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Donald Trump
stated on January 2, 2021 in a phone call with the George secretary of state:
After a “major water main break,” Georgia election workers counted “18,000 ballots, all for Biden” that they pulled from suitcases and with no election observers present.
true pants-fire
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport on Dec. 31, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP/Semansky) President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport on Dec. 31, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP/Semansky)

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport on Dec. 31, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP/Semansky)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy January 4, 2021

Trump rehashes debunked claim about ‘suitcases’ of ballots in Georgia phone call

If Your Time is short

  • Georgia officials have repeatedly debunked false claims alleging that "suitcases" of fraudulent ballots were secretly counted at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.

  • Those officials have said there was never an instruction for election observers to leave, and that there were no suitcases full of ballots. A video shows standard ballot containers and what officials described as the normal tabulation process.

  • The Election Day water leak at State Farm Arena happened hours earlier.

In an hour-long phone call pressuring Georgia’s secretary of state to overturn the results of the election, President Donald Trump rehashed the debunked claim that election workers in Atlanta were caught on tape secretly counting "suitcases" full of fraudulent ballots behind closed doors.

State and county officials have said the surveillance video Trump mentioned shows normal ballot processing. But Trump stood by his inaccurate version of events during the Jan. 2 call, which was first reported by the Washington Post.

"That was the tape that’s been shown all over the world that makes everybody look bad, you, me and everybody else," Trump said to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, according to the recording.

In Trump’s telling, the Nov. 3 tape showed that after a "major water main break" at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, where Fulton County election workers were counting ballots, "everybody fled the area."

With Republican election observers gone, the county’s election workers returned, Trump said. They reached under a table and pulled out "suitcases or trunks" full of ballots that were hidden there hours earlier, he said, and they secretly tallied "18,000 ballots, all for (Joe) Biden."

Trump’s story aligns with the false narrative that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his team pushed when they introduced the tape during a Dec. 3 hearing with state legislators.

What actually happened, according to Georgia and Fulton County officials, is much different. 

Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, has addressed the "suitcases" claim in social media postings, TV interviews, and press conferences since Dec. 4, when he tweeted that the video showed "normal ballot processing."

In a Jan. 4 press conference ahead of Georgia’s runoff Senate election, Sterling spent minutes rebutting Trump’s claim, which he called "thoroughly debunked." The sequence of events he described lined up with what PolitiFact and multiple other fact-checkers have reported.

Featured Fact-check

In reality, the ballots seen in the surveillance footage were not in suitcases or trunks. They were in "normal absentee ballot carriers," Sterling said.

The ballots were removed from their envelopes while news media personnel and observers were still in the room, and there was no formal announcement for observers to leave. But some observers took off once the election workers responsible for cutting the envelopes open and verifying the ballots inside had finished their job and started packing up for the night.

Workers tasked with scanning the ballots got instructions to keep going, and an independent monitor and investigator oversaw the ballot counting as it continued into the night, Sterling said. 

In an affidavit, Frances Watson, the Georgia secretary of state’s chief investigator, wrote that the state’s "investigation and review of the entire security footage revealed that there were no mystery ballots that were brought in from an unknown location and hidden under tables."

"Around 10 p.m., with the room full of people, including official monitors and the media, video shows ballots that had already been opened but not counted placed in the boxes, sealed up, stored under the table," Watson wrote. "When the counting continued into later in the night, those boxes were opened so that the ballots inside could then be counted."

Sterling said he reviewed the full tape with a local reporter. "The president’s legal team had the entire tape, they watched the entire tape, and then from our point of view, intentionally misled the state Senate, voters and the people of the United States about this," Sterling said.

There’s no evidence that the ballots counted on election night were "all for Biden," as Trump claimed, and a state monitor disputed that 18,000 votes were tallied during that window.

There’s also no connection between the "suitcase" allegation and a leak at State Farm Arena on Election Day. State Farm Arena reported that one room being used for ballot counting had been affected by a water leak at approximately 6 a.m., hours before the scene in question took place. 

Arena staff repaired the leak, which Sterling attributed to an overflowing urinal, in roughly two hours, according to the arena’s statement. No ballots were damaged, the arena said.

The Trump campaign and White House did not immediately respond to our inquiries.

Our ruling

Trump claimed a tape shows that after a "major water main break" in Georgia, election workers pulled out ballots stored in "suitcases" under a table and counted "18,000 ballots, all for Biden" with no election observers present. That’s wrong in multiple ways.

State and county officials have repeatedly debunked this claim. The video in question does not show any wrongdoing, and there’s no evidence that the ballots shown were fraudulent or "all for Biden." The water leak, which was sourced to a urinal, was unrelated.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

The Washington Post, "‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor," Jan. 3, 2021

The Washington Post, "Here’s the full transcript and audio of the call between Trump and Raffensperger," Jan. 3, 2021

Georgia Secure the Vote, "Fact Check," accessed Jan. 4, 2021

11ALive on YouTube, "Georgia Sec of State Brad Raffensperger press conference after Trump call | Live," Jan. 4, 2021

The Associated Press, "AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s made-up claims of fake Georgia votes," Jan. 4, 2021

NBC News, "Trump pushed QAnon and 4chan-created conspiracy theories in Georgia call," Jan. 4, 2021

Snopes, "Ruby Freeman Was Not Arrested by the FBI," Dec. 18, 2020

USA Today, "Fact check: Georgia 'suitcase' video is missing context," Dec. 14, 2020

The Washington Post, "Trump touts misleading video as ‘proof’ of Georgia voter fraud," Dec. 7, 2020

The New York Times, "Top Georgia election official debunks ‘ridiculous’ claims about election fraud," Dec. 7, 2020

Affidavit from Frances Watson, Dec. 6, 2020, "Video Doesn’t Show ‘Suitcases’ of Illegal Ballots in Georgia," Dec. 4, 2020

Lead Stories, "Fact Check: Video From Georgia Does NOT Show Suitcases Filled With Ballots Suspiciously Pulled From Under A Table; Poll Watchers Were NOT Told To Leave," Dec. 3, 2020

State Farm Arena, "Statement Regarding Absentee Ballot Tabulation at State Farm Arena," Nov. 3, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, Georgia election workers didn’t kick out observers and illegally count ‘suitcases’ of ballots," Dec. 4, 2020

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Trump rehashes debunked claim about ‘suitcases’ of ballots in Georgia phone call

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