Former president Jimmy Carter said Friday that he believes a full investigation of the 2016 election would show that President Trump prevailed because of Russian interference on his behalf and otherwise would not be in office.
“There’s no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election, and I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016,” Carter said. “He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”
His made his comments during a panel discussion at a conference in Leesburg, Va., sponsored by the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1982 that focuses on human rights.
Pressed by historian Jon Meacham, who moderated the discussion, on whether he considers Trump to be “an illegitimate president,” Carter replied: “Based on what I just said, which I can’t retract.”
The report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III concluded that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election “in sweeping and systematic fashion” to the benefit of Trump and detriment of Democrat Hillary Clinton. But the report drew no conclusion about whether the interference changed the result.
In response to questions, Carter was also critical of Trump and his administration on other issues, including its treatment of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Everyday we send a disgraceful signal around the world, that this is what the present United States government stands for, and that is torture and kidnapping of little children,” Carter said.
He called the tactics of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “a disgrace to the United States.”
“I hope it will be soon be ended, maybe not until the 2020 elections, I’m not sure,” Carter added.
Carter was also critical of the Trump administration’s response to the slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist who was dismembered by Saudi government agents in October at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Asked how his administration would have responded, Carter said he would have pressed for greater accountability from the Saudi government.
“I believe we would have demanded a complete accounting about how high up the orders came from,” Carter said, adding that he believed the assassination could have been carried out only if those at the highest levels of government were aware of the plan.
A recently concluded U.N. investigation into Khashoggi’s death faulted the United States and other countries for not exerting enough pressure on Saudi Arabia despite “credible evidence” of the likelihood that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in Khashoggi’s killing.