The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

539 days later, Trump still can’t point to actual voter fraud

Piers Morgan interviews former president Donald Trump. (Video still/Piers Morgan Uncensored/Fox Nation)

Any interview with Donald Trump includes a number of false and dubious claims. Rarely, though, does Trump offer claims so dubious or so clearly false as one he made in his heavily hyped Fox Nation interview with Piers Morgan.

“Frank Sinatra said the best revenge is massive success,” Morgan said to Trump in the premiere episode of “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” adding: “Is it your best revenge? Rather than talking constantly about the last election?”

“I don’t talk constantly,” Trump replied, accusing Morgan of raising the subject. “I don’t talk about it very much.”

Trump does, in fact, talk about his allegations that the election was stolen constantly. He had a rally in Delaware, Ohio, over the weekend during which a reporter noted that he brought up the subject “multiple times.” There are myriad examples of his giving an impromptu speech at an event hosted at Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach, Fla., in which Trump suddenly starts riffing on the election results. It has been incessant in the nearly 540 days since the election occurred.

As has been another facet of Trump’s commentary: He has nothing to back up his claim.

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The interview with Morgan was interesting in part because Trump only rarely grants interviews in which the subject will be raised. Usually, his interviews are conducted with longtime friends like Sean Hannity or fawning employees of the far-right alternatives to Fox News. Morgan, to his credit, was willing to push Trump harder on the subject than is normal. The last time this happened, in a phone interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Trump hung up. Morgan’s conversation with Trump was in person, making it much harder to walk away.

Trump is also wrong about Morgan having broached the subject. They began talking about it when the television host asked Trump to respond to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments on Jan. 13, 2021, placing blame for the Capitol riot at Trump’s feet.

“The press hates to write about it, but that election was rigged and it was stolen,” Trump replied. “One hundred percent. I don’t mean a little bit.” After an aside drawing a tired and inaccurate comparison to Hillary Clinton’s complaints about the 2016 election, Trump added: “I have proof — and we have massive proof.”

What is this proof that Trump says the media won’t report (because, he claimed, this is “like a communist country”)?

“Take a look at the ballot harvesting that took place,” he said.

Ah, yes, the “ballot harvesting” allegation.

If you’re not familiar, this is a claim that’s become a central part of the pro-Trump right’s efforts to undermine confidence in the election. The short version of the story is that a group called True the Vote bought cellphone geolocation data and used that to try to identify people who made repeated stops at ballot drop boxes before the election. It’s all very nebulous, and promoted by a guy who claimed with zero evidence after the 2016 election that millions of illegal votes had been cast against Trump — a claim Trump celebrated, naturally. If you’ve seen right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza’s grainy, ominous trailer for his new film “2000 Mules,” this is the same organization and the same data.

(On Monday, D’Souza released a new trailer for the movie in which he presents the evidence to a totally impartial group of observers including Charlie Kirk, Larry Elder and Dennis Prager. After viewing the evidence … they appear to be convinced that something untoward happened! What a surprise!)

What the publicly available True the Vote data shows is that some people may have been near drop-box locations on a given day, though without knowing the parameters for the data analysis, it’s hard to know how much credence to pay to the claims. They also have video surveillance of some drop boxes showing people inserting multiple ballots in a row — including in places like Wisconsin where collecting and submitting ballots was not illegal in 2020.

(“It was so corrupt in Wisconsin that they’re saying, ‘What do we do?’ ” Trump told Morgan, probably referring mostly to allegations made by a Republican politician picked by the Republican legislature to investigate the 2020 results. “They don’t know what to do. They caught them.”)

True the Vote did flag apparent illegal ballot harvesting for authorities in Georgia who are investigating the claims. But when that story first broke, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger made an important point: Even if ballots were collected and submitted illegally — which remains unproved — the ballots themselves were legal.

This is the case across the board, as even a True the Vote representative admitted. There’s no evidence the ballots themselves were tainted or illegal, just that in some places the way they were submitted may have violated election rules. In D’Souza’s trailer (and speaking before legislators in Wisconsin), one True the Vote representative calls it “organized crime.” For Trump to hype this as evidence of rampant fraud, though, is like saying that a rash of break-ins proves that there’s a serial killer afoot.

Bear in mind, this is also all recently emergent. True the Vote didn’t produce this data or the video back in January 2021, when the Capitol attack happened, and the group didn’t have it in November 2020, when Trump first started saying the election had been stolen. Not to mention before November 2020, when he said it would be stolen. It’s just the latest thing he can dangle to imply that something nefarious happened.

The Trump-Morgan interview was published the day that CNN released a large tranche of text messages sent from various individuals to Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff during his final months in the White House. Among them were various bits of evidence arguing against the idea that the election had been stolen.

For example:

  • On Nov. 6, 2020, Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller allegedly texted Meadows to point out that Trump did better in Philadelphia than he had four years prior, part of a national pattern of Trump overperforming in heavily Democratic urban areas. “Cuts hard against the urban vote stealing narrative,” Miller wrote.
  • On Dec. 4, 2020, Jared Kushner allegedly texted Meadows a news article debunking the idea that ballots had been illicitly counted in Fulton County, Ga. Trump would nonetheless raise this same allegation a month later when haranguing Raffensperger to “find” him the votes he needed to declare victory.
  • On Jan. 13, 2021, Miller allegedly sent Meadows poll data showing that even Trump’s supporters wanted him to move on from his fraud claims. “I tried to walk the President through this earlier but he won’t have any of it,” Miller wrote.

Those are just messages that we can assume reached Trump’s inner circle. There was a lot of other evidence across the board debunking each and every claim that Trump elevated. Far from the media withholding information, the media was robustly assessing and picking apart Trump’s claims. He just chose to ignore it. He just chose to constantly keep hyping the same false claim about the election, cycling in whatever evidence had not yet been debunked or, more accurately, whatever his supporters were most excited about.

Morgan did appear to have tried to crack the defensive wall Trump has built around his ego. It didn’t work. But it did show that, 539 days after the election, Trump still has nothing to back his claims of fraud. And that, 539 days later, neither Trump nor his most fervent supporters care.