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What we know about Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election

Then-President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Washington on Jan. 6. (Bloomberg News)

Let’s assume for the moment that former president Donald Trump’s efforts to undercut the results of the 2020 election began only when the sun rose the day after last year’s election. That’s not the case, clearly; Trump had been alleging for months that the results would be marred by fraud, part of an effort to inoculate his base against a seemingly likely loss. Even identifying the starting point as sunrise is a hedge, given that Trump began claiming in the middle of the night after polls closed that he’d won, based on the incomplete tally of cast ballots.

But those assertions were different from what followed the election itself. Over the two months between President Biden’s victory being announced and the storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who believed the lie that the election had been stolen, Trump repeatedly tried to somehow wrench a victory out of his rejection by voters. It was an effort that involved unprecedented attempts to persuade those he saw as allies to undo the results of a democratic election.

Here is what we know of the breadth of those efforts as of writing.

Repeated claims and lawsuits focused on alleged fraud. The central effort undertaken by Trump was to continue his claims that the election was tainted by fraud. This is why he’d worked to establish all of that groundwork, of course: to be able to claim after the fact that votes cast by mail were necessarily suspect. This was his play all along, to suggest that only votes cast on Election Day — votes that skewed heavily for him — could be trusted.

It convinced a lot of his supporters, but there’s no credible evidence that any significant electoral fraud was committed last year. Trump was never beholden to that “credible” qualifier, though, amplifying a truly dazzling number of already or soon-to-be debunked claims as though the sheer volume of allegations would itself serve as a substitute for evidence. That was explicitly how his team treated a series of affidavits collected from volunteers and supporters — documents presented as suggesting rampant fraud simply by virtue of their existence. No substantial fraud was ever uncovered from those documents or anything else.

Trump, his team and his allies coupled these claims with a flotilla of lawsuits aimed at scaling back the results of the election in key states. At first, these were narrowly tailored to specific allegations centered on improper management of the elections — trying, in essence, to get the results thrown out on a technicality. As those lawsuits were tossed out of court, Trump embraced a more obviously dubious set of challenges advanced by people such as his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his former legal adviser Sidney Powell. Those claims centered on allegations of rampant fraud abetted by electronic voting machines — a summary that makes them sound at least somewhat connected to reality, which they weren’t. The maker of the targeted machines, Dominion Voting Systems, has sued or threatened to sue a number of Trump allies and supporters.

We’ve by now grown accustomed to Trump’s insistent claims about election fraud, but they were the linchpin of everything that followed. Trump’s efforts to convince state officials, and the world, that the election results were dubious relied upon his claims that fraud had occurred. No such assertions, and there’s no platform for throwing out his loss.

Pressuring officials in Michigan about certifying the election results. One of Trump’s first efforts to influence the actual tallying of votes occurred in Michigan. In Wayne County, a four-person panel deadlocked on certification of the county’s votes after two Republicans declined to accept the results of the tally. Wayne County is home to Detroit, and tossing out its votes would flip the results in the state.

Trump and his allies were exultant. Hours after the initial deadlock, though, facing enormous public pressure, the panel agreed to certify the results. Shortly after the meeting ended, Trump called the two Republicans who'd switched their votes. The following day, they released affidavits seeking to rescind their certification votes — but it was too late.

Pressuring Michigan legislators to throw out his loss in the state. Trump then turned his attention to a more powerful group: Republican state legislators. The Constitution says electors to the Electoral College should be appointed by states “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” leading Trump allies to claim that legislatures therefore have the after-the-fact ability to shift how the electors could be awarded.

To that end, via Twitter, Trump repeatedly put pressure on state legislatures, demanding that they find a way to award him their electors. (On what basis? His unfounded fraud claims.) At one point, this included inviting senior Republican officials from Michigan to a meeting at the White House, an invitation they accepted.

Once there, though, the officials reportedly made it clear they would not overturn the results in their state and, instead, took the opportunity to lobby the president to do more to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Calling the speaker of the Pennsylvania House to help reverse results. Trump tried to similarly pressure the legislature in Pennsylvania.

In early December, he called the speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, asking him “what can we do to fix” the results in the state. Speaker Bryan Cutler (R) told the president there was nothing that could be done to reverse the outcome in Pennsylvania.

Pressuring leaders in Georgia and Arizona to overturn their states’ votes. Trump repeatedly attacked officials in other states with the same goal: getting them to figure out a way to overturn the results of the presidential contest. It’s important to note that Trump’s suggestions, like his claims of fraud itself, were never well articulated, involving mostly requests that governors and elections officials just do something that might make him the winner. Those officials, likely better versed in the rules and directly accountable to their constituents, had little room to comply even if they wanted to.

Trump called the governors of both Georgia and Arizona as he sought to get the results in those states overturned. In early December, he called Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) to angrily demand that he intervene to that end. Kemp declined to do so. Trump tried Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) while Ducey was in the middle of certifying his state’s votes. On camera, Ducey took his phone from his pocket and, without looking at it, muted the call.

Directly cajoling Georgia’s secretary of state to gin up a reason for throwing out the results. Trump’s most overt effort to influence a state official came in a call with Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. As The Post reported this month, Trump was frank in that call, telling Raffensperger that he “just want[ed] to find 11,780 votes” — one more than the margin by which he lost the state.

That directness helped reveal what should already have been obvious. For Trump, the question was never what should happen but, instead, what could happen to engineer a second term in office. Trump peppered Raffensperger and his team with claims of fraud in the state, none of which was substantiated to any significant degree. Instead of convincing the state's senior official that the results were suspect, Trump was left begging the official to figure out a way to rationalize that they were.

Raffensperger declined to do so.

Entertaining a plot to oust the acting attorney general so that the Justice Department could allege fraud. Perhaps the most remarkable effort to undercut the results in Georgia, though, came through Trump’s Justice Department.

As reported over the weekend, Trump was receptive to a plan that would have involved his firing the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and replacing him with a Justice Department lawyer who had openly advocated overturning election results. That attorney, Jeffrey Clark, had been pressuring the department to allege that fraud had occurred in Georgia. Trump was made aware of Clark’s advocacy and invited Clark and Rosen to the White House to argue their sides.

Trump decided against the overhaul of the department only after it became clear that firing Rosen would trigger a slew of resignations that themselves would be likely to prompt new congressional investigations into his actions.

Encouraging his vice president to ignore the Constitution. As Trump’s time in office wound down, he became fixated on another false claim about how the election could be overturned: Former vice president Mike Pence could simply overturn it.

This was not the case, as demonstrated in part by the fact that at no point in the past 230-plus years had a vice president simply undone the results of a national presidential election. But, lacking many other options, Trump claimed he could.

Despite Pence himself rejecting the idea, Trump made the same claim on the morning of Jan. 6, at a rally where he addressed thousands of supporters and exhorted them to fight in his defense. Many then did, overrunning the Capitol in an effort to block the ultimate counting of electoral votes that would finalize Trump’s loss.

Among the chants heard on Capitol Hill during the attempted insurrection were claims that the election was stolen — and calls to assassinate Pence.