Then, on Monday afternoon, Trump pressed forward with false claims anyway.
The former president released a 12-page document articulating something of a greatest-hits collection for his long-standing crusade against reality. Peppered with the expected pejoratives against the Jan. 6 committee, it’s revealing not for what it says about the election but for what it says about Trump. Even now, 19 months after the election, he demonstrates no ability to discern fact from fiction about the election results but also shows no interest in trying to draw such a distinction.
The document is broken into six sections. I’ll walk through them here, not because they are deserving of serious consideration but to demonstrate why they aren’t — and to serve as a one-stop rejoinder to Trump’s lengthy “statement.”
Disparaging the House committee. The document begins with an angry excoriation of the committee itself, making very clear that the document is meant as a rebuttal. Trump wails about having “the right to confront accusers,” as he did during the investigation that led to his first impeachment but that, of course, is a component of criminal trials.
It seems clear that some members of the committee hope such a trial might be in Trump’s future, but for now it is simply presenting what it has uncovered over the course of its work. Given that Trump’s own defense of himself as illustrated in this document is centered squarely on false information about the election, it’s understandable why the committee might not feature it.
At one point, Trump claims that “[p]oliticians from both parties, but mostly the Democrats, worked in conjunction with corporate elitists to strip Americans of our right to elect our own leaders.” It’s an interesting phrasing, leaning more to the “rigged” argument for his loss (systems were brought to bear against Trump) than the “stolen” one (there was rampant fraud). The “rigged” narrative was backfilled by Trump’s allies to enable them to agree that something fishy had happened without having to embrace his more egregious falsehoods about election fraud, but Trump simply jams it into the soup along with everything else. His strategy has always been to present a buffet of nonsense from which his supporters can pick and choose — so the document includes this particular entree as well.
Feigning ignorance about vote-counting. The first material complaint Trump offers is about the slow counting of votes in states like Pennsylvania.
“Why would it take four more days to count a few hundred thousand votes when they had counted millions in one day?” he writes, then offering an answer: “They needed time to traffic the ballots and manipulate the outcome of the Election.” There is “no reasonable explanation” for the slower counting, he asserts, “other than they needed to traffic more ballots, and it took four days to produce the ballots and do it.”
Here is a reasonable explanation: Votes cast on Election Day are quickly aggregated by counting machines and transmitted to central authorities. Votes cast by mail need to be prepared and scanned, one by one. The former is a task accomplished by millions of people taking a few minutes of their time to vote. The latter is done by a far smaller group of government employees, so it takes longer. Especially when, as in Pennsylvania, authorities couldn’t start the process until Election Day.
It’s not at all complicated or nefarious. Trump claims it is both, so that it might appeal to someone walking along his nonsense buffet, and to start talking about “ballot trafficking,” an intentionally scary-sounding term that brings us to the next, lengthiest part of Trump’s document.
Suggesting that “2000 Mules” is credible. Well, where to start.
In case you have not been spending your time tracking cinematic efforts to capitalize on Trump’s fraud claims, “2000 Mules” is a movie by conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. It centers on purported analysis from a group called True the Vote that allegedly shows a network of paid activists who collected and submitted ballots in 2020.
Using the word “allegedly,” though, implies that there’s credible evidence shown, which there isn’t. The movie is replete with nefarious-looking individuals dropping ballots into drop boxes, but the video fails to show more than a handful of occasions on which someone drops multiple ballots into a box and shows no one visiting more than one drop box. True the Vote’s claim is supposedly based on geolocation data collected from cellphones, but its methodology is extremely dubious, simply lumping in anyone who was within 100 feet of an address with a drop box — regardless, it seems, of where that dropbox happened to be at that address. There is one map shown in the film of one person visiting multiple drop boxes, but Gregg Phillips, the True the Vote guy who led the analysis, admitted that map was fake. You may remember Phillips from 2016, when he loudly claimed that millions of people had voted illegally that year — and then failed to provide literally any evidence of that claim.
None of this bothers Trump, of course. He writes things like this:
“Looking at just the known traffickers [True the Vote] identified, the 2000 mules, we know they averaged 38 drop box visits averaging five ballots per box. That totals 380,000 illegal ballots inserted into the Election via the drop boxes.”
