The Danger of Trump’s Bogus “Summary of Election Fraud”
The former president is taking lying about the 2020 election to a whole new level.
IN A RAMBLING VIDEO POSTED LATE LAST NIGHT, Donald Trump said that he found “tremendous amounts of voter fraud in the 2020 election. We have volumes of information. It’s all there.”
Hardly “volumes” and hardly “information,” it turns out.
When I heard last week that Trump had ushered in the new year by releasing a 32-page report titled “Summary of Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election in the Swing States,” I thought it might be something that I could make fun of. It seemed ripe with comic potential. Here are the report’s opening lines: “It has often been repeated there is ‘no evidence’ of fraud in the 2020 Election. In actuality, there is no evidence Joe Biden won.”
But as I read deeper into the report, I had a different reaction. Far from being a laughing matter, this is perhaps the most diabolical document that I have ever seen. It is breathtaking in its denialism, fervent in its commitment to the Big Lie, and masterfully alchemistic in its attempt to turn accusation into evidence. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, which he insistently repeats at every opportunity, have never been more compellingly rendered. It’s so slick that you don’t have to be stupid to be taken in, although it helps.
Trump’s decision to release this report in the thick of his multiple legal battles reminds me in its recklessness of the apocryphal conundrum of the Manhattan Project scientists in the film Oppenheimer: They acknowledged the theoretical possibility that an atomic bomb test might set off a chain reaction that would destroy the entire planet and then did it anyway.
“Summary of Election Fraud” is, in Trump’s hands, a tactical nuclear weapon meant to destroy one true statement—that Trump lost the 2020 election. But its detonation could create a chain reaction that also destroys whatever remains of his most devoted followers’ ability to perceive reality.
He is doubling down on his already surpassing dishonesty. Indeed, the report is one of many recent examples of Trump taking his lying to new levels, as difficult as it might be to believe he still had room to grow in that area. Much of his new material is predicated on the age-old rejoinder, “I know you are but what am I?” In recent weeks, when he’s not channeling Adolf Hitler, the former president has taken to calling Joe Biden, of all people, “the destroyer of American democracy” and “the most corrupt president we’ve ever had.”
Trump has also accused Biden of “weaponizing government against his political opponents like a Third World political tyrant,” while at the same time promising that, on Trump’s return to the White House, he will prosecute Biden and exact retribution against his enemies, which will include locking them up.
Subtlety is not in Trump’s playbook.
THE “SUMMARY OF ELECTION FRAUD” is unsigned and undated. It catalogues the various reasons to doubt the 2020 electoral results in five pivotal states—Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Michigan.
According to the report, these states “created an irredeemably compromised Election, filled with violations of the Constitution, unlawful ballots, widespread broken chain of custody, electronic manipulation, and missing and corrupted election files that made it uncertifiable—and impossible to recreate the results.” It contends that Trump “was right to voice his objections to what had unfolded before the country’s eyes.”
Everything is laid out, detail by detail; the various claims are assiduously footnoted. The report uses lots of numbers. It includes dozens of statements alleging vote counting errors and irregularities. But, in many cases, the cited sources for this information are complaints filed with election agencies by Trump supporters. Trying to match them with reality is an impossible task.
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For instance, the writeup for Georgia says that, in Fulton County, “seals were broken and memory cards removed” from vote tabulators for more than 300,000 votes. The footnoted source for this is a complaint filed in March 2022 with the Georgia State Elections Board by two individuals who identify themselves as “part of a group who have been researching the 2020 General Election.”
Last month, Georgia officials asked the FBI to investigate one of the complainants, Kevin Moncla of Texas, for sending belligerent emails to members of Georgia’s elections board. Here’s part: “There will be no more excuses. I am putting you on notice that I will be holding you accountable. . . . you are attorneys. I imagine that some of you would like to continue to be.” Multiple reviews in Georgia, including a statewide hand recount and comprehensive audit, found no evidence of significant fraud.
For my home state of Wisconsin, the report never comes close to disproving the election outcome, which has withstood a fusillade of tests and challenges, including, to quote the Associated Press, “two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a conservative law firm’s review, numerous state and federal lawsuits and even a Republican-ordered investigation by a former state Supreme Court justice.” The summary report incorrectly identifies Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, as a “Wisconsin Election Commissioner” and misrenders the entity’s name six out of seven times as “Wisconsin Election Commission.” It gleefully quotes from an opinion written by Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley that, on behalf of court conservatives, disallowed the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. And it repeats false claims made by that former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, who was hired at Trump’s behest to seek out evidence of fraud.
