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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Officers had received a tip that three people armed with AR-15 rifles 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, emblazoned with decals associated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy movement, parked near the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where ballot counting was underway, and detained two men and were searching for a third suspect.
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
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.”
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.”
A reporter later 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.”
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.
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.”
The Trump campaign also claimed 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.
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.”