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Analysis: Fact-checking the craziest news conference of the Trump presidency

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 19, 2020

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks Thursday during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C.  (Associated Press)
Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks Thursday during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Associated Press)
By Glenn Kessler Washington Post

”What we are really dealing with here and uncovering more by the day is the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China and the interference with our elections here in the United States.”

-Sidney Powell, attorney for Trump campaign, Nov. 19

This is just a snippet of a truly bonkers presentation made by attorneys for the Trump campaign alleging massive fraud in the U.S. voting system.

Powell described a convoluted scheme under which an “algorithm” manipulated by Democrats switched votes from President Donald Trump to Joe Biden. But she claimed it broke down because support was so strong for Trump, so Democrats were forced to use a “back door” method to manipulate the vote with mail-in ballots slipped in during the dark of night.

If this sounds crazy, that’s because it is.

There is no evidence to support any of these conspiracy theories. It would require election workers across many states to be engaged in a massive fraud scheme that won Biden the presidency nevertheless failed to flip the Senate and lost the Democrats seats in the House.

Meanwhile, her colleague, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, made a series of other allegations Thursday – his second news conference in which he claimed widespread voter fraud in less than two weeks – that have largely been rejected by judges when presented with the supposed evidence. There’s no law against lying to the news media, of course. But in court, Trump’s lawyers have been more circumspect, saying they were not alleging fraud or a stolen election.

Here’s a guide to some of the key claims made at the news conference, mostly in the order in which they were presented:

“I can prove to you that he (Trump) won Pennsylvania by 300,000 votes. I can prove to you that he won Michigan by probably 50,000 votes. When I went to bed on election night, he was ahead in all those states, every single one of those states.”

- Giuliani

Trump’s lead disappeared because absentee and early votes largely could not be counted until election night because of rules set by the GOP-controlled legislatures in those states. So in-person votes, which leaned Republican, were reported first. Just in Pennsylvania, more than 1.4 million votes still needed to be counted after midnight. Because these votes were overwhelmingly for Biden, Trump’s lead was wiped out as the hours ticked by.

The opposite nearly happened in Arizona. On election night, Biden had a lead of more than 130,000 votes, with 750,000 to be counted. But in this case, the remaining votes leaned Republican, so by the time all of the votes were counted, Biden’s lead had fallen to just 10,000.

But Giuliani is arguing all of those mail-in ballots should be tossed out in Pennsylvania and Michigan, giving the victory to Trump.

“Joe Biden told us a few days before the election that he had the best voter fraud team in the world.”

- Giuliani

This is false. Giuliani is referring to a bit of manipulated video that originally started with a tweet from a Republican National Committee official and then was quickly spread by Eric Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and others. It was blocked on Facebook, and Twitter also labeled it as misleading.

Biden actually was talking about his campaign’s effort to combat voter intimidation, not an organization to commit voter fraud. In a section of the interview clipped by the RNC, but removed, Biden even referred specifically to the campaign organization: “We have over a thousand lawyers, over a thousand of them, they’ll answer the phone, if you think there’s any challenge to your voting.”

“They made significant mistakes, like all crooks do. And we caught them. One of them was pushing out Republican inspectors.”

- Giuliani

Judges in Pennsylvania and Michigan have rejected this claim. Trump’s own lawyers have attested in court that his campaign was granted access and observed the process, both in Philadelphia and in other cities, and has found no evidence of fraud.

“The recount being done in Georgia will tell us nothing because these fraudulent ballots will just be counted again because they wouldn’t supply the signatures to match the ballots.”

- Giuliani

False. The signatures were already looked at – and verified – when the ballots were originally counted.

Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, rebutted this claim on Facebook when Trump first raised it in a tweet: “Let’s address this disinformation about signature match. We strengthened signature match. We helped train election officials on GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) signature match – which is confirmed twice before a ballot is ever cast.” (The signature is checked when a person requests an absentee ballot and then again when the ballot is returned.)

“We have 17,000 provisional ballots cast in Pittsburgh.”

- Giuliani

In the news conference, Giuliani suggested these were mostly cases when Democrats had already cast fraudulent ballots on behalf of someone who unexpectedly turned up to vote. But there is no evidence that is the case; instead, there were a variety of issues, such as a missing signature on a form, that cause a provision ballot to be used.

