Trump escalates ‘rigged system’ rhetoric amid Russia probe

President Donald Trump’s escalating assault on the “rigged” and “sick” institutions of the government that he leads may portend an ominous end game to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Trump’s blast at a campaign rally on Friday night followed a week of rising attacks on Mueller and the FBI from pro-Trump media outlets and personalities and prominent conservatives in Congress.

The President did not name Mueller at the boisterous event in Pensacola, Florida, avoiding specific attacks on the probe after a flurry of furious tweets last weekend may have deepened his political and legal exposure.

But he enriched his building narrative that unnamed forces within the US government were thwarting his administration, just days after unloading on the FBI on Twitter, when he said the bureau’s reputation was in “tatters.”

“This is a rigged system. This is a sick system from the inside. And, you know, there is no country like our country but we have a lot of sickness in some of our institutions,” Trump told the crowd in Florida.

Not the first time

It is not the first time that Trump has made such arguments — he complained against the “rigged” system during last year’s election in a gambit seen at the time as a face-saving hedge against a possible loss to Hillary Clinton.

But the context has changed. Trump is now the head of the government that he is accusing of conspiring against him politically. Therefore, his attacks against US government institutions, including the FBI, but which have also included the wider intelligence community and the judiciary are far more polarizing politically and risk causing long-term damage to already fragile trust in government.

They could even have constitutional implications since Trump is attacking the very system set up to constrain presidential power and to ensure integrity at the pinnacle of US government.

The timing of the assault is unlikely to be an accident.

The new intensity in attacks against Mueller and the FBI followed the plea deal reached by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn last week, that could see him testify against key figures in the President’s inner circle.

Trump responded to the rising threat by suggesting that there was something corrupt in a system that indicted Flynn but did not prosecute his former election rival over her email server.

“So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed, while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday ‘interrogation’ with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times…and nothing happens to her?” Trump tweeted. “Rigged system, or just a double standard?”

Trump’s return to the “rigged” system rhetoric reflects his consistent political strategy of seeking enemies against which to define himself. It also plays into the suspicions of his supporters by casting himself as a outsider innocent of wrongdoing who is being persecuted by an elite establishment which has gamed Washington power for itself.
But it also has serious implications for the Mueller probe.

It’s possible that the former FBI director concludes that there was no evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign during the election, and the President did not obstruct justice in the firing of his successor at the bureau James Comey.

But given the Flynn plea deal, it appears clear he has bigger targets than the former national security adviser in his sights.

In that light, attacks by Trump and the GOP on Mueller and the bureau could be an attempt to discredit any eventual conclusions that Mueller might deliver to Congress — be they favorable or unfavorable to the President.

The simultaneous political and media campaign against Mueller, meanwhile, is raising concerns that the President has embarked on an attempt to solidify his political base and frame a political rationale for supporters in Congress to oppose any eventual move toward impeachment. The idea would be that if the system of legal accountability represented by Mueller and the FBI is “rigged” and “sick,” it cannot be trusted to deliver a fair verdict on the President, a conceit that has staggering political implications.

[CNN]

Media

Watch at CNN.com

Trump reverts to campaign-trail name-calling in Twitter rant calling for probe of DNC

President Trump issued a flurry of tweets over a five-hour span Friday urging the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee over a joint fundraising agreement they signed in August 2015.

Trump’s accusations follow publication by Politico of an excerpt from former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s upcoming book. Brazile alleges she found “proof” that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged in Clinton’s favor.

Previous presidents have avoided even seeming to direct the Justice Department on whom to investigate — but not Trump.

Trump reverted to his campaign-trail name-calling of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), again referring to her as “Pocahontas.”

He also in one post called Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “Crazy Bernie.” Trump has described this kind of rhetoric as “modern day presidential.”

Trump’s epic Twitter rant took place in the hours and minutes before he was set to depart the South Lawn via Marine One for his Air Force One flight to Hawaii to kick off his 12-day swing through Asia.

Implicit in the messages was more criticism of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, though Trump did not mention the nation’s top prosecutor by name.

Asked later Friday if he would fire the attorney general if he doesn’t investigate Trump’s Democratic political rivals, the president said, “I don’t know.”

Two White House officials quickly cautioned against reading too much into Trump’s comments, reiterating that he has no plans to fire Sessions. And although the White House maintains that Trump’s tweets are “official record,” it says Trump has not ordered Sessions or the FBI to do anything related to Democrats.

