President Trump is set to lose Georgia for a third time Friday as the state reaffirms President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the state following a recount requested by Trump’s campaign. That recount followed an audit automatically conducted by the state after it became apparent that the results in the presidential contest would be exceptionally narrow. The audit, which compared paper records of votes cast with the reported results, failed to make Trump the winner as, of course, did the initial results after Election Day.
Even if Trump were to pull an upset in Georgia, it wouldn’t really matter for anything other than bragging rights. The state’s 16 electoral votes are insignificant to the actual results, given that flipping them from Biden to Trump would simply narrow Biden’s electoral college victory.
But the reality of success has not been one of the bounds of Trump’s effort to allege fraud in a smattering of states, an effort now spearheaded by his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani. Giuliani has been crisscrossing the country attending informal hearings held by sympathetic lawmakers in the hope of making the sort of splash on the local scene that he has failed to make nationally.
The reason for that is simple: The campaign has not yet managed to produce any real evidence of wide-scale fraud. It has lots of things it presents as evidence, including scads of affidavits from allies alleging that they witnessed dubious-seeming things, but experts and judges have repeatedly and universally dismissed those claims as wrong, biased or insufficient. To date, the campaign has done little more than throw smoke bombs and insist there’s a fire.
In a triumphant appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Thursday night, however, Giuliani announced that all of that had changed.
“Today’s video was really explosive,” he said, “because it puts the lie to the fact there’s no evidence.”
You’re welcome to parse Giuliani’s inadvertent admission that it’s a fact there’s no evidence, but the point he’s making is clear: The video to which he refers is, at last, the evidence that critics were looking for.
The video at issue is a collection of feeds from security cameras apparently recording a ballot-counting operation in Fulton County, Ga. In it, an individual is seen directing others to pull black containers from either a shelving unit or from under a table. The containers are then taken to nearby tables, opened and apparent ballots removed. It’s hard to tell what happens next, but a voice-over suggests that the half-dozen individuals in the room then scanned the ballots.
What Giuliani and others claim happened is that observers were cleared from the room and that ballots hidden in suitcases were then brought out to be counted without oversight. You can see how such a narrative framework could be applied to the footage, particularly since that’s what the voice-over — which aired, unsurprisingly, on the unabashedly pro-Trump channel One America News — claims it shows.
But the video itself isn’t proof that this is what happened. Or that those ballots were in any way illegal. It is simply a video that shows people doing things that are hard to parse in the abstract. That someone offering testimony in support of Trump’s claims suggests that something nefarious happened should be understood in the context of that effort.
The fact-checking site Lead Stories dug into the claims, speaking with several Georgia officials about what the video showed.
“If you look at the videotape, the work you see is the work you would expect,” said Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting systems manager, “which is you take the sealed suitcase-looking things in, you place the ballots on the scanner in manageable batches and you scan them.”
Sterling is the official whose impassioned demand that Trump curtail his conspiracy theories went viral this week.
Another official pointed out that the containers being used were standard containers and that the process shown was normal. That official, Frances Watson, also denied that anyone had been told to leave the room. A monitor from the state election board also told Lead Stories that he was present the entire time.
There’s no indication that Giuliani or his team tried to evaluate the content of the video before presenting it as dispositive. This isn’t surprising, either: Giuliani has repeatedly offered unvetted claims of wrongdoing by Trump’s opponents without checking them out beforehand. For example, he uncritically interviewed Ukrainian officials willing to disparage Biden, with OAN’s help — one of whom was later linked to Russian intelligence. When he somehow came into possession of a laptop computer allegedly belonging to Biden’s son, he gave it to the New York Post because, he said, “either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out.”
Yeah, imagine making sure you knew what you were talking about before you began talking. It’s worth noting that even Fox News declined to report on the laptop without doing some legwork first.
Hannity, true to form, marveled at Giuliani’s big “suitcase” scoop. Here it was, the evidence, at long last, which proved Trump’s case — at least to the tune of about 24,000 votes in one state that by itself wouldn’t change the results of the presidential contest.
But, again, the point isn’t finding fires. The point is whipping up smoke.