Georgia elections official testifies Trump, Giuliani pushed conspiracy theory about fake ballots

Republican Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, testified on Tuesday before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. Sterling disproved a conspiracy theory that was pushed by then-President Donald Trump and his lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that fake ballots were pulled from a suitcase to help Joe Biden win the 2020 election.

Video transcript

ADAM SCHIFF: So now we're talking just two days after the emotional warning that you gave that someone's going to get killed. Representatives of President Trump appeared in Georgia, including Rudy Giuliani, and launched a new conspiracy theory that would take on a life of its own and threatened the lives of several innocent election workers. This story falsely alleges that sometime during election night election workers at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia kicked out poll observers.

After the observers left, the story goes, these workers pulled so-called suitcases of ballots from under a table and ran those ballots through counting machines multiple times. Completely without evidence President Trump and his allies claim that these suitcases contained as many as 18,000 ballots, all for Joe Biden. None of this was true. But Rudy Giuliani appeared before the Georgia State Senate and played a surveillance video from State Farm Arena, falsely claiming that it showed this conspiracy taking place. Here's a sample of what Mr. Giuliani had to say during that hearing.

RUDY GIULIANI: And when you look at what you saw on the video, which to me was a smoking gun, powerful smoking gun, well, you don't have to be a genius to figure out what happened. I don't have to be a genius to figure out that those votes are not legitimate votes. You don't put legitimate votes under a table, wait until you throw the opposition out, and in the middle of the night, count them. We would have to be fools to think that.

ADAM SCHIFF: President Trump's campaign amplified Giuliani's false testimony in a tweet, pushing out the video footage. Giuliani likewise pushed out his testimony on social media. As you can see in this tweet, Mr. Giuliani wrote that it was, quote, "now beyond doubt," unquote, that Fulton County Democrats had stolen the election. Later in this hearing, we'll hear directly from one of the election workers in this video about the effect these lies had on her and on her family. Mr. Sterling, did the investigators in your office review the entire surveillance tape from the State Farm Arena on election night?

- They actually reviewed approximately 48 hours going over the time period where action was taking place at the counting center at State Farm Arena.

ADAM SCHIFF: And what did the tape actually show?

- Depending on which time you want to start, because, as was mentioned, this conspiracy theory took on a life of its own, where they conflated a water main break that wasn't a water main break and throwing observers out and a series of other things. What it actually showed was Fulton County election workers engaging in normal ballot processing. One of the specific things-- one of the things was very frustrating was the so-called suitcases of ballots from under the table.

If you watch the entirety of the video, you saw that these were election workers who are under the impression they were going to get to go home around 10:00, 10:30. People are putting on their coats. They're putting ballots that are prepared to be scanned into ballot carriers that are then sealed with tamper-proof seals so that they're not messed with. And it's an interesting thing because you watch all of-- there's four screens of the video.

And as you're watching it, you can see the election monitors in the corner with the press as they're taking these ballot chairs and putting them under the table. You see it there. One of the other hidden ones, if you looked at the actual tape, was on the outside of the table. Just from the camera angle, you couldn't see it originally. And this goes under the no good deed goes unpunished. We were told-- we were at GMA, as the Secretary pointed out. And we were told that it looked like they were shutting down with Fulton County counting.

Secretary expressed some displeasure at that because we wanted to have everybody keep counting so we could get to the results and know what was happening. So our elections director called their elections director who was at another location because this was election day. There was two different places where ballot things were being done by the Fulton County Office. So he called-- the elections official from Fulton then called Ralph Jones, who was at the State Farm Arena, and said, what the heck are you doing? Go ahead and stay.

And as you watch the video itself, you see him take the phone call as people are putting things away and getting ready to leave. You can tell for about 15, 20 seconds, he does not want to tell these people they have to stay. He walks over. He thinks about it for a second. You see him come back to the corner of a desk and kind of slumps his shoulders says, OK, y'all, we got to keep on counting. And then you see them take their coats off, get the ballots out. And then a secondary thing that you'll see on there is you'll have people who are counting ballots who a batch will go through, they will take them off, and run that through again.

What happens there is a standard operating procedure that if there is a missed scan, if there's a misalignment, if it doesn't read right, these are high-speed, high-capacity scanners. So three or four will go through after a misscan. You have to delete that batch and put it back through again. And by going through the hand tally that the secretary pointed out, we showed that if there had been multiple ballots scanned without a corresponding physical ballot, your counts would have been a lot higher than the ballots themselves.

And by doing the hand tally, we saw two specific numbers that were met. The hand tally got us to a 0.1053% off of the total votes cast and 0.0099% on the margin, which is essentially dead-on accurate. Most academic studies say on a hand tally, you'll have between 1% and 2%. But because we use ballot marking devices where it's very clear what the voter intended made it a lot easier us force to conduct that hand count and show that none of that was true.

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