The latest on Georgia runoff and Trump's bid to overturn the election

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT) January 5, 2021
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8:15 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Election official says Trump's actions and statements are "essentially suppressing the vote in Georgia"

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch

Ahead of the Georgia's Senate runoff elections, Gabriel Sterling, the state's voting system implementation manager, told CNN President Trump's "actions and statements and those of his team are essentially suppressing the vote in Georgia."

Speaking to CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday, Sterling addressed President Trump's phone call in which he demanded Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger "find" the votes needed for him to win the elections in his state.

Sterling said when he heard the call between Raffensperger and the President he was not surprised. He compared having to refute the claims of voter fraud and tampering to “Groundhog Day – over and over again."

Asked about the recording of the call, Sterling said, “There’s a history of the President not necessarily characterizing things the way they actually are, so having a backup recording is probably the better part of valor for most anybody that is going to be discussing anything with him.”

"The President put out a tweet, totally mischaracterizing what happened on the call. So, I think now through transparency, people have seen what happened on that call. And it was inappropriate in many people’s minds. I think that it’s better to have that information out there,” he said.

Sterling renewed his calls for people to vote on Tuesday.

 

6:36 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Hundreds of members expected on House floor Wednesday amid Covid-19 pandemic

From CNN's Kristin Wilson and Daniella Diaz

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swears in new members of Congress on Sunday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swears in new members of Congress on Sunday. Tasos Katopodis/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Maintain social distancing. Avoid large groups. No indoor gatherings. Those guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be all but abandoned Wednesday when Congress gathers to certify the Electoral College vote of the 2020 election.

The joint session of Congress will mean as many as 535 members that comprise the House and Senate will come together in the House chamber at one time.

House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer said the chamber is working to maintain more safety protocols but acknowledged that keeping what could be 535 members in compliance will not be easy.

“It is tough, but we're going to admonish them again. And all of us break the rule, unfortunately .. because that's the normal way we respond,” he told CNN Monday. “We also think we're wearing masks, we might be safe.”

“But what we will do is admonish members to stay apart, don't get close to one another," he added.

Contrary to the rules that governed the Opening Session in the House — which limited the number of members on the floor to 72, but was rendered moot when a majority of the House gathered en masse on the floor following a call for a recorded vote by Rep. Chip Roy — there won’t be a limit on the number of people in the chamber on Wednesday, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The House is set to deploy the same mitigation measures that have been in place — mandated mask wearing while on the floor, marking off seats to maintain social distancing, and opening the gallery for members to spread out. And, according to the rules governing the certification, members are not required to be in the chamber, and are highly encouraged to watch the proceedings from their offices. 

However, the aide said, few members are expected to want to miss the debate of the certification process and leadership is expecting a very full chamber — which means hundreds of members are expected to gather together on the House floor amid a pandemic.

Voting, when it occurs, will happen in the same seven blocks that were used during Sunday’s roll call vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will again allow proxy voting through Feb. 18, which allows members to vote through another member.

"In consultation with the Office of Attending Physician, that a public health emergency is in effect due to a novel coronavirus, I am hereby designating a “covered period” pursuant to section 3(s) of House Resolution 8, until February 18, 2021," she wrote.

This comes as GOP Rep. Kay Granger becomes the latest lawmaker to announce in a statement she has tested positive for coronavirus. She was seen on the House floor Sunday for the roll call vote of the 117th Congress.

“When she arrived in DC for the beginning of the 117th Congress, Congresswoman Kay Granger was tested for coronavirus in accordance with the Attending Physician’s guidance for Members when traveling from their home state," her office said in a statement provided by CNN. "She was later notified that she tested positive and immediately quarantined. Having received the vaccine in December, she is asymptomatic and feeling great! She will remain under the care of the her doctor.”

This also came after the first day of the 117th Congress on Sunday, where hundreds of members were seen gathering on the House floor. Additionally, some members who had Covid-19 voted for Speaker of the House on Sunday through a "secure enclosure" after being exposed to someone with Covid-19 but then testing negative for the virus. Nebraska GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry voted for House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy from the plexiglass-enclosed area above the House floor, wearing both a mask and a face shield.

7:08 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Loeffler says she will object to Electoral College certification

From CNN's Caroline Kenny

US Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks to supporters during a rally in Cartersville, Georgia, on Sunday.
US Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks to supporters during a rally in Cartersville, Georgia, on Sunday. Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

Within minutes of each other, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue took to Twitter Monday to announce their support for President Trump, with Loeffler saying she will object to the results of the presidential election in the Senate on Wednesday.

