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New book finds Trump's plot to overturn 2020 election 'crazier than anybody imagined'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When writers decide to take on a book project about someone in the news, about developments still unfolding, they take on a risk that, by the time their book gets through edits and onto our bookstore shelves, it may have been overtaken by events. Exhibit A is the new book "Find Me The Votes." It is about Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election and about the Georgia prosecutor who decided to indict him over those efforts. That prosecutor is Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, and her personal life is currently making as many headlines as the case she's bringing. "Find Me The Votes" is by journalists Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman. They're in our New York bureau. Welcome to you both.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Great to be with you.

DANIEL KLAIDMAN: Thanks for having us.

KELLY: OK, so to summarize where things stand, we have lawyers for Trump moving to disqualify Fani Willis from this case on the grounds, they say, that she created a conflict of interest by hiring a man with whom she's romantically involved to help her prosecute the case. I want to note she has not confirmed or denied that relationship. Have either of you reached out to her for comment?

ISIKOFF: We have talked to people close to her. And look. This is a key moment. She is going to be responding for the first time later this week. We anticipate there could be quite a vigorous response and pushback against at least some of what has been alleged.

KELLY: I mean, the man in question is named Nathan Wade. He shows up on the very first page of your book. The second sentence reads - and I'll quote - "it was mid-August 2023, and Fani Willis was riding in a black SUV with Nathan Wade, the special counsel in charge of her office's investigation into Donald Trump." Daniel, for the record, did anything give you pause as you reported on their interactions?

KLAIDMAN: No, absolutely not. And interestingly, you know, we've spoken to people close to Fani Willis and people on her team, and they were shocked by the revelations. They had no idea. We asked all sorts of questions about Nathan Wade and a lot of other members of the team. Why did you choose this person? Why did you choose that person? There have been some questions about why she chose Nathan Wade for a complex racketeering conspiracy case against the president of the United States because that was not his experience as a lawyer.

KELLY: I guess it's no one's experience as a lawyer.

KLAIDMAN: That's true. That is true.

KELLY: This is uncharted waters. But just one more on this before we turn to the ground that you covered in the book - if Fani Willis is forced to recuse herself - and I want to stress again that's by no means a given. But if it were to come to pass, how damaging would it be? Could the case against Trump and his co-defendants - could it go on?

ISIKOFF: It would be grievously damaged. I mean, look. Fani Willis and Nathan Wade and the team have been immersed in this case and the details of this case for close to two years now. If a whole new team had to come in and start from scratch, not being familiar with the witness testimony to - and what the evidence is, it would set back this case many, many months, if not, you know, more than that and certainly beyond the November election.

But one of the things we do report in the book is that Fani Willis had trouble finding anybody to take this job because of the threats that were so permeating in Georgia with anybody who touched it. She reached out to former governor of Georgia Roy Barnes, who turned her down, saying - and this is quoted in our book - hypothetically speaking, do you want to have a bodyguard follow you around for the rest of your life?

In fact, the night of the indictment, the Fulton County District Attorney's office had picked up a possible assassination threat on a MAGA website. The best time to shoot her is when she's leaving the building. And that led to this extraordinary scene. After her midnight indictment, she goes back to her office. She gets out of her black business suit and pearls, puts on sweatpants and a T-shirt and a baseball cap. And a body double wearing a Kevlar vest - a bulletproof vest - puts on the business suit or something resembling the business suit that Fani Willis was wearing and then drives out as a decoy while Fani Willis is smuggled out of the office through a back door. I mean, it's an astonishing moment, but it gives you a sense of just how dangerous these threats were and how alarming they were to everybody involved.

KELLY: So let me focus this on the central fact - Trump's efforts to overturn results in Georgia, which, of course, have been widely documented, extensively, exhaustively documented. And we all watched them play out in real time in public, including the famous phone call - Trump to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, telling him, find the votes so we can win the state. What surprised you to learn that you didn't already know, having followed this closely, as we all did in real time? Michael Isikoff.

ISIKOFF: Georgia was ground zero for what was the most anti-democratic plot in American history. It was the state where Trump's pressure campaign was the most furious, the most intense. He was calling not just Raffensperger. He was calling the governor, the attorney general, state legislators, an online investigator for the state - secretary of state's office. And what we discovered is at the same time, Trump is talking to these eccentric lawyers - Lin Wood, a full-blown QAnon adherent; Sidney Powell, who's pushing these ridiculous theories about secret algorithms planted by Venezuelan socialists. He's egging them on. He's - we have tape of Trump calling these people down in Georgia, in Atlanta. And the nonsense that they were giving to him he was then using to pressure those Georgia officials. And so, you know, the full scope of what went on in Georgia is far greater and, in some ways, both more sinister and crazier than anybody imagined.

KELLY: Well, this prompts the thing I wanted to ask, which is, as you document, Trump's attempts to stay in power failed in Georgia in large part because elected officeholders from his own party resisted.

KLAIDMAN: That's absolutely right.

ISIKOFF: Absolutely.

KELLY: Well, is the resistance strong enough for that to happen again?

ISIKOFF: Well, that is a good question. But it is worth noting, as we do in the book, that there was, like, an iron wall of resistance among the senior Republican officeholders in Georgia...

KELLY: From the governor down - Brian Kemp.

ISIKOFF: ...From the governor down. And there are unheralded heroes to this story as well.

KLAIDMAN: Mary Louise, can I make a kind of a larger point that I think goes to your question?

KELLY: Sure.

KLAIDMAN: You know, we've always been asking ourselves, why haven't more people stood up to Donald Trump the way this iron wall in Georgia did? And the reality is that over and over again, members of his own party and others don't stand up to him. I think a big part of the reason is the threats. And we look at the consequences to the Brad Raffenspergers and other Republican officeholders in Georgia. But more than the elected officials, more than the principals, it's their families. They were all getting horrific threats as well. Brad Raffensperger's wife, Tricia Raffensperger, got the most unbelievably horrible, sexualized threats of violence. And you see this over and over again - not just the elected officials but their families. And I have heard kind of off the record from Republicans saying, you know, we're worried about our own families, and that's part of the reason that we don't speak up.

KELLY: Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff are the co-authors of "Find Me The Votes: A Hard-Charging Georgia Prosecutor, A Rogue President, And The Plot To Steal An American Election." Thanks to you both.

KLAIDMAN: Thanks for having us.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA SONG, "LOVER/FRIEND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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