The acting president, Donald Trump, called reporters into the White House briefing room on Thursday to listen as he whined and spread lies about the counting of votes in the election he is on track to lose to former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump claimed that his likely defeat in the electoral college was part of a plot by elected officials in Detroit and Philadelphia — choosing to mention two cities with large Black populations — who were, he said, conspiring to defeat him by counting what he called “illegal votes” for his rival.
Then, having lied non-stop for 17 minutes, Trump concluded with the words, “there’s been a lot of shenanigans and we can’t stand for that in our country,” thanked the assembled press for their attention and left the room without taking a single question.
Before the president had even completed his dishonest presentation, the three broadcast networks not owned by Rupert Murdoch had all cut away to explain to viewers that there was absolutely no evidence for Trump’s racist conspiracy theory or his claims of mass election fraud.
Major US TV networks interrupted Donald Trump's speech last night to fact-check his statements as he falsely claimed voter fraud. pic.twitter.com/99Mib3U3UZ
— DW News (@dwnews) November 6, 2020
Even Fox News, which carried the president’s complete remarks without interruption, had anchor Martha MacCallum point out immediately after he finished that Trump had not yet produced any actual evidence of fraud.
The reason Fox News's response to the President declaring the American election fraud is to shrug and parrot Trump's claims is that they have been helping him prime all of these narratives for the last four years. pic.twitter.com/E0i9ygCNZ4
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) November 6, 2020
MacCallum’s co-host, Bret Baier, stuck to summarizing the president’s unhinged accusations as if they were routine, although he did later retweet the instant debunking of the president carried out by ABC News.
— ABC News (@ABC) November 5, 2020
The White House event was at least the third time in two days that the Trump campaign had staged a news conference to present unsubstantiated claims of fraud at which reporters were not permitted to ask questions.
At the end of a Trump campaign “press conference” in Philadelphia on Wednesday, one reporter tried to question the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who had lied that Republican observers were being kept out of counting rooms by “the crooks that run the Democrat Party.” However Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, stepped in and immediately cut him off, saying, “No questions, right now, thank you guys.”
On Thursday evening, a Fox News correspondent in Philadelphia, Eric Shawn, debunked Giuliani’s claim — which was also the basis for a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign — by reporting that Republican poll watchers were indeed inside the counting room and had even provided him with photographic evidence.
— Eric Shawn (@EricShawnTV) November 5, 2020
Shawn’s intervention on the side of reality was one of several times this week that the ultraconservative network’s reporters and election analysts have undercut wild claims by the president and his campaign with actual facts. Every night, however, the shouting heads who anchor Fox’s primetime opinion shows take over the airwaves and amplify many of the same false claims.
On Friday, the same reporter was even more blunt, telling Fox viewers that the Trump campaign’s claims in a lawsuit that its poll watchers were kept out of the counting room in Philadelphia was “just not true.”
On Thursday night, hours after the president endorsed Giuliani’s irresponsible complaint that the vote count in Philadelphia was “totally illegitimate,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that police might have foiled a plot to attack the city’s main election site.
Philadelphia’s police chief, Danielle Outlaw, told reporters Friday that the FBI had received a tip that people armed men had traveled to the city in a Hummer with Virginia license plates and planned to attack the vote center, the paper reported. The police then discovered a truck matching that description, with an AR-15 rifle and 160 rounds of ammunition inside, and decals associated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy movement on the window, parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where ballot counting was underway. Officers arrested two men with handguns.
QAnon decals on back window of Hummer parked near Pa. Convention Center and under investigation after police got a tip that occupants were armed and targeting the Convention Center where vote-counting in presidential election is underway. pic.twitter.com/SKAUhcmBvQ
— Robert Moran (@RobertMoran215) November 6, 2020
A law enforcement source told the Inquirer that police had been warned to be “on the lookout for a mother, son and another man from Virginia Beach traveling to the Philadelphia region to ‘straighten things out’ as vote counting continued.”
Philadelphia’s district attorney, Larry Krasner, said in a statement on Friday that the two men arrested on weapons charges outside of the Convention Center were Joshua Macias, 42, and Antonio Lamotta, 61, both of Chesapeake, Virginia. Officers recovered “two loaded semi-automatic Beretta pistols, one semi-automatic AR-15 style rifle, and ammunition.”
At another Trump campaign press event in Las Vegas on Thursday, Ric Grenell, a veteran Republican operative who served as Trump’s acting director of national intelligence earlier this year and U.S. ambassador to Germany before that, railed against supposed fraud and then made way for Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union. When reporters asked Schlapp to say his name, Grenell scolded them. “Listen, you’re here to take in information, okay?” he said. “Do your job, it’s pretty easy.”
During a Trump campaign press conference on challenging the Nevada vote (with no evidence), Former Acting DNI Ric Grenell turns it over to Matt Schlapp, who refuses to identify himself to local media.#election2020 pic.twitter.com/TCbQHKawpS
— The Recount (@therecount) November 5, 2020
When Grenell then asked Jill Stokke, a woman who claimed that someone had stolen her absentee ballot, signed it and voted in her place, to step forward, he reiterated, “we won’t take any questions.” At first, the public relations strategy of getting Stokke’s claims broadcast on television without any scrutiny seemed to pay off, as her allegation was carried live by Fox News and shared online by the Trump campaign.
— Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) November 5, 2020
A short time later, however, after Grenell berated journalists who asked him to provide evidence of fraud, telling them to go find it for themselves, things began to go badly wrong.
A reporter asked the Clark County registrar of voters, Joe Gloria, about the woman’s claim at an actual news conference. “I personally dealt with Ms. Stokke,” Gloria said. “She brought her claim to me. We reviewed her ballot, and in our opinion, it is her signature,” he added. “We also gave her an opportunity to provide a statement, if she wanted to object to that, and provide a challenge to that. She refused to do so.” Stokke, officials believe, had cast her absentee ballot and then tried to vote a second time but was stopped from doing so.
Gloria also said that an investigator from the office of Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, had already interviewed Stokke, “and they had no issue with the assistance we tried to give her.”
Grenell’s unwillingness to provide any evidence for the claims of fraud in Nevada, a state where Biden has a small but growing lead, infuriated a Fox News reporter on the scene, Jonathan Hunt. “If somebody is making claims that will affect the democratic process of the presidential election, then we also are going to ask those people to provide evidence for those claims rather than just throwing theories out there,” Hunt said in a live report from Las Vegas on Thursday. “The Trump campaign declined, specifically, to give us any of that evidence today.”
Jonathan Hunt lays into Rick Grenell: "If somebody is making claims that will affect the democratic process of the presidential election, then we also are going to ask those people to provide evidence for those claims rather than just throwing theories out there." pic.twitter.com/rX2qVDlUdH
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) November 5, 2020
In what seemed like a sign that Fox is preparing its viewers for a Biden presidency, Neil Cavuto, the anchor Hunt reported back to in New York, agreed. “You have to prove what you’re saying, you have to have evidence of what you’re saying,” Cavuto said.
On Thursday afternoon, Grenell admitted to Lou Dobbs that the Trump campaign had delayed filing a lawsuit that cited Stokke’s story — as well as the claim that over 3,000 people who had moved out of state had voted illegally in Nevada — because he thought it was more important for him to go on Fox and describe the fraud claim to the network’s viewers.
Lou Dobbs berates Ric Grenell for not filing enough legal motions pic.twitter.com/A4nVCsxrcY
— Jason S. Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) November 5, 2020
The lawsuit was filed late Thursday, but Grenell choosing to go on Fox before appealing to a judge suggested to some observers that he might not have compelling evidence to back his claims. “Usually if you’ve got good claims, you go straight into court,” Joyce Vance, a former U.S. Attorney told MSNBC. “You don’t,” she added, “roam around announcing claims that can’t be backed up.”
When John Roberts of Fox News got a copy of the Trump campaign lawsuit filed in federal court, the election desk anchor Martha MacCallum initially referred to it as “really the first piece of any evidence that we know that the Trump lawyers have put forward.” She then looked at the document in front of her and noted that while “they say 3,062 voters who moved from Nevada before the election still cast ballots in the election, they do not attach those lists here.” In other words, the Trump campaign lawyers did not, in fact, make public any evidence at all.
2/ Fox anchor @marthamaccallum reports "the first piece of any evidence that we know that the Trump lawyers have put forward" regarding NV election fraud before revealing that her letter contains no *actual* evidence, and @johnrobertsFox has not seen a list of dead voters
— Bad Fox Graphics (@BadFoxGraphics) November 6, 2020
On Friday afternoon, The Nevada Independent reported, a federal judge denied the Trump campaign’s request to intervene in the Nevada count based on Stokke’s claim, ruling that “the plaintiffs have not come to the court at this point with sufficient legal showing and sufficient evidentiary basis.”
Nonetheless, the Trump campaign got the headline they wanted on Fox by also claiming in a letter sent to Attorney General Bill Barr Thursday night that 3,062 Nevada voters who had filed change-of-address forms before election day, suggesting that they had moved out of state, should be prosecuted.
The Nevada Independent, a non-profit news site founded by veteran political journalist Jon Ralston, also punched a huge hole in this fraud claim, reporting that, “At least 132 of the addresses were Army Post Office addresses, which are used by active service personnel” who retain the right to vote in Nevada while deployed out of state.
Amy Rose, a former legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada who is currently living in Davis, California, because her husband was deployed there by the Air Force, told The Independent that the couple both cast ballots in Nevada, as is their right under the federal Military Spouses Residency Relief Act. “It indicates such a fundamental misunderstanding of Nevada law, of federal law, of how voting works,” Rose told the site. “It’s just pretty outrageous to make these claims without understanding what this actually indicates.”
That the Trump campaign prioritized Grenell’s appearance on Fox over immediately filing the lawsuit (as Grenell admitted to Dobbs they had) suggests that they are seeking ways to air the allegations, and sow doubt about the results of the election, without facing real scrutiny of whatever evidence they actually have.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, lambasted the president and his campaign for this on Thursday. “We want every vote counted, yes every legal vote (of course),” Kinzinger wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s White House statement. “But, if you have legit concerns about fraud present EVIDENCE and take it to court. STOP Spreading debunked misinformation… This is getting insane.”
Updated: Friday, Nov. 6, 5:37 p.m. PDT
This article was updated with a new headline and more information on a federal court rulling in Nevada, and the arrest of two armed men in Philadelphia near the election center where votes are being counted.