On Wednesday, hours after President Trump tweeted his intention to launch an investigation into the integrity of the voting system, Fox reporter John Roberts had a question for White House press secretary Sean Spicer: how could the president be so certain massive fraud was likely to have occurred in the last election -- when, just weeks ago, his lawyers had argued the exact opposite?
Spicer's reply echoed a theory his boss has also floated: that "a lot of these issues could have occurred in bigger states" such as California and New York. But that line still seems to run counter to the blanket claims in at least some of the filings by Trump's legal team. Last month, we took a closer look at what they had to say about how much fraud they thought there was -- or, to be more accurate, wasn't -- on Election Day.
Three leading Republicans were asked over the weekend whether or not they agreed with Donald Trump's tweeted assertion that millions of voters had cast illegal ballots (part of Trump's effort to rebut his popular vote loss).
Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus said that such a scenario was "possible." House Speaker Paul Ryan said he didn't know if millions of illegal votes were cast, because he is "not really focused on these things." Vice-president-elect Mike Pence echoed Ryan's sentiment, saying that he didn't know that the claim was false.
All three should have listened to representatives from another leading Republican: Donald Trump. In court filings submitted in an effort to block recount efforts by Green Party candidate Jill Stein in Michigan and Pennsylvania, attorneys for the president-elect stated unequivocally that there was, in fact, no evidence that any voter fraud had occurred.
The most direct statement was made in the Trump campaign's filing in Michigan.
"On what basis does Stein seek to disenfranchise Michigan citizens? None really, save for speculation," it reads. "All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake." The filing notes that both Michigan's Republican governor and the White House articulated confidence in the results of the election. The former refers solely to Michigan, of course, but the latter citation by Trump's lawyers argues that there was no evidence of Russian interference at the national level.
Why is Stein conducting a recount, the lawyers ask? "Stein aims to sow doubts regarding the legitimacy of the presidential election."
In the Pennsylvania filing, the lawyers are more careful to constrain their dismissal of the idea of voter fraud to the state.
"On what basis does Stein seek to disenfranchise the voters of the Keystone state? None really," it reads. "There is no evidence -- or even any allegation -- that any tampering with Pennsylvania's voting systems actually occurred."
As evidence to that end, the lawyers point to statements before the election from the secretary of state.
Why did the secretary of state Pedro Cortes hold a press conference in October to rebut claims that Pennsylvania's elections might be hacked? Because of unfounded claims made before the election by Donald Trump.
"Unfortunately, in recent weeks," Cortes said at the time, "some have decided to take a different approach. Some have suggested that our system lacks integrity and security. Some have suggested that fraud is rampant and election officials at the local and state level have ill intended motives. This is not only wrong and uninformed – it is dangerous."
After the election, Trump narrowed his complaints about possible fraud to three states that he lost.
Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California - so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2016
In none of those three states is there actually evidence of rampant voter fraud. In all three, the secretaries of state have offered the same assurances as did Cortes that no impropriety occurred. (To wit: California, New Hampshire and Virginia.)
After Trump's tweets, our Aaron Blake pointed out that those tweets set up a tricky conflict between the president-elect's attempts to rebut the recount efforts and his push to claim popular vote success. His lawyers clearly didn't have many concerns about waving away the idea of fraud in two states that make up 7 percent of the country's population -- and with good reason, since there's no evidence at all that rampant voter fraud occurred anywhere.
Put another way: All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake. If Trump's lawyers can say it in a legal document, one would think that Trump's other allies could say it, too.