Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
- The Washington Post recently had to issue a high-profile correction to January reporting about one of two known calls in which Donald Trump urged Georgia officials to find evidence to overturn the state’s election results.
- The newspaper initially said Trump told an elections investigator she should “find the fraud” and that she would be a “national hero” if she did so. But a newly surfaced recording of the call shows he didn’t use those words. Instead, he told her to uncover the “dishonesty” and that “when the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”
- The Post did not retract its story, as some people on social media claimed. The correction did not involve its Jan. 3 reporting about what Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during another phone call. The Post published the full audio and transcript of that call.
Donald Trump’s multiple phone calls to election officials in Georgia are still grabbing headlines, weeks after he’s left office.
The Washington Post recently had to issue a high-profile correction to January reporting about one of two known calls in which Trump urged state officials to find evidence to overturn Georgia’s presidential election results
A newly surfaced recording of one of the calls, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, showed that the Post misquoted Trump, prompting the newspaper to post its correction on March 11.
Officials in the Georgia Secretary of State's Office located a recording of the call in a trash folder on one of the official’s devices.
The correction is warranted. The Post relied on one source, and it turns out that the person didn’t hear the call firsthand. Other news outlets that followed the Post’s reporting and used the same quotes also had to correct their stories and include the New York Times and CNN.
The correction, meanwhile, didn’t change the substance of the story: The call happened during an ongoing investigation that could impact the presidential election.
It’s also being used by Trump and others to make inaccurate and misleading statements online. Here are some of the headlines we’ve seen on social media:
Those headlines leave the wrong impression. The newspaper did not retract its story. The recording of the call shows Trump insisting he won the state and telling the official that if she found evidence revealing fraud she would be "praised."
And the posts ignore an earlier story that showed Trump pressuring another official in the state to question the results in Georgia. That one had audio of the call from the start.
Here’s a quick guide about what happened.
The Washington Post published two high-profile stories that detailed how Trump pressured Georgia election officials about finding the votes needed to overturn the state’s election results. They involved two different phone calls with two different people.
The first story on Jan. 3 reported that Trump repeatedly urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to alter the vote during an hour-long phone call. The Post published the full audio and transcript of that call. (This isn’t the one that got a correction.)
During the call, Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected Trump’s assertions and said then-President elect Joe Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in Georgia was accurate.
At one point in the call Trump said, "So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state."
The second article, published Jan. 9, reported that Trump had a similar conversation over the phone with Georgia’s top elections investigator, Frances Watson. There was no recording available at the time, and the Post attributed the information to a single anonymous state official. The newspaper quoted the official as saying Trump told Watson she should "find the fraud" and that she would be a "national hero" if she did so.
The recording of the calls shows Trump did not use those words. Instead, the recording revealed he told Watson to uncover the "dishonesty" and that "when the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised."
The Post appended a lengthy correction to the top of its story March 11:
"Two months after publication of this story, the Georgia secretary of state released an audio recording of President Donald Trump’s December phone call with the state’s top elections investigator. The recording revealed that The Post misquoted Trump’s comments on the call, based on information provided by a source," the correction says.
"Trump did not tell the investigator to ‘find the fraud’ or say she would be ‘a national hero’ if she did so. Instead, Trump urged the investigator to scrutinize ballots in Fulton County, Ga., asserting she would find ‘dishonesty’ there. He also told her that she had ‘the most important job in the country right now.’ A story about the recording can be found here. The headline and text of this story have been corrected to remove quotes misattributed to Trump."
In a March 11 follow-up story about the recording, the Washington Post identified the anonymous source who provided the quotes as Jordan Fuchs, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state.
Fuchs told Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple that she believed the story accurately reflected Watson’s interpretation of the call. She said her account of what Trump said was based on how Watson, who reports to Fuchs, described the call after it happened.
"The only mistake here was in the direct quotes, and they should have been more of a summary," Fuchs told Wemple.
"I think it’s pretty absurd for anybody to suggest that the president wasn’t urging the investigator to ‘find the fraud," she said.
In a March 15 statement, Trump said the correction shows that "the original story was a hoax, right from the very beginning." Again, the original story about Trump’s call with Raffensberger has not been updated or corrected.
Officials in the Georgia Secretary of State's Office located a recording of the call in a trash folder on one of Watson’s devices.
PolitiFact obtained a copy of the six-minute call through a public records request.
"I won Georgia, I know that, by a lot. And the people know it. And something happened, something bad happened," Trump says at the beginning of the conversation.
He then urges Watson to find the "dishonesty" in signatures on absentee ballots in Fulton County, which covers most of Atlanta. Watson, meanwhile, was working on a signature audit in Cobb County, not Fulton.
"But if you go back two years, and if you can get to Fulton, you’re going to find things that are going to be unbelievable. The dishonesty that we’ve heard from sources, really good sources. Fulton is the mother lode," Trump said.
Watson responded: "I appreciate your comment and I can assure you that our team and the (Georgia Bureau of Investigation), that we are only interested in the truth and finding the information that is based on the facts."
Trump also told Watson he hoped "we" could win Georgia and that "you have the most important job in the country right now."
Trump adds near the end of the call: "But whatever you can do, Frances. It’s a great thing. It’s an important thing for the country, so important, you have no idea, so important. And I very much appreciate it."
In the end, Watson’s audit found only two mismatched signatures among more than 15,000 votes.
Watson spoke with Atlanta-based news station WSB-TV after the audio was released and said she was surprised that Trump called her, but did not perceive any pressure from the call.
"It is something that is not expected, as I mentioned in the call, you know, I was shocked that he would take the time to do that," Watson said.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to overturn election results in Georgia. The secretary of state has also opened a similar investigation.
UPDATE, March 17: We updated this story with more information from the Washington Post about Jordan Fuchs, the original source of the Trump quotes.
Facebook post, March 15, 2021
Washington Post, Trump pressured a Georgia elections investigator in a separate call legal experts say could amount to obstruction, updated March 11, 2021
Washington Post, Here’s the full transcript and audio of the call between Trump and Raffensperger, Jan. 5 2021
President Donald Trump phone call with Frances Watson, Dec. 23, 2021
Wall Street Journal, Trump Call to Georgia Lead Investigator Reveals New Details, March 11, 2021
The Hill, Washington Post adds lengthy correction to report on Trump call with Georgia elections investigator, March 15, 2021
Twitter, Dave Weigel post, March 15, 2021
WSB-TV, New recording reveals Trump called Georgia investigator leading signature match audit, March 11, 2021