Timeline: Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia

By Marshall Cohen, Jason Morris and Christopher Hickey, CNN
Illustration by Will Mullery, CNN
Published August 5, 2021 Updated August 15, 2023

Washington (CNN) – Prosecutors in Georgia have aggressively investigated whether former President Donald Trump broke the law while trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the hotly contested state. The sweeping criminal probe led to criminal charges against Trump and 18 of his allies, which were filed Monday.

The charges against Trump include violating Georgia’s racketeering conspiracy law known as RICO, soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, filing false documents and other alleged crimes.

A special purpose grand jury was convened in Atlanta last year and some of Trump’s closest allies were subpoenaed for testimony. Portions of the special grand jury’s report were made public this year. The grand jury also “unanimously” concluded that there wasn’t widespread voter fraud, rejecting Trump’s conspiracy theories on the matter.

Trump has claimed he didn’t do anything wrong and that the state investigation is politically motivated. Willis, who is an elected Democrat, took office in early 2021.

Here’s a breakdown of what Georgia prosecutors scrutinized as they pieced together the timeline of Trump’s public pressure campaign, his private calls to state officials overseeing the election, his plot to subvert the Electoral College process, related litigation and more.


Phase I

Trump loses Georgia

Georgians went to the polls after a bitter campaign. Trump held onto a narrow lead for three days until President Joe Biden pulled ahead, buoyed by mail-in ballots that took longer to count. After his loss, Trump started falsely claiming Biden only won because of rampant voter fraud. He also started to take aim at Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, two Republicans who oversee the state’s election process.

Election Day. Trump narrowly leads Biden in the first wave of results from Georgia.

State judge dismisses the Trump campaign’s lawsuit to stop some vote counting in Savannah.

Biden takes the lead in Georgia as more mail-in ballots are tallied.

Trump spreads conspiracy theories about the results being rigged.

Trump falsely claims he already won Georgia on Election Day.

Raffensperger announces that there will be a statewide hand audit of the presidential results because of the razor-thin margin. He also says there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

CNN and other outlets project that Biden will win Georgia.

Trump attacks Raffensperger and Kemp, and falsely claims “we won the state.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and top Trump ally, privately calls Raffensperger, who leaves the call thinking Graham wants him to throw out some mail-in ballots, according to Raffensperger’s recollection of it. Graham denies that he asked for any legal votes to be discarded. (Fulton County prosecutors said in a court filing that Graham later had a second call with Raffensperger’s office, but they haven’t disclosed when it took place.)

Phase II

Certification crisis

After election officials initiated a hand audit of every ballot, it quickly became clear that the recount wouldn’t change the outcome. Trump started to falsely claim that officials were rigging the audit against him. After the audit confirmed Biden’s win, Raffensperger and Kemp certified the results and signed the paperwork to officially give the state’s 16 electoral votes to Biden.

Trump attacks Kemp and encourages election officials to “call off” the statewide audit after they say it will likely confirm Biden’s victory.

Trump falsely claims Kemp is allowing “fraudulent” ballots to be counted.

In a series of tweets, Trump urges Kemp to let his campaign examine mail-in ballots, which would have been illegal.

Raffensperger announces that a post-election review of voting machines confirmed there was no evidence of “foul play” or tampering.

Trump says Raffensperger is perpetuating a “scam.” Trump also says he hopes Kemp will “see the light before it is too late” and “take charge” regarding alleged fraud.

Trump says Kemp “must” change election rules and “call in the Legislature,” referring to a longshot effort to have state lawmakers appoint pro-Trump electors instead of following the statewide results.

Election officials finish the statewide hand audit, confirming Biden’s victory.

A federal judge dismisses a Trump-backed lawsuit seeking to block the certification of election results in Georgia.

Trump urges Kemp to “get tough” and improperly reject mail-in ballots – enough to “flip” the statewide results.

Raffensperger certifies the results with Biden as the winner. After staying mum about his plans, Kemp follows state law and signs the paperwork officially awarding Georgia’s 16 electoral votes to Biden.

Trump criticizes Raffensperger and Kemp on Twitter.

Phase III

Ramped up rhetoric

Trump’s options to overturn the election dwindled. He ramped up the vitriol and repeatedly attacked Kemp and Raffensperger. Election officials said they received death threats from angry Trump supporters. Trump publicly and privately pressured Kemp to use the state Legislature to overturn Biden’s win. Trump also started attacking Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, after Duncan said there was no widespread fraud in the election.

The Trump campaign requests a machine recount, as permitted by state law, due to the narrow margin.

Raffensperger and his deputy, Gabriel Sterling, reveal that they have stepped up their personal security after receiving death threats from Trump supporters who are upset about the election.

Former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell files a new lawsuit in Georgia alleging a massive anti-Trump conspiracy involving rigged voting machines.

Trump says Raffensperger is an “enemy of the people.”

Trump falsely claims he “won” Georgia and says the results will “hopefully” be overturned.