The aides said the tweets were a media savvy way to deflect attention from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This week, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, were indicted on 12 counts, and former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying about his dealings with Russians who were offering “dirt” on Clinton.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump: Ayotte Would Have Won Senate Reelection If Not For Voter Fraud

President Trump has long claimed, without presenting any evidence, that he would have won the popular vote if it weren’t for widespread voter fraud. Now he’s using that same assertion to explain why former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s lost her seat in November, Politico reported Friday.

During a closed-door meeting with a group of senators from both parties on Thursday, Trump digressed from a planned discussion of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to talk about the elections, arguing that he and Ayotte both should have won the vote in New Hampshire, according to Politico.

According to Trump, Ayotte’s reelection bid was foiled by “thousands” of people from Massachusetts illegally casting ballots in the Granite State, meeting participants told Politico. One source said that the room fell silent after the remark.

Ayotte, who is currently serving as a “sherpa” liaison between the White House and senators for Gorsuch’s nomination, was at the meeting.

Though he has cited unsubstantiated voter fraud in the presidential race before, this is the first time he has mentioned it in connection with down-ballot contests.

Trump began making claims of voter fraud before the 2016 general elections but doubled down on the idea after his Electoral College win. He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots.

Trump revived the illegal-voting claims just days after he took the oath of office last month, allegedly saying in a meeting with congressional leaders that he lost the popular vote because “3 to 5 million ‘illegals’ ” cast ballots.

Later that week, he followed up on the claim, announcing in a string of tweets that he would launch a “major investigation” of voter fraud, including cases of individuals registered to vote in multiple states and deceased people who have not been taken off state voting rolls.

(h/t The Hill)

Trump Stands by Unsubstantiated Voter Fraud Claims: ‘It’s Really a Bad Situation’

President Trump in a new interview seemingly defends his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election, maintaining that illegal immigrants and “dead people” around the U.S. were registered to vote.

“Well, many people have come out and said I am right, you know that,” Trump told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly in an interview slated to air Sunday.

When O’Reilly notes that Trump needs data to back up his claim that three million undocumented immigrants voted in the election, Trump insisted “a bad situation” exists regarding voter fraud.

“Let me just tell you — when you see illegals, people that are not citizens and they are on registration rolls … look, Bill, we can be babies, but you take a look at the registration, you have illegals, you have dead people, you have this, it’s really a bad situation. It’s really bad.”

Trump threatened last month to launch “a major investigation” into voter fraud in order to “strengthen up voting procedures,” though the White House has since not provided details on such an effort.

“I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time),” Trump wrote last month.

“Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!” he added at the time.

(h/t The Hill)

Media

Trump Seeks ‘Major Investigation’ Into Unsupported Claims of Voter Fraud

President Trump plans to ask for a “major investigation” into allegations of widespread voter fraud as he continues to claim, without providing evidence, that he lost the popular vote in November’s election because millions of illegal votes were cast, according to tweets posted Wednesday.

The White House has yet to provide details, but Trump said in back-to-back tweets that the investigation into “VOTER FRAUD” — Trump used all capitals for emphasis — would cover “those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal” and “those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time).”

“Depending on results,” Trump tweeted, “we will strengthen up voting procedures!”

Trump did not indicate who would lead such an investigation or what ground it would cover. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether it would now launch an investigation.

Trump continues to face scrutiny, along with some mockery, for insisting during a private reception with congressional leaders Monday that there were between 3 million and 5 million ballots illegally cast in the election, allowing his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes, although she lost the electoral-college vote to Trump. The president and his aides have yet to provide any verifiable facts to back up his claim, and analyses of the election found virtually no confirmed cases of voter fraud, let alone millions.

Trump’s campaign attorneys fought recount attempts in several states by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and stated in a recent court filing, “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

A Trump adviser told The Washington Post on Wednesday that Trump has been stewing about his popular-vote count for weeks and insisting to friends that Clinton benefited from illegal votes in Democratic-leaning states such as California. He has mentioned to several of them his interest in launching an investigation into possible voter fraud, said the adviser, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The adviser went on to frame Wednesday’s tweets as a deeply personal move by Trump reflective of his thinking on the election and did not have details on whether congressional leaders had been briefed on Trump’s desire to have an investigation, although the adviser said Trump did tell them Monday about his broader concerns regarding the election count during a reception at the White House.

