Standing behind the presidential lectern in the Diplomatic Reception Room and flanked by the flags of his office and of the country whose Constitution he swore an oath to uphold, Trump tried to leverage the power of the presidency to subvert the vote and overturn the election results.
The rambling and bellicose monologue — which Trump said “may be the most important speech I’ve ever made” and was delivered direct-to-camera with no audience — underscored his desperation to reverse the outcome of his election loss after a month of failed legal challenges and as some key states already have certified Biden’s victory.
The president’s latest salvo came a day after his attorney general, William P. Barr, said the Justice Department had found no evidence of voting fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election.
Trump delivered in person many of the claims he previously has advanced on social media or that his lawyers have brought on his behalf in courts, which have been debunked or summarily dismissed because there is no evidence to support them.
Trump claimed in Wednesday’s video, again without evidence, that “corrupt forces” had stuffed ballot boxes with fraudulent votes. He claimed the fraud was “massive” and “on a scale never seen before.” He called on the Supreme Court to “do what’s right for our country,” which he suggested entailed terminating hundreds of thousands of votes so that “I very easily win in all states.”
Although Trump last week authorized his administration to cooperate with Biden’s transition, he still has refused to concede. With Wednesday’s remarks, the president intensified his protest of the results and threatened to disrupt the nation’s long history of a peaceful transfer of power.
“This election was rigged. Everybody knows it,” Trump said. He added, “Our country needs somebody to say, ‘You’re right.’ . . . If we don’t root out the fraud, the tremendous and horrible fraud that’s taken place in our 2020 election, we don’t have a country anymore.”
Trump also claimed that Dominion Voting Systems, which manufactures voting machines used in many states, was “very suspect” and that many voters who pressed the button for “Trump” had their votes counted for Biden. There is no evidence that votes were in any way compromised, and Dominion has said there is no merit to Trump’s claims.
Biden decisively won the election with 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232. In the national popular vote, Biden leads with 80.9 million to Trump’s 74 million, a difference of 4.4 percentage points and nearly 7 million votes.
A majority of states already have certified their results ahead of the Dec. 14 meeting of the electoral college to finalize the national result. Those states include Georgia, which delivered Biden one of his narrowest victories and where officials conducted a hand recount that still had Biden winning by about 13,000 votes.
Trump’s video Wednesday represented his most comprehensive remarks yet about the election and came after he has spent the month since the election largely hidden from public view, save for a handful of official appearances and a call-in appearance on Fox News Channel.
Any hope that the president might be slowly coming to grips with his loss and accepting the fact that Biden will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20 was dashed by his combative and emphatic tone, which amounted to a call to arms to his supporters. The fight is paying dividends so far, with Trump’s political operation using a blizzard of misleading appeals to supporters to raise more than $170 million since Election Day on Nov. 3.
As he invariably has throughout his presidency, Trump spun an alternate reality. Although his words actually worked to undermine democracy, he cast himself as the protector of democracy, saying his single greatest achievement as president would be to restore “voter integrity for our nation.”
Trump released a two-minute edited version of the video on Twitter, which the social media company labeled as “disputed,” and included a link to the full 46-minute video on Facebook, where the company applied a label explaining that voting by mail has long been trustworthy and that voter fraud is “extremely rare.”
As Trump released his video, his personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, was in Michigan making a similar case to state legislators and citizens there. The former New York mayor alleged at a video news conference in Lansing that there were extensive voting irregularities in the state, largely in Detroit, a majority-Black city that voted heavily for Biden. Giuliani claimed a similar pattern of fraud emerged in several other large urban centers with municipal governments controlled by Democrats.
“It was a plan to steal this election,” Giuliani said.
There is no evidence to support this claim. Giuliani cited affidavits that had been used in lawsuits that have so far been rejected in the state.
Giuliani gave a pugilistic exhortation to Trump supporters at the late afternoon press conference.
“We have to fight. The president does not intend to give up,” he said, urging Michigan Republicans to put “pressure on state legislators” to uphold their constitutional obligation to decide state results in a disputed presidential election.
“You have to get them to remember that their oath to the Constitution sometimes requires being criticized,” Giuliani added. “It sometimes even requires being threatened. But you don’t back off of an oath because a vote is too hard.”
On Wednesday evening, Giuliani and Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis made similar arguments before a Michigan House panel. In her opening statement, Ellis referred to Trump’s video message and said the state legislature has a constitutional mandate “not to allow a corrupt” election. She said the nation’s founders provided “a tool — state legislators — to combat corruption” in elections.
That interpretation of a constitutional mandate is disputed by many election experts, who nonetheless worry that it could lead some state legislators to attempt to overturn certified election results.
Norm Eisen, a former Obama appointee who serves as counsel to the bipartisan Voter Protection Program, called that interpretation “constitutional disinformation that has no basis in law.”
This activity comes as Trump prepares to visit Georgia on Saturday to hold a campaign rally for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans facing runoff elections on Jan. 5.
Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud in Georgia have roiled the race, with Republicans divided over whether to trust the election system or, as former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell argued, stay home in protest.
Powell led a rally in a northern Atlanta suburb Wednesday in which she exhorted hundreds of the president’s supporters not to participate in the Senate runoffs, in part because she said the state’s voting machines are not trustworthy.
“I would encourage all Georgians to make it known that you will not vote at all unless your vote is secure,” Powell said. “There should not be a runoff. Certainly not on Dominion machines.”
Powell claimed falsely that Dominion machines were rigged to weight Biden’s votes more heavily than Trump’s, that a hand recount was a sham, and that state and local election officials have been destroying ballots and other evidence of fraud. She has presented no proof of her claims.
L. Lin Wood, another Trump ally who helped lead Wednesday’s event, made similarly baseless claims.
“We’re not going to vote on your damn machines made in China,” Wood said. “We’re going to vote on machines made in the USA!”
Wood took aim at just about every state Republican leader in Georgia, including Perdue, Loeffler, Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the state party chair, David Shafer, even though some of them have stood by Trump and echoed his false claims of fraud.
“If they don’t fight for Donald Trump, including Loeffler and Perdue, send them all home!” Wood exclaimed to the crowd. “You are criminals!”
Tom Hamburger in Detroit, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. in Atlanta and Amy Gardner in Washington contributed to this report.