The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fact-checking Trump’s cellphone rant of election falsehoods

President Trump on Nov. 25 phoned into a Pennsylvania state Senate hearing where he falsely claimed that Joe Biden stole the presidential election. (Video: Reuters)

On Thanksgiving eve, President Trump called into a news conference held by his allies in a Gettysburg, Pa., hotel, yet again falsely claiming that Joe Biden stole the presidential election. The presidential rant lasted less than 10 minutes, but Trump still managed to squeeze in at least 15 false or misleading statements. Here’s a rundown of his falsehoods.

“This was an election that we won easily. … This election was rigged, and we can’t let that happen. We can’t let it happen for our country. … This election was lost by the Democrats. They cheated. It was a fraudulent election.”

Trump lost decisively, with Biden earning 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. That’s the same margin that Trump had when he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, in what he repeatedly called a “landslide.” Many key swing states have already certified the results, with Biden’s margin of victory in some key states significantly higher than Trump’s margin four years ago. For instance, Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes, compared with Trump’s margin of about 11,000 in 2016.

“We won Pennsylvania by a lot, and we won all of these swing states by a lot.”

Again, Biden’s margin of victory in Pennsylvania — more than 80,000 votes — was almost twice as wide as Trump’s margin in 2016.

“I was called by the biggest political people, ‘Congratulations, sir, on a big win.’ And all of a sudden ballots were dumped all over the place.”

Regular readers know that Trump’s use of the word “sir” is a tell that he’s probably recounting an invented conversation. The “biggest political people” all knew that in several key states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, absentee ballots would be reported later because state rules would not allow pre-canvassing of absentee or mail-in ballots before Election Day.

“We have poll watcher affidavits piled up to the ceiling. They’re all over. They were treated horribly all over this. … The poll watchers weren’t allowed to watch. They were, in many cases, whisked out of the room, not only in pens that were 20, 30, 40, 60, 100 feet away where you couldn’t even see.”

Affidavits can be offered as evidence but they are not established as fact until a judge or jury decides they are facts. In virtually all cases, the affidavits submitted by the Trump campaign and its allies have been dismissed by judges as failing to demonstrate serious fraud. Many simply reported complaints about rude behavior or unpleasant looks from poll workers or Democratic poll watchers. In other words, Trump keeps repeating claims that have already been rejected in court.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, for instance, ruled against Trump in a 5-2 decision Nov. 17, finding that local election officials legally exercised their power in setting up a waist-high barrier and buffer zone of 15 to 18 feet between the campaign observers and the election workers inside the Philadelphia convention center. The state Supreme Court opinion stated that these conditions “allowed candidate representatives to observe the Board conducting its activities as prescribed under the Election Code.”

“If you were a Republican poll watcher, you were treated like a dog. And the Democrats had no problem. But they were rough. They were literally pushed out. And it was rough tactics.”

Trump’s legal team has failed to prove this. In Michigan, Politico reported, even as the state Republican chair tweeted that GOP poll watchers were being blocked from entering the TCF Center in Detroit, where absentee ballots were being counted, “at the time of her tweet, several hundred of her party’s poll challengers, attorneys and representatives were already inside the TCF Center monitoring the count.”

“We have many, many cases, many, many cases of people walking in. A woman, an elderly woman, walks in looking forward to voting November 3rd and says, ‘Oh, good, where would I go about voting?’ ‘I’m sorry, you’ve already voted. Your ballot is in.’ She said, ‘No, I didn’t vote.’ ‘No, your ballot is in. You’ve already voted.’ In all cases for Biden, by the way … and then they gave her a provisional ballot to sign, which goes nowhere.”

This is another fairy tale. Trump’s chief lawyer, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, has suggested that 17,000 provisional ballots were cast in Pittsburgh because Democrats had already cast fraudulent ballots on behalf of someone who unexpectedly turned up to vote. But there is no evidence that is the case; instead, there were a variety of issues, such as a missing signature on a form, that cause a provisional ballot to be used.

“We won this election by a lot. We got 74 million votes.”