Trump also tweeted that he will make his pick to fill the Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court on Feb. 2. Scalia died last February.

Lawmakers from both parties have declined to embrace Trump’s version of the election. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that he has “seen no evidence to that effect.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference Wednesday that she cannot understand why the newly installed president is “so insecure.”

“To suggest and to undermine the integrity of our voter system is really strange,” Pelosi said. “. . . On top of it, he wants to investigate something that can clearly be proven to be false, but he resists investigations of a Russian disruption of our investigation and any connection to his campaign. All we want is the truth for the American people.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he believes the “prime jurisdiction” to investigate alleged voter fraud is at the local and county levels. But he said there is a “federal function” since states set voting laws and certify the tallies.

“I don’t see the evidence [of fraud],” Chaffetz added. “But he’s the president and if he thinks it’s there, have at it.”

The National Association of Secretaries of State, which represents many of the country’s state elections officials, said in a statement Tuesday: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.”

Given that studies have shown that cases of in-person voter fraud are exceptionally rare, voting rights activists and others are worried that Trump’s unfounded comments could lead to more voter-identification laws that they say disenfranchise poor or minority voters, such as the one in North Carolina that the Supreme Court declined to reinstate last summer.

Three congressional Democratic — Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania and James E. Clyburn of South Carolina — say they are sending letters to 102 chief election officials and attorneys general in all 50 states and the District to request all cases of voters who tried to cast a ballot in the November election and were barred from doing so.

“Republicans in statehouses across America have passed restrictive laws that impair the ability of legitimate voters to participate, and they use the myth of voter fraud to justify their abuses,” Cummings said in a statement.

At the Tuesday briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended Trump’s “long-standing belief” that large-scale voter fraud occurred and pointed to a study that did not contain the conclusion he said it did. Spicer said there were no plans for an investigation but left the option open.

“Maybe we will,” Spicer said. “We’ll see where we go from here, but right now the focus of the president has is on putting Americans back to work.”

When pressed again by reports on the possibility of an investigation, Spicer seemed to play down the prospect, saying “anything is possible.”

Such an investigation could be led by the president’s attorney general. Trump’s pick for the position, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), has asserted in the past that voter fraud exists, but he has distanced himself from Trump’s claim of millions of fraudulent votes.

“I don’t know what the president-elect meant or was thinking when he made that comment or what facts he may have had to justify his statement,” Sessions said at his confirmation hearing this month. “I would just say that every election needs to be managed closely, and we need to ensure that there is integrity in it. And I do believe we regularly have fraudulent activities occur during election cycles.”

Sessions, who has yet to be confirmed, said he had not talked to Trump “about that in any depth or particularly since the election.” A spokeswoman for Sessions declined to comment beyond what the senator said at his confirmation hearing and referred questions about the investigation to the White House. Sessions has been questioned on his handling of a voter fraud case brought against black civil rights activists in Alabama in the 1980s, when he was a U.S. attorney.

The Justice Department can establish jurisdiction when a federal candidate’s name is on the ballot, though it is significantly harder when one is not. Although state law generally governs voter registration and other election-related matters such as the method of casting ballots, federal authorities are often seen as preferable to lead investigations into claims of irregularities. That is because federal authorities have more resources and are detached from local political interests and because their juries are generally drawn from a broader geographic area.

The Justice Department, though, looks at cases with an eye on whether they can be prosecuted — and does not intervene to attempt to improve voting systems. The investigation contemplated in the president’s tweet might be more akin to a study that broadly assesses the problem, or non-problem, of voter fraud, and how state and local systems might prevent it.

(h/t Washington Post)

Reality

His alternative fact originated from a flawed survey on the conspiracy theory website InfoWars, which Trump is known to read.

Without Evidence, Trump Tells Lawmakers 3 Million to 5 million Illegal Ballots Cost Him the Popular Vote

Days after being sworn in, President Trump insisted to congressional leaders invited to a reception at the White House that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for millions of illegal votes, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Trump has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that widespread voter fraud caused him to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, even while he clinched the presidency with an electoral college victory.

Two people familiar with the meeting said Trump spent about 10 minutes at the start of the bipartisan gathering rehashing the campaign. He also told them that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote.

The discussion about Trump’s election victory and his claim that he would have won the popular vote was confirmed by a third person familiar with the meeting.

The claim is not supported by any verifiable facts, and analyses of the election found virtually no confirmed cases of voter fraud, let alone millions.

Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. Trump won 304 electoral college votes to Clinton’s 227.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) alluded to Trump’s comments as he returned to the Capitol from the meeting Monday night.

“We talked about different electoral college, popular votes, going through the different ones,” McCarthy said. “Well, we talked about going back through past elections. Everyone in there goes through elections and stuff, so everybody’s giving their different histories of different parts.”

Asked by reporters after the meeting if Trump made any surprising statements at the gathering, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) replied, “Well, I won’t even go into that.”

(h/t Washington Post)

Media

Trump Tweets New Voter Fraud Claims, Blasts CNN, But Offers No Evidence

Donald Trump lashed out on Twitter Monday night and into early Tuesday morning over a CNN report refuting his unsubstantiated claims of mass voter fraud on Election Day.

The report by CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, airing on “Anderson Cooper 360” earlier Monday, dismissed Trump’s assertion that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” as “blatant and baseless” and accused Trump of acting as a “sore winner.” Zeleny also highlighted that the president-elect had yet to provide any “hard evidence” to back up his “staggering claims of fraud.”

In response, Trump fired off a series of tweets aimed at CNN and Zeleny, some original and some retweets of his online supporters, including one user who apparently is a teenager.

“CNN is so embarrassed by their total (100%) support of Hillary Clinton, and yet her loss in a landslide, that they don’t know what to do,” the president-elect said.

Quoting a tweet directed at Zeleny that panned him as “just another generic CNN part time wannabe journalist,” Trump added: “CNN still doesn’t get it. They will never learn!”

In another quoted tweet, Trump cited a 16-year-old Twitter user who cast Zeleny as a “bad reporter.”

Zeleny replied: “Good evening! Have been looking for examples of voter fraud. Please send our way. Full-time journalist here still working.”

Trump continued his criticism into Tuesday morning, tweeting at 6:34 a.m.: “I thought that @CNN would get better after they failed so badly in their support of Hillary Clinton however, since election, they are worse!”

Trump’s Sunday claim of mass voter fraud in California, Virginia and New Hampshire was rebuffed by officials in all three states Monday.

“We have heard claims like this in the past, relative to our elections, but we have been provided no evidence that suggests that there is voter fraud on a widespread scale in New Hampshire,” David Scanlan, New Hampshire’s deputy secretary of state, told POLITICO in a phone interview Monday.

(h/t Politico)

Trump: ‘I Won the Popular Vote If You Deduct’ Illegal Votes

Twitter

President-elect Donald Trump declared Sunday he would have won the popular vote if “illegal” votes were discounted.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president-elect also tweeted that he would have won more easily if he had based his campaign strategy on winning the popular vote, instead of visiting states with a larger number of Electoral College votes.

Trump’s second series of tweets Sunday comes as Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign has said it will file for a recount in Michigan, and Pennsylvania, after making an effort in Wisconsin official. All three states are traditionally blue states that Trump won in the presidential election.

Earlier on Sunday, Trump predicted that the recount effort in three states will not change the results of the election.

“Hillary Clinton conceded the election when she called me just prior to the victory speech and after the results were in. Nothing will change,” he tweeted.

Clinton’s campaign is participating in the Wisconsin recount, which is already set to begin this week.

Clinton is currently leading Trump by more than 2 million in the popular vote. Politicians, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have called for an examination of using the Electoral College to decide who wins the presidency, rather than the popular vote.

Trump warned during his campaign that the election could be rigged, though election officials scoffed at the claims, noting the country’s use of a decentralized system in which ballots are counted by thousands of Democratic and Republican officials across the country.

The group of election lawyers and computer scientists pushing the recount effort says election results in the three states could have been manipulated or hacked.

However, there is no evidence of millions of people voting illegally, as Trump suggested on Twitter.

(h/t The Hill)

Reality

No one candidate has done so much damage to the integrity of the democratic process as Donald Trump, constantly putting into question a fair and valid election, often calling it “rigged.”

Yet he is not above calling a recount of voting in several states a “scam.”

A Distraction From

Trump Questions Veracity of Ballot Counting in Colorado

Donald J. Trump has found a new reason to question the legitimacy of the 2016 election — ballots — and he wasted little time here on Saturday before taking issue with the voting system in this largely vote-by-mail state.

“I have real problems with ballots being sent,” Mr. Trump said, pantomiming a ballot collector sifting envelops and tossing some over his shoulder while counting others.

