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The awkward TV exchange that prompted Trump’s latest tweet on ‘illegal voting’


When President Trump tweets something out of the blue, one can generally safely assume what prompted it: television. Multiple times since he won the presidency, Trump has taken to Twitter to weigh in on something he saw on morning news programs, which, even now, he fits into his busy schedule.

So when Trump on Friday morning tweeted an out-of-the-blue comment about a guy named Gregg Phillips and alleged voter fraud, it didn’t take long to figure out the genesis.

Phillips is not new to the conversation over alleged voter fraud. In fact, he’s not even new to Trump’s tweets about fraud. The first time Trump alleged that there had been millions of illegal votes cast, it was trivial work to trace that claim back to a single tweet from Phillips issued a few days after the election — a tweet that made a strong claim without offering any evidence to back it up.

Naturally, the conspiracy site Infowars picked it up and ran a story about it. Within days, the idea of millions of illegal votes had reached Trump’s Twitter.

There is no evidence from anywhere else that dozens — much less millions — of noncitizens voted in November’s election. One statistical analysis from Dartmouth researchers conducted in the wake of Trump’s first tweet on the matter determined that there was no relationship between the population of noncitizens in a place and abnormalities in vote totals. In summary, the researchers wrote that “voter fraud concerns fomented by the Trump campaign are not grounded in any observable features of the 2016 presidential election.”

With that in mind, it’s very much worth watching Phillips’s appearance on CNN’s “New Day,” the segment that seems clearly to have triggered Trump this morning. Phillips continues to offer absolutely nothing besides his word for his claims — and offers a somewhat tormented rationale for why he’s not producing anything further.

— stands by his claim (and says it’s actually bigger than 3 million)
— doesn’t offer any evidence for it
— thinks it will take a few months to prove it (despite defending it)
— admits that his team didn’t have certified vote totals when he reached his conclusion

“You can reach a conclusion but still verify,” Phillips says, which isn’t true. You can develop a theory, sure. But conclusions don’t precede analysis.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo raises a valid point: How do you tally vote results before final vote counts are in and official voter data is released? Phillips suggests that one way his team tracked who voted was by looking at who comes out to each polling place, a common practice in campaign get-out-the-vote efforts. It’s certainly true that you can see who voted by tracking sign-ins at polling places — but there are tens of thousands of polling places across the country. Phillips’s team would likely have needed someone in thousands of polling places tracking sign-ins at the end of the day to have a robust sense of who was actually casting ballots.

(He has an app, VoteStand, which allowed users to record suspicious incidents at their polling places. It’s been downloaded over a thousand times, but the tool doesn’t appear to allow users to report individual voter turnout.)

Journalists associated with ProPublica were doing something similar last November, tracking incidents at polling places. Their conclusion? With 1,000 people watching the polls, they concluded that there was no evidence of rigging. “If millions of people voted illegally,” the team wrote, “we would have seen some sign of it.”

But let’s step back for a second. The president of the United States — the guy who won the election being discussed — is lifting up the voter-fraud allegations of a guy who appeared on national television to state explicitly that he had no available proof for his claim and that his research into the matter wasn’t complete. Trump is providing the stamp of approval to a completely unverified claim that undercuts confidence in the democratic process itself.

Incidentally, there’s one argument of Phillips’s that Trump hasn’t embraced. After Phillips first made his claim, he was clear to note that not all of these alleged “illegal votes” were cast for Hillary Clinton.

Trump — again with absolutely no evidence — says they all were.