By Ryan Nobles, Ali Zaslav and Rachel Janfaza, CNN
Updated: Fri, 15 Jan 2021 17:56:09 GMT
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, under pressure from his Black constituents over his decision to initially support objections to Congress' certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory last week, explained his decision-making in a letter Thursday but did not apologize for sowing doubt about election security.
Lankford was among several Republican senators who had planned to dispute the results before last week's riot by pro-Trump extremists, which prompted him to drop his objections.
In his letter, obtained by CNN and earlier reported by the Tulsa World, he claims that his initial objection was based not out of a desire to change any state's vote but to seek "more election information," even though dozens of lawsuits filed by President Donald Trump's campaign alleging fraud and irregularities were swiftly rejected in court and all 50 states certified their results weeks ago.
He also suggests he didn't realize that many of the false claims spread by Trump and his allies about fraud in major cities of battleground states amounted to racist allegations, even though it's well known that those areas have large Black populations and are heavily Democratic.
"My action of asking for more election information caused a firestorm of suspicion among many of my friends, particularly in Black communities around the state," Lankford wrote. "I was completely blindsided, but I also found a blind spot. What I did not realize was all of the national conversation about states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, was seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities like Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit.
"After decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote, for their vote to matter, and even a belief that their votes made an election in our country illegitimate," continued Lankford, who has previously participated in GOP-led Senate hearings that have largely served to sow doubt about the 2020 election results and has signed on to Sen. Tim Scott's bill to create a commission to address voting irregularities.
Lankford also wrote, "In this instance, I should have recognized how what I said and what I did could be interpreted by many of you. I deeply regret my blindness to that perception, and for that I am sorry."
CNN has reached out to Lankford's office for comment about what prompted the letter.
In the wake of his efforts to discredit the election, several Black leaders in Oklahoma have called on Lankford to resign or be removed from the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Committee, Tulsa World reported.
A Black Oklahoma state official, who was granted anonymity in order to speak candidly about a sensitive topic, blasted Lankford's letter, telling CNN's Abby Phillip that calling it an apology is "misleading" and "inaccurate."
"He did NOT apologize for questioning the Electoral College vote. He expressed regret that (many) Black Tulsans were offended by his actions."
This official said that "it is not our interpretation, it was the infliction and infection of racism that targeted Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Wisconsin, all states decided by the free and fair votes of Black and brown voters."
Immediately following last week's riot -- which left five dead and the Capitol ransacked -- several Republicans, including Lankford and Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, reversed their previous objections to certification. The two said in a joint statement that the attack was "an assault on democracy."
"We now need the entire Congress to come together and vote to certify the election results. We must stand together as Americans. We must defend our Constitution and the rule of law," the pair said.