Except that we’re simply asked to take Phillips’s word for it that the mules even exist. (In an interview, D’Souza admitted that that was what he was doing.) And except that, if you think about it, there’s literally no way to know how many ballots were being dropped off on average. There is not video footage of this happening, as all parties admit. It’s simply a guess — and one made to try to meet the demand for an explanation for how Trump’s victory was stolen.
Not to mention that even if there were 380,000 ballots collected and dropped in ballot boxes (something that wasn’t necessarily against the law by itself in the states included in the movie) it doesn’t mean the ballots were illegal. Even True the Vote admitted this in a legislative hearing in Wisconsin.
In the film, D’Souza includes this weird aside about how maybe there were actually a lot more mules for some reason, mostly so he can claim that all of the swing states were “stolen” by Joe Biden. Trump takes this idea and runs with it.
“It’s also highly likely that True the Vote did not uncover 100% of the mules, making the numbers much larger than a landslide in scope, and that there were many more mules out there affecting more of the Election than we realize,” Trump writes. “This was not a close Election.”
That last line is true in a sense, but not for the reasons Trump is suggesting.
Marveling at an increase in voter turnout. Since the election ended, Trump has fumed at the fact that Biden got so many more votes than he did. He’s complained repeatedly about how Biden held no events but “supposedly” got more than 80 million votes?
The explanation, of course, is simple. First, the country’s population grew 9 percent from 2008 to 2020. Second, a lot of Biden voters weren’t motivated by Biden but by Trump.
But Trump refuses to accept that. So he does things like wonder how Biden did better in Arizona than did Barack Obama in 2008, since of course Obama should have outperformed Biden when running against … John McCain, the senator from Arizona.
Complaining about voter turnout. One of the elements of the “rigged” narrative for Trump’s loss is that a nonprofit group provided funding to local governments aimed at expanding voter access. It is, of course, perfectly normal for groups and governments to want to encourage voting and make it easier to do so. But what if I told you that this particular group received funding from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg?
There’s not much point in spending a lot of time explaining why raising objections to increased turnout is dubious, in part because I’ve done so before. But it’s easy to see why this particular argument appeals to Trumpland: It combines dislike of tech companies with something evil-plot-like, a plot aimed at boosting voter participation in places with lower turnout rates — often (spooky music) cities. It lets Trump and his friends use terms like “Zuckerbucks” as a vague pejorative, as though Zuckerberg paid people $100 to cast an illegal ballot instead of what actually happened: He donated to a group focused on increasing civic engagement and that effort offered both red and blue areas more resources for the election.
Once again, Antrim County. The document concludes with the purported “injustice” Trump faced by having all of his obviously false claims thrown out of court. At one particularly ludicrous point, he cites “rumors” that members of the Supreme Court got into a shouting match as they fretted over hearing his extremely long-shot lawsuit aimed at overturning the results. The source of that rumor? An Epoch Times article citing a guy who heard from a guy about a meeting — that the court confirmed didn’t happen since the justices weren’t meeting in person.
And then he came back to one of his oldest false claims: Antrim County.
One thing that happened in 2020 is that a small, Republican-voting area in Michigan miscalibrated its ballot scanner and so initially reported Biden with a lead. Eyebrows were raised; the problem was identified, fixed and explained the next morning. But here again the narrative was irresistible: Electronic voting machines throwing the election to Biden! What if this happened everywhere!
Trump then articulates such a plot, relying heavily on claims made by an attorney who also happens to be Trump’s endorsed candidate for Michigan attorney general. A probe of the election by a group of Republican legislators, though, dispatched this conspiracy theory curtly: “All compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further.”
But here’s Trump, 587 days after the election, considering them anew. Here he is, elevating debunked nonsense of various stripes, hoping that maybe something will stick. Here he is, casually ignoring scores of other claims he’s elevated since 2020 that have been debunked or replaced through some perverse Darwinian process. Hours after the Jan. 6 committee calmly demonstrated how many people in his orbit had tried to wrench him back to reality, Trump made very clear he still holds it at a distance.
“There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were,” Barr said of Trump in recorded testimony that aired on Monday morning. A few hours later, Trump proved Barr correct.
This article originally stated that Zuckerberg’s funding came through a foundation. It has been updated to reflect that it came directly from him.