“On January 6th, I will vote to give President Trump and the American people the fair hearing they deserve and support the objection to the Electoral College certification process,” Loeffler said via a statement on Twitter.

“I urge my colleagues to object,” Perdue tweeted from quarantine. “I stand with @realDonaldTrump.”

Perdue's first term ended Sunday, and the results of the runoff won't be certified in time for Wednesday’s vote, therefore he won't have a vote.

“We must restore trust, confidence & integrity in our election system,” Loeffler’s statement continued.

5:52 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

More than 3 million votes have been cast in Georgia Senate runoff elections

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch and Jason Morris

Voters stand in line in Atlanta to cast their ballots during the first day of early voting on December 14.
Voters stand in line in Atlanta to cast their ballots during the first day of early voting on December 14. Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images

At least 3,037,743 ballots have already been cast in Georgia ahead of Tuesday's Senate runoff elections, Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling said.

The state has received 962,886 absentee ballots and 2,074,857 early voting ballots for this year's runoff elections, he said. The number of the ballots cast so far has smashed previous records set for a runoff election.

Sterling said in 2004, the state had 2.1 million votes, and a runoff in 2018 had just under 1.5 million.

There will be 2,648 polling locations open on Tuesday for runoff elections, Sterling said.

There are still 281,376 absentee ballots outstanding in the state.

5:37 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Biden campaigns in Atlanta for Democratic candidates ahead of Tuesday's Senate runoffs

From CNN's Sarah Mucha

President-elect Joe Biden, center, is joined by Senate candidates Jon Ossoff, left, and Raphael Warnock during a campaign rally in Atlanta on Monday.
President-elect Joe Biden, center, is joined by Senate candidates Jon Ossoff, left, and Raphael Warnock during a campaign rally in Atlanta on Monday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden leaned in heavily on the question of the $2,000 stimulus check as he campaigned in Atlanta for the Democratic candidates on the eve of the Georgia Senate runoff election.  

“If you send Jon [Ossoff] and the Reverend [Raphael Warnock] to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now," he said directly, contrasting it with their opponents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. “And if you send Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It's just that simple. The power is literally in your hands." 

Biden lamented the economic situation in the nation, stressing that there are food lines unlike those seen since the Depression, arguing that “the debate over $2,000 isn’t some abstract debate in Washington. It’s about your lives.”  

He praised the two Democratic candidates.

“They're talented, they're principled, they're qualified, they're decent, they're honorable,” Biden said of Ossoff and Warnock. “They mean what they say and they believe what I believe the definition of America is, it's about possibilities.”  

The President-elect spent time contrasting the possible outcomes of electing the candidates of either party, arguing that electing Ossoff and Warnock would “break the gridlock” of Washington. He also tied the impending success of beating the pandemic to their victories. “By electing Jon and the Reverend, you'll be voting to get the states the resources they need to get the vaccines distributed,” he said. “It's a shame what's happening now. It's a literal shame.”  

He also briefly criticized President Trump, saying, “This administration has gotten off to a God-awful start. The President spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem. I don’t know why he still wants the job, he doesn’t want to do the work.”   

Biden ended with an appeal to unity and message of inspiration to the Georgians. “By electing Jon and the Reverend, you'll be sending a powerful message to Congress and to the country that it's time for this nation, for God’s sake, to finally come together. Finally. To work together. To unite. To put the anger and the division and the divisive politics of the past behind us,” he said.  

He added that voting for the Democratic candidates would also be "good for Georgia" because they are two people who would put their state and the Constitution ahead of themselves or even the President.  

5:27 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Georgia election official refutes Trump's false claims, urges Georgians not to "suppress" their own votes

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's voting system implementation manager, speaks to the media on Monday.
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's voting system implementation manager, speaks to the media on Monday. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

With just hours until Georgia's Senate runoffs are set to begin, the state's voting system implementation manager, Gabriel Sterling, urged Georgians to ignore false rumors, some of which are being propagated by President Trump, and exercise their right to vote. 

"If you're a Georgia voter, if you want your values reflected by your election officials, I strongly beg and encourage you, go vote tomorrow," he said, standing next to a sign that said “Claim vs Fact."

