efforts to challenge the results of the election. What attempts has he made? What has been the result of those efforts?

6. The article concludes with several statements Mr. Trump made during the call. What do these statements tell us about Mr. Trump and his thought process related to the election? What point do you think the authors were trying to make by ending the article this way?

Option 1: Weigh in: Did President Trump break the law?

Now that you know more about the context and content of the phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Raffensperger, decide for yourself whether what he did constitutes an ethical or legal breach.

First, read both the Georgia state law and the federal law on election fraud. Then, respond to the following questions:

  • Based on what you read in the law and what you heard in the call, do you think Mr. Trump did anything illegal? What evidence supports your opinion?

  • Regardless of whether you think Mr. Trump broke the law, do you think he acted unethically in this situation? Why or why not?

  • If you think Mr. Trump did cross legal or ethical lines, what consequences, if any, should he face? Impeachment? Prosecution? Something else?

Option 2: Explore the meaning of the peaceful transfer of power in a democracy.

With Congress’s expected certification of the election results on Wednesday and just 16 days left in Mr. Trump’s administration, why does this phone call matter — if at all? What does it mean for the United States?

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