“If you don’t have a ballot, they give you another one and they void your one at home,” he told the crowd at an afternoon rally. “And then, of course, the other side would send that one in too, but, you know, we don’t do that stuff. We don’t do that stuff.”

Mr. Trump’s repetitive accusations of a “rigged” election and a slanted electoral system are grounded in the belief that fraudulent behavior would only help his opponent.

Yet it was a Trump supporter in Des Moines who was charged on Thursday with a Class D felony in Iowa, having sent in two absentee ballots, both supporting Mr. Trump.

The voter, Terri Rote, told Iowa Public Radio that she had not planned to send in two ballots, but made a “spur of the moment” decision.

“The polls are rigged,” she added, repeating a line often said by Mr. Trump.

The Polk County attorney, John P. Sarcone, told Iowa Public Radio that it was one of the very few instances of voter fraud that he had come across in his more than three decades of service. And nationally, voter fraud is rare, despite Mr. Trump’s insistence.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump seemed undeterred in his wariness of the security of ballots, despite the same process having been in place when Cory Gardner, a Republican, defeated the incumbent Democratic senator, Mark Udall, in 2014. Mr. Trump closed his rally by encouraging his supporters to “follow their ballots” to make sure they are registered and counted.

“You can follow your ballot, make sure that ballot is registered, make sure that ballot is counted,” he said, later adding, “So follow your ballot, and if you do I, really think were gonna win Colorado and maybe win it big.”

The most recent polling out of Colorado, a Quinnipiac poll from two weeks ago, found Mrs. Clinton had a lead of eight points in the state.

(h/t New York Times)

A Single Facebook Post is All the Proof Trump Needs For Widespread Voter Fraud


A single social media post about ballot confusion in Texas has Donald Trump stoking claims of electoral corruption, but local officials say there’s not foundation for concern as it was just human error.

Some voters in Texas, which began its early voting period this week, have experienced problems casting their ballots. A Randall County voter recalled her own mishap in a Facebook post on Monday, saying that she tried to cast a straight Republican ballot — including a vote for Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence — but wound up inadvertently selecting the Democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

As of Thursday morning, the woman’s post has been shared nearly 10,000 times and has generated hundreds of comments.

The Republican presidential nominee took to Twitter to suggest Thursday there have been widespread cases of “vote flipping,” the act of casting a vote for one candidate only to see it awarded to the opponent instead.

“A lot of call-ins about vote flipping at the voting booths in Texas,” Trump tweeted. “People are not happy. BIG lines. What is going on?”

A Trump campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. Trump’s tweet was a continuation of his oft-invoked claims of a “rigged” election, which has emerged as his central campaign message amid eroding poll numbers.

But Shannon Lackey, the elections administrator at Randall County, said there’s no reason for concern.

“Absolutely not … It is not happening in any way, shape or form,” Lackey told CNN on Thursday. “I stand 100% behind what I do. I stand behind my machines, my staff.”

The ballot complaints have surfaced elsewhere in Texas. Another woman said Monday on Facebook that a family member in Arlington, Texas, had her Republican vote changed to Clinton, a post that has been shared more than 200,000 times.

Potter County, which borders Randall County, has encountered similar problems. In each case, officials have attributed the problems to human error.

“There is nothing wrong with any of the machines we use for voting,” Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner said in a statement this week. “They do not flip your vote. They do not flip parties. Humans do that.”

Frank Phillips, the elections administrator in Arlington’s Tarrant County, said that his investigation “indicated that the voter did not follow the directions for straight-party voting.”

Randall County uses the Hart Intercivic eSlate for its elections, an electronic system that allows voters to turn a wheel and push a button to indicate preferences, and Lackey said those machines “work exactly as intended.”

Moreover, voters are dealt a summary screen at the end of each ballot, which allows them to confirm their choices before casting.

Lackey said she is confronted with such confusion most election cycles, and this year has been no exception. Her personal hypothesis is that voters, so accustomed to touch screens in their everyday lives, hit the machine’s button after indicating their choices, inadvertently “deselecting” their preferred vote.

Lackey also pointed out that the Randall County woman behind the viral Facebook post never alleged corruption, and she made it clear that she was able to correct her vote before officially casting the ballot.

“She didn’t use ‘flipping’ or anything like that in her original post,” Lackey said. “I believe that her intention in putting this on Facebook was to say, ‘Hey everyone, pay attention.'”

(h/t CNN)

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