"Do not let anybody discourage you," added. ” Do not self-suppress your own vote. Do not make a self-fulfilling prophecy out of doing this. Don't let anybody steal your vote that way."

"If you self-suppress, you are taking away your important voice from this election," he added.  

Previous to those remarks, Sterling delivered a lengthy refutation of many of the claims Trump has made about the November election, including those made in a Jan. 2, phone call to Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

"We have claim after claim after claim with zero proof. Zero," said Sterling.

4:16 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Georgia GOP representative: "Our elections should be decertified"

From CNN's Manu Raju 

US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene wears a "Stop the Steal" mask while speaking with fellow first-term Republican Congress members on the steps of the US Capitol on Monday.
US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene wears a "Stop the Steal" mask while speaking with fellow first-term Republican Congress members on the steps of the US Capitol on Monday. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the staunchly conservative freshman from Northwest Georgia, told CNN that she is traveling with President Trump today to the state. Asked if she had any concerns about Trump's call to the Georgia secretary of state, Greene attacked Brad Raffensperger.

"I think our secretary of state has failed Georgia," Greene said. "I believe our elections should be decertified."

Asked if doing so would then impact her and other Georgia Republicans — all of whom were elected on the same ballot — Greene said: "We're just talking about the President's race."

5:10 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Georgia election official slams Trump's fraud claims ahead of Senate runoff elections 

From CNN’s Jamiel Lynch and Jason Morris

Gabriel Sterling speaks at Monday's news conference at the Georgia State Capitol.
Gabriel Sterling speaks at Monday's news conference at the Georgia State Capitol. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Georgia Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling urged Georgians to get out and vote in tomorrow's key Senate runoff election, and debunked President Trump's multiple baseless claims of election fraud in the state. 

Sterling adamantly said that everybody’s vote counts and was counted in the November general election despite assertions made by President Trump and others.

“If you care about the value and direction of the nation you want to see, it is your obligation to turn out and vote tomorrow,” Sterling said in a news conference in Atlanta.

Sterling said he is telling those who believe their votes were stolen or that there was voter fraud, “If you believe in your heart of hearts that there was, the best thing for you to do is to turn out and vote and make it harder for them to steal,” he said.

His comments come after audio from a Jan. 2 phone call between President Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger regarding the results of the 2020 election was released. In the call, Trump is heard attempting to pressure the official to "find" votes necessary to alter the election result in the state, which President-elect Joe Biden won.

Sterling stood next to a sign that said “Claim vs Fact” and refuted several claims that President Trump said during the released phone call.

3:43 p.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Trump's call could put the President in jeopardy, legal experts say

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Christina Carrega

Al Drago/Getty Images
Al Drago/Getty Images

Experienced prosecutors, election lawyers and some public officials have piled on calling for criminal investigations into whether President Trump broke election fraud when he pressured Georgia officials on a phone call Saturday to "find" 11,870 votes that would reverse his loss in the state.

While the path to a federal criminal case against the outgoing President isn't an easy one to make, Georgia officials said the state could be considering a serious inquiry and the matter has already been referred to the FBI.

"If you look at the statutes, both the federal statutes and the Georgia state statutes, if you engage in some effort to solicit or procure election fraud, and you knowingly do that, that's potentially a federal or state crime," Preet Bharara, the former US attorney in Manhattan, said on CNN on Sunday. 

Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor and CNN contributor, was urging criminal investigation into Trump on Monday, arguing that at some point, prosecutors couldn't keep looking past such shocking statements. The prominent elections law expert Rick Hasen also wrote on Monday Trump should be prosecuted or at least investigated. 

Proving the President intended to commit a crime is another matter. Trump would likely face a jury if he were charged, and prosecutors would need to prove what he meant on the call. 

Prosecutions of former presidents in the US are unheard of in modern times, and the presidency has immense power that lends protection to Trump. The Justice Department previously shied away from coming close to charging Trump for obstruction in former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and after his call asking Ukraine for political help, which led to the President's impeachment.

President-elect Joe Biden, who defeated Trump with 306 electoral votes, has indicated he would want the country to move on rather than dwell on scandals from the Trump presidency and would leave decisions up to the Justice Department.

CNN has previously reported Trump has explored the possibility of granting himself a self-pardon, though that could only provide him immunity from federal crimes. The Justice Department previously reasoned a president couldn't pardon himself, but could temporarily give power to his vice president to do so — but there has been no indication that would happen.