Georgia Secretary of State and Local Prosecutor Launch Probe of Trump’s Call to ‘Find’ More Votes
"If Mr. Raffensberger didn't want to receive calls about the election, he shouldn't have run for secretary of state," a Trump spokesman says
As Donald Trump's unprecedented second impeachment trial began this week, the former president landed at the center of two investigations surrounding his infamous Jan. 2 phone call to Georgia's secretary of state, demanding the official "find" votes to overturn the election.
Trump, 74, is the subject of a state probe and a Fulton County criminal investigation over the call.
Walter Jones, a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, confirmed the initial probe in a statement to PEOPLE.
Jones said the state is focused on an infamous Jan. 2 phone call between Trump and Raffensperger, 65, in which the former president aired his conspiratorial theories about how he lost the election and asked the secretary of state to "find" enough votes to declare him the state's winner. (Raffensperger oversees Georgia's elections.)
President Joe Biden's winning campaign against Trump also saw him beat his opponent in Georgia by some 12,000 votes — the first statewide Democrat to win there in years, thanks in large part to suburban backlash against Trump and strong Black support for Biden.
"So look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump told Raffensperger, a noted Republican, during their call, which was soon leaked to The Washington Post.
Raffensperger declined to take up Trump's baseless claims of fraud.
Jones described the investigation to PEOPLE and other media outlets as "fact-finding and administrative in nature."
"Any further legal efforts will be left to the Attorney General," the spokesman said.
Separately, Trump is the subject of a criminal investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Wednesday.
According to the AJC, Trump would be forced to stand trial just as a normal citizen would if Willis charges the former president with any crime.
In a letter Willis sent to Georgia election officials, obtained by the AJC, the district attorney said the investigation focusES on potential state election fraud violations as well as conspiracy, racketeering, making false statements to government officials and other potential crimes.
The state investigation, announced earlier this week before the Fulton County criminal probe was launched, had been sparked by a complaint from George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf.
The professor tells PEOPLE it was the fourth time he made the effort in recent weeks, "finally" triggering an investigation.
"Such a criminal investigation, and prosecution if appropriate, is required and necessary in the public interest, given the outrageous nature of the two telephone calls," Banzhaf says.
In addition to the Jan. 2 call, Trump also spoke with a Georgia official in December and made similar entreaties.
The investigators handling the case are veteran law enforcement officials, according to a source familiar with the process. Some are former homicide and burglary detectives.
Authorities will be free to handle the case as they would any other. Though there is no apparent plan to do so, questioning Trump is not out of the question.
Trump senior advisor Jason Miller said in a statement that "there was nothing improper or untoward" about the Jan. 2 call, in which the former president is heard on tape pressing the election official to "find" votes in order to swing the contest in his favor.
"If Mr. Raffensberger didn't want to receive calls about the election, he shouldn't have run for secretary of state," Miller added.
Investigations may take months or longer, the source familiar says.
Once completed, officials will provide their findings to the state's election board, which can then dismiss the case, issue a fine or recommend the matter for criminal prosecution.