Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has been quietly exploring whether there was any “outside interference” in the election results and will participate in the election recount in Wisconsin initiated by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, a Clinton campaign lawyer revealed Saturday.
In a Medium post, Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias said that the campaign had received “hundreds of messages, emails, and calls urging us to do something, anything, to investigate claims that the election results were hacked and altered in a way to disadvantage Secretary Clinton,” especially in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where the “combined margin of victory for Donald Trump was merely 107,000 votes.”
Elias said the campaign had “not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology.” But because of the margin of victory — and because of the degree of apparent foreign interference during the campaign — Elias said that Clinton officials had “quietly taken a number of steps in the last two weeks to rule in or out any possibility of outside interference in the vote tally in these critical battleground states.”
He said that the Clinton campaign would participate in the Stein-initiated recount in Wisconsin by having representatives on the ground monitoring the count and having lawyers represent them in court if needed. And if Stein made good on efforts to prompt similar processes in Pennsylvania and Michigan, Elias said, the Clinton campaign would do so there, as well.
“The campaign is grateful to all those who have expended time and effort to investigate various claims of abnormalities and irregularities,” Elias said. “While that effort has not, in our view, resulted in evidence of manipulation of results, now that a recount is underway, we believe we have an obligation to the more than 64 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton to participate in ongoing proceedings to ensure that an accurate vote count will be reported.”
The recount effort is somewhat unusual in that it comes weeks after Clinton conceded — and at the request and with the financial backing of a third-party candidate, Stein, who has no chance of winning, said election law expert Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine. Clinton, too, has virtually no chance of altering the result, given that she would have to reverse not just Wisconsin, but also Michigan and Pennsylvania, to become president, Hasen said.
Recounts can change outcomes. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) famously defeated Norm Coleman for the seat he now holds after a months-long recount and legal battle, even though Coleman seemed initially to have a lead. But the margins are usually in the hundreds, not thousands, and typically, recounts are initiated by candidates in close races refusing to accept defeat, as is the case in the current North Carolina gubernatorial race between incumbent Pat McCrory (R) and Democrat Roy Cooper, Hasen said.
“I don’t think there’s any realistic chance whatsoever that even if recounts are done in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, that’s going to change the outcome in the states, or in the presidential election generally,” Hasen said.
In a statement Saturday, Trump said the recount was “just a way for Jill Stein, who received less than one percent of the vote overall and wasn’t even on the ballot in many states, to fill her coffers with money.”
“The people have spoken and the election is over,” the statement said, “and as Hillary Clinton herself said on election night, in addition to her conceding by congratulating me, ‘We must accept this result and then look to the future.'”
Later Saturday, Trump tweeted that the Green Party’s initiative, which he called a “scam,” was “now being joined by the badly defeated & demoralized Dems.” In another tweet, he added: “The Democrats, when they incorrectly thought they were going to win, asked that the election night tabulation be accepted. Not so anymore!”
For her part, Stein took to Twitter to question Clinton’s motives for participating in the recount effort.
“Why would Hillary Clinton — who conceded the election to Donald Trump — want #Recount2016?” Stein wrote. “You cannot be on-again, off-again about democracy.”
Trump won 1,404,000 votes in Wisconsin, according to the state’s election commission, while Clinton had 1,381,823. The Wisconsin recounted will be conducted by county boards of canvassers, who must move quickly to meet a mid-December deadline to ensure the state’s electoral votes are counted. Stein has to file by Monday to prompt a recount in Pennyslvania, and by Wednesday to trigger a recount in Michigan. The results in that state are not technically certified until Monday.
The presidential campaign was marked by fears that Russian hacking might affect the outcome, especially after Russian hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and were found to have attempted intrusions on voter registration databases. The Washington Post also recently reported, citing researchers who tracked the phenomenon, that Russians created and spread fake news about the election with the apparent goal of helping Donald Trump.
During the campaign, Clinton criticized Trump for refusing to say that he would accept the election results if she won. Asked during an October debate whether he would do so, Trump responded that he would “keep you in suspense.” Clinton called that answer “horrifying” and said Trump was “talking down our democracy.”
“Donald Trump refused to say that he’d respect the results of this election,” her campaign later posted on Twitter. “By doing that, he’s threatening our democracy.”
In recent days, though, it is Clinton’s supporters who have raised questions about the outcome of the election. A viral post spread by some Clinton backers, including actress Debra Messing, suggested — falsely — that the Justice Department was “tallying calls” from people who wanted an audit of the 2016 election and urged people to make their displeasure known.
“Even if it’s busy, keep calling,” one version said. “We should not back down from this.”
New York Magazine then reported that Clinton was being urged “by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers” to call for a recount in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and the group had some evidence of possibly unusual activity. That fueled even more skepticism and calls for action by Clinton supporters.
The evidence of possible malfeasance, though, was limited. According to New York Magazine, the group found that Clinton “received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots,” and that based on that “statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000.”
J. Alex Halderman, one of the academics reportedly involved, later wrote on Medium that the deviations were “probably not” the result of a cyberattack but that “the only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.”
Posting a link to a New York Times story about Clinton supporters calling for a recount, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said, “Look who ‘can’t accept the election results.’”
Elias’s post might fuel similar criticism. Notably, though, Clinton did not initiate the recount herself; Stein did, after raising millions of dollars to fund the effort and claiming this had been a “hack-riddled election.” Elias said that the campaign had not planned to ask for a recount itself, because it had found no actionable evidence of hacking.
The Clinton campaign had investigated the matter extensively. Elias said the campaign had “lawyers and data scientists and analysts combing over the results to spot anomalies” and had also “monitored and staffed the post-election canvasses — where voting machine tapes are compared to poll-books, provisional ballots are resolved, and all of the math is double checked from election night.” He said the campaign had also met with outside experts and “attempted to systematically catalogue and investigate every theory that has been presented to us within our ability to do so.”
Now that a recount effort was underway, Elias said that it was “important” to participate in the proceedings. He played down the idea that the recount would change the outcome.
“We do so fully aware that the number of votes separating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the closest of these states — Michigan — well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount,” Elias said. “But regardless of the potential to change the outcome in any of the states, we feel it is important, on principle, to ensure our campaign is legally represented in any court proceedings and represented on the ground in order to monitor the recount process itself.”
Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, rejected the notion that the campaign’s actions might suggest to some that it was not accepting the election results. He also disputed that the campaign had “backed a recount.”
“The post says we would not have sought the recount on our own, that we see no evidence of tampering so far, and acknowledge the margin in Michigan, which is the tightest of the three, exceeds the largest deficit ever overcome in a recount,” Fallon wrote to The Washington Post. “We note we are guarding our prerogatives now that someone else has launched a recount. Not sure what you could point to to suggest there is anything here that calls the results into question.”
Anne Gearan contributed to this report.