Trump may have received almost 74 million votes — but Biden has earned more than 80 million. That’s a margin of nearly 4 percentage points, and the gap is expected to keep growing as votes are still being counted in New York and California, two Biden strongholds. Biden’s margin in the popular vote is now larger than Barack Obama’s victory in 2012 and George W. Bush’s victory in 2004.

“We got many votes more than Ronald Reagan had when he won 49 states.”

This is a dumb comparison. The U.S. population is now almost 40 percent larger than in 1984, when Reagan defeated Walter Mondale. The voter turnout was also higher in 2020 than in 1984.

“All you have to do is take a look at the numbers at 10 o’clock in the evening, when everybody thought the election was virtually over. And very weird things happen. But they’re not weird to professionals, and they’re not weird to Dominion and other people that operate machines.”

Here, Trump slips in a reference to the debunked conspiracy theory that emerged from the fever swamps of the Internet. Dominion Voting Systems, which makes voting machines that local governments use to help run their elections, was founded in Canada but now effectively has its headquarters in Denver. Trump’s allies have falsely claimed the Dominion machines are under the control of software made by a company linked to the Venezuelan government that is designed to change election results.

That’s all nonsense, but it’s still jarring to see a president embrace such fantasies as plausible.

“They’re not weird to the people that handle the ballots where they were flooding the market. People were getting two and three and four ballots in their home.”

Trump continues to baselessly malign mail-in voting. It’s illegal to vote more than once in an election, and in some states, it’s a felony. Some states mailed ballots to all registered voters, accounting for 51 million voters combined, while some other states mailed ballot applications, accounting for 49 million voters, according to a Washington Post tally. In other states, residents needed to make a request for a ballot or had no option but in-person voting unless they met certain requirements.

“People that were dead were signing up for ballots. Not only were they coming in and putting in a ballot, but then people were requesting ballots, and they were dead for years, and they were requesting valid ballots.”

The Trump campaign has been repeatedly caught making false allegations that dead people had voted, but that has not stopped Trump from repeating the claim. In one case, the widow of a deceased man had cast her ballot with a “Mrs.” prefix before her husband’s name, a style that largely went out of fashion in the 1970s. In another case, a dead person did not vote but someone with a very similar name had voted legally. Other alleged cases of dead voters also did not pan out.

“We have judges that are afraid to make a decision. … Why wouldn’t they overturn an election?”

Judges in numerous states have repeatedly made decisions, dismissing Trump’s claims as unproven or fiction. There is indeed a high bar for a judge to nullify an election, but the president’s slapdash legal effort has further undermined his case.

U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann, a conservative previously active in Pennsylvania Republican circles, dismissed Trump’s effort in the state as a “Frankenstein’s Monster … haphazardly stitched together.” He said Trump’s legal team offered “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations,” noting that the request to throw out nearly 7 million votes “is simply not how the Constitution works.”

“You look at the things that happened in Detroit, where you have a voter, but you have more votes than you have voters.”

This is false. There were more registered voters than actual voters. Trump appears to be referring to a debunked claim about over-votes of as much as 300 percent in some precincts in Wayne County. That was based on an affidavit filed in a since-dismissed Georgia case that bizarrely mixed up Michigan and Minnesota, so the precincts in question were actually from some of the reddest parts of Minnesota. Moreover, the number of voters matched the number of votes cast in those precincts.

That’s another example of the incompetence of the president’s legal team. But its repeated mishaps and failures apparently have not yet reached the president’s ears.

“They went absolutely wild because we got far more votes than they thought possible. And they’ve just stepped on the gas, and they got caught, just like they got caught spying on my campaign.”

The president here is channeling the deranged theory offered by Sidney Powell — who was fired from the president’s legal team — that an “algorithm” in Dominion machines manipulated by Democrats switched votes from Trump to Biden. She further claimed it broke down because support was so strong for Trump, forcing Democrats to use a “backdoor” method to manipulate the vote with mail-in ballots slipped in during the dark of night.

Again, none of this happened, just as the president’s claims that Obama spied on his campaign have remained firmly in the realm of fantasy.

The Pinocchio Test

The president continues to embarrass himself — and the nation — by embracing false and half-baked claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election. He earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

(About our rating scale)

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter

The Fact Checker is a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network code of principles