Trump publicly calls on Kemp to use emergency powers to “overrule” Raffensperger.

Kemp rebuffs Trump’s demands, saying he will “follow the law” and that he is legally prohibited from “interfering in elections.”

In an emotional news conference, Sterling says Trump’s rhetoric is going to lead to violence against election officials and begs Trump to stop lying about the election.

Trump responds by doubling down on his voter fraud conspiracies.

The Georgia state Senate holds a hearing about so-called “election integrity” where Trump lawyer John Eastman urges lawmakers to cast aside Biden’s victory in the statewide vote and appoint pro-Trump electors instead. Also during the hearing, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani spreads conspiracy theories about widespread fraud in the state. Among his many false claims, Giuliani accuses two Atlanta election workers of smuggling in fake Biden ballots in suitcases. Sterling publicly debunked this allegation around the same time, explaining that the election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, did nothing wrong. They both later testified to the January 6 committee about the devastating personal impact of Trump’s and Giuliani’s lies.)

Trump posts several tweets promoting the disinformation that his team presented at the hearing.

Trump also says Kemp “must immediately allow” more scrutiny of mail-in ballots that would enable him to win the state.

In a private phone call, Trump pressures Kemp to call a special legislative session to overturn Biden’s victory, and to order an audit of mail-in ballots. Kemp tells Trump he doesn’t have the power to order the audit, and rejects his request for a special session, CNN reported.

Trump publicly urges Kemp and Raffensperger to review mail-in ballots to find “discrepancies” that would allow him to “win.”

A federal appeals court upholds a ruling dismissing a Trump-backed lawsuit that sought to block certification.

Kemp and Duncan publicly reject calls for a special legislative session to appoint pro-Trump electors.

Raffensperger re-certifies the results after the statewide machine recount is completed. The recount affirms that Biden beat Trump by just 11,779 votes out of nearly 5 million cast ballots.

Trump says Duncan is “dumb” and “corrupt.” He calls Raffensperger a “RINO,” short for “Republican in name only.” He also attacks Kemp for refusing to take actions that would “give us an easy win” in Georgia.

A federal judge rejects Powell’s lawsuit seeking to disqualify millions of votes in Georgia. The judge says Powell asked for “the most extraordinary relief ever sought in any federal court” regarding elections.

Phase IV

Legal gambits

After failing to convince top officials to overturn the results, Trump tried a roundabout strategy by going to the Supreme Court and suing to invalidate millions of votes in Georgia and three other states he lost. This gambit was quickly rejected by the Supreme Court, and members of the Electoral College met in Atlanta to formalize Biden’s win.

Trump tweets again about Kemp, Duncan and Raffensperger.

Trump allies file a lawsuit at the Supreme Court, known as Texas v. Pennsylvania, seeking to throw out millions of votes from Georgia and other battleground states that Biden carried. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, says the lawsuit is “constitutionally, legally and factually wrong,” in a statement from his office.

Trump privately calls Carr and warns him against rallying other Republican officials to oppose the lawsuit. The call reportedly lasts about 15 minutes and Trump was upset that Carr criticized the lawsuit.

Carr files a response with the Supreme Court urging the justices to reject the Trump-backed lawsuit.

Giuliani appears virtually before a Georgia House committee and discusses alleged election irregularities, a source told CNN.

Trump publicly presses Kemp, Duncan and Raffensperger to “move quickly” on his request for additional signature verification for mail-in ballots, which he says would overturn Biden’s victory.

The Supreme Court rejects the Trump-backed lawsuit seeking to invalidate millions of ballots in Georgia.

Trump calls on his supporters to vote Kemp “out of office.”

Trump says Kemp and Raffensperger are “fools” and again demands further scrutiny of mail-in ballots.

Trump campaign staffer Robert Sinners sends a coordinating email to a group of Georgia Republicans who were involved in the scheme to put forward an illegitimate slate of GOP electors, in hopes of somehow supplanting Biden’s real electors, which he was awarded by winning the popular vote in Georgia. Sinners told the group: “I must ask for your complete discretion in this process. Your duties are imperative to ensure the end result – a win in Georgia for President Trump – but will be hampered unless we have complete secrecy and discretion.”

Trump calls Kemp a “clown.”

Members of the Electoral College meet in Atlanta and formally award Georgia’s 16 electoral votes to Biden.

Around the same time that the electors met, a group of 16 Trump supporters meet at the Georgia State Capitol and sign fake certificates falsely proclaiming that they are the rightful electors from Georgia. They later send the fake certificates to the National Archives in Washington, DC, as part of their attempt to supplant Biden’s legitimate electors. (Fulton County prosecutors told all 16 fake GOP electors in July 2022 that they’re now targets of the ongoing criminal investigation.)