For instance, the report states that Gableman “found nursing homes in Milwaukee, Dane, and Racine counties with 100 percent turnout.” And in fact, Gabelman’s Second Interim Investigative Report did claim that a large number of nursing homes had 100 percent turnout, including all thirty of the nursing homes “vettted” [sic] in Milwaukee County. The only problem is that it isn’t true; a review by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found just one nursing home in the state with that level of participation. Further, while nursing home voting rates in the county were high, that isn’t at all unusual; in fact, a smaller number of Milwaukee County nursing home residents voted in 2020 than in 2016.
I asked Jeff Mandell, a Madison attorney involved with efforts to protect democracy in Wisconsin, about the report. He called the section on Wisconsin
nothing more than warmed-over regurgitation of previously discredited or inaccurate assertions. Notably, while claiming to be an accurate statement of Wisconsin law, it repeatedly mistitles WEC, Meagan Wolfe, and others. It relies on discredited sources (like True the Vote and the Gableman report), gets chronology and dates wrong, and generally misconstrues both Wisconsin law and fact.
All true. But will the report nonetheless have its intended effect of cementing a false belief in the minds of Trump’s faithful that elections he fails to win are rigged? Of course it will.
This is Trump’s story and he’s sticking to it. The election was rigged, and it is not just his right but his duty to speak out about it. This is a key component of his defense in two of his four pending criminal prosecutions: the one in Georgia over his efforts to unlawfully undo his election loss in that state, and the one brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith for conspiring to subvert the overall election result.
Amazingly, Trump’s lawyers in the latter prosecution cited and linked to the “Summary of Election Fraud” on the day it was released in their brief arguing that the former president is immune from prosecution for any crimes he may have committed.
Bulwark contributor Kim Wehle argued last week that the lawyers who submitted this brief ought to be sanctioned for its many lies, including repeated references to election fraud and irregularities that have been “painstakingly and repeatedly debunked.” She said these lawyers, including John Lauro and Todd Blanche, are on “especially thin ice” in citing the anonymously authored summary report, which “rehashes many of the falsehoods that have been repeatedly disproved over the last three years.” The brief calls the government’s contention that Trump has made “knowingly false” allegations of election fraud to itself be “utterly false.” (It also raps the government for “wrongfully suggest[ing] that President Trump is responsible for the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.”)
“President Trump was carrying out his duties as Chief Executive to investigate the overwhelming reports of widespread election fraud,” the lawyers write. “Nevertheless, absolute immunity would apply even if the challenged statements were allegedly false and ‘actuated by malice on the part of the [speaker],’ which they are not in this case.”
Got that? Trump’s defense against the charge that he tried to overturn what he knew was an accurate election result is that he knew no such thing, because the election was rife with fraud. Oh, and, even if what he said about the election was knowingly false, that would be okay, too.
It’s a stunning assertion, one that recalls Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s deranged insistence, after being hit with a $148 million judgment for shamelessly slandering two Georgia election workers, that “everything I said about them is true.”
And yet, there is little reason to doubt that all of this purposeful mendacity is having its intended effect. A Washington Post/University of Maryland poll released last week found that less than a third of Republicans (31 percent) believe Biden was legitimately elected, down from 39 percent two years ago. (The same poll also found that one out of three Republicans believe the January 6th Capitol attack was instigated by the FBI.)
This distrust is already certain to extend into future elections. A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that more than half (52 percent) of Trump’s supporters reported having no confidence that the results in the 2024 election will be accurately counted and reported.
This is the triumph of Trump’s will. And it is occurring even before we enter an election season in which new, rapidly advancing technologies like artificial intelligence will deliver unprecedented power to promulgate falsehoods. “I expect a tsunami of misinformation,” Oren Etzioni, an AI expert and professor emeritus at the University of Washington, told the Associated Press. “You could see a candidate saying things that he or she never actually said. You could see a run on the banks. You could see bombings and violence that never occurred.” Great.
On the same day that Trump released his “Summary,” USA Today published an op-ed by Ken Block, a voter data expert hired by the Trump campaign to review the 2020 election result, an exercise he says turned up “no evidence of large-scale voter fraud.” Appalled at the proliferation of false claims, Block decided to come forward to help set things straight. But he seems to acknowledge the difficulty of that task, posing the question, “Can a steady diet of lies and innuendo overcome the truth?”
The answer, most certainly, is yes.