“She (Jesse Jacob) was assigned to voting duties in September and she was trained by the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. She’s basically trained to cheat.”

- Giuliani

A Michigan judge on Nov. 13 already found Jacob’s presentation was unpersuasive.

“The allegations made by Ms. Jacob are serious. In the affidavit however, Ms. Jacob does not name the location of the satellite office, the September or October date these acts of fraud took place, nor does she state the number of occasions she witnessed the alleged misconduct. Ms. Jacob in her affidavit fails to name the city employees responsible for the voter fraud and never told a supervisor about the misconduct,” wrote Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny. “Ms. Jacob’s information is generalized. It asserts behavior with no date, location, frequency, or names of employees. In addition, Ms. [Jacob] offers no indication of whether she took steps to address the alleged misconduct or to alert any supervisor about the alleged voter fraud. Ms. Jacob only came forward after the unofficial results of the voting indicated former Vice President Biden was the winner in the state of Michigan.”

“They swear to you that at 4:30 in the morning, a truck pulled up to the Detroit center where they were kept counting ballots. The people thought it was food, so they all ran to the truck. (It) wasn’t food. It was thousands and thousands of ballots.”

- Giuliani

This claim largely stems from a single affidavit that was filed by an alleged witness, Melissa Carone, a contract IT worker for Dominion. But Carone, who made a number of voter-fraud claims, does not even leap to the conclusions that Giuliani makes.

In her affidavit, Carone simply says that food was brought in on two vans, but “I never saw any food coming out of the vans, coincidentally it was announced on the news that Michigan had found over 100,000 more ballots – not even two hours after the last van left.” Kenny also concluded that Carone’s “allegations are simply not credible.”

The Michigan Court of Appeals panel Monday denied an appeal of a Kenny’s decision. Two of the three judges on the panel were appointed by Republican governors.

“A case that we dismissed today because that case was attempting to get the Wayne County Board of Supervisors to decertify. Well, they did. They decertified.”

- Giuliani

The Wayne County board initially split 2-2 on Tuesday, but after an uproar then certified the vote 4-0. The next day, the two Republicans on the board said they wanted to rescind their votes, which the Michigan Secretary of State’s office says is not possible. The statewide board must still certify the statewide total.

“The Dominion voting systems, the Smartmatic technology software and the software that goes in other computerized coding systems here as well, not just Dominion, (were) created in Venezuela at the direction of (former president) Hugo Chavez.”

- Powell

Chavez has been dead for seven years but he’s influencing the U.S. election from his grave? Seriously, the Trump lawyers are offering up a stew of misinformation derived mostly from Internet rumors and right-wing blogs.

Dominion Voting Systems, which makes software that local governments use to help run their elections, is a Canadian company that effectively has its headquarters in Denver.

The company says it is nonpartisan. “Dominion has no company ownership relationships with any member of the Pelosi family, the Feinstein family, or the Clinton Global Initiative, Smartmatic, Scytl, or any ties to Venezuela,” the company says on a Web page debunking election rumors. “Dominion works with all political parties; our customer base and our government outreach practices reflect this nonpartisan approach.”

The company operates in 28 states, including Florida and Ohio, two states that Trump easily won. But the contracts are often with individual counties. For instance, Dominion software was used in only two of the five counties that had problems in Michigan and Georgia – and the problems in Michigan were due to human error, according to a detailed account posted by the Michigan secretary of state’s office. (The Trump campaign has requested a recount in Wisconsin, but strangely not in counties that used Dominion systems.)

Smartmatic, on its own fact check page, also says this is crazy. Smartmatic, an election technology company, was founded and incorporated in the United States in 2000, inspired by the hanging-chad debate in the 2000 election. It is now headquartered in London.

“Two of the founders, Antonio Mugica and Roger Piñate, continue to run the company as CEO and President, respectively,” the company says. “The majority of shares (83%) are held by SGO, a company owned by the Mugica and Piñate families. The remaining shares are held by employees (10%) and angel investors (7%).”

“Smartmatic’s software is not licensed or otherwise used by