Phase V

Desperate measures

In shocking phone calls, Trump privately pressured Raffensperger and another official to “recalculate” the numbers and “find” enough votes to let him win. Frustrated by the lack of fraud investigations, Trump ousted the US attorney in Atlanta. On the day Congress was set to certify the Electoral College results, Trump held an incendiary rally and incited a mob of supporters to attack the Capitol, temporarily delaying the process. After the insurrection was quashed later that night, the electoral votes were counted and Biden officially became President-elect.

Trump tweets that Kemp “MUST ACT NOW” and call a special session to overturn Biden’s victory.

Trump calls Duncan a “puppet” for Kemp and says they are preventing him from winning Georgia.

Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows flies to Georgia and observes an audit of absentee ballot signatures in Cobb County, near Atlanta, according to contemporaneous news reports and witness testimony to the House select committee investigating January 6. During his visit, Meadows meets with Jordan Fuchs, who is one of Raffensperger’s deputies in the Secretary of State office.

In a phone call to the Georgia secretary of state’s office, Trump urged their top investigator, Frances Watson, to find fraud in the 2020 presidential election, telling her that she would be “praised” for overturning the results. The six-minute call was recorded by Watson while she was looking into allegations of irregularities with signature-matching in Cobb County, in the Atlanta metropolitan area. (Later audits found no fraudulent ballots in the county.)

Trump’s call with Frances Watson

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"But if you go back two years, and if you can get to Fulton, you are going to find things that are going to be unbelievable... The dishonesty that we've heard from. But Fulton is the mother lode.”

In a tweet, Trump says, “They are slow-walking the signature verification in Georgia,” and again singles out Kemp by name.

A Trump loyalist inside the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, reportedly drafted a letter urging top Georgia officials to convene the state legislature for a special session to evaluate supposed “irregularities’ in the 2020 election. The letter said, falsely, that Justice Department had identified “significant concerns that may have impacted of the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.” Trump considered installing Clark as acting attorney general but decided against it after senior Justice Department officials threatened to resign. Clark’s draft letter was never sent.

Raffensperger announces that the audit in Cobb County found no evidence of fraudulent mail-in voting.

Trump says Kemp and Raffensperger are “stupid,” and calls on them to “allow us to find the crime, and turn the state Republican.” He complains about the signature-matching inquiries. Trump also promotes a conspiracy theory that Raffensperger’s brother works for the Chinese government.

Giuliani speaks to a Georgia state Senate subcommittee about alleged election irregularities. Kemp rebukes Giuliani’s conduct during the hearing.

Trump says Kemp “should resign from office.”

In an hour-long private phone call, Trump pressures Raffensperger to “find” the exact number of votes needed to overturn Biden’s victory. Trump also suggests to Raffensperger that he should publicly announce that he “recalculated” the election results. Raffensperger tells Trump that the election results were accurate. During the call, Trump also criticizes the US attorney in Atlanta, Byung Pak, calling him a “Never Trumper” without any evidence. CNN later reported that the call occurred after 18 previous attempts by the White House to call Raffensperger’s office. CNN obtained the audio below from a source who was on the call and had direct knowledge of the conversation. Read the full transcript here.

Trump's call with Georgia secretary of state

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“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.”

Trump tweets about the call, saying Raffensperger was “unwilling, or unable” to answer questions about alleged fraud in Georgia. In response, Raffensperger says Trump’s claims are “not true” and that “the truth will come out.” Later, The Washington Post publishes the full recording of the phone call.

On the eve of Georgia’s special Senate election, Trump holds a rally in Dalton, Georgia, where he pledges to campaign against Kemp and Raffensperger if they run for reelection in 2022. He also falsely claims the election was “rigged” against him.

Pak unexpectedly resigns from his post. Before his resignation, a top Justice Department official told Pak that Trump was upset that he didn’t do more to investigate allegations of voter fraud, according to The New York Times. The Trump White House pushed Pak to resign, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A former publicist to R. Kelly and Kanye West allegedly pressures a Fulton County elections worker, according to court documents and a police report. The publicist, Trevian Kutti, tried to get Freeman, the election worker, to falsely confess to committing massive voter fraud, or face dire consequences.

A federal judge rejects an attempt by Trump’s campaign to decertify the election results in Georgia.

Trump mentions “Georgia” 20 times at a rally near the White House. He cites conspiracy theories about alleged irregularities and says election officials “should find those votes” needed to overturn Biden’s victory. He falsely claims Raffensperger and Kemp are “corrupt” and “defrauded us out of a win.”

During the speech, Trump urges the crowd to “fight like hell” and march to the US Capitol to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers to block the Electoral College proceedings. Trump supporters storm the Capitol and violently disrupt the formal proceedings to certify Biden’s victory.

After the insurrection is quelled, several House Republicans unsuccessfully try to challenge Georgia’s slate of electors, falsely alleging that the election was “fraudulent.” Georgia’s electoral votes are counted and Biden officially becomes the President-elect.

Additional work by Allie Schmitz, Kenneth Uzquiano and Sean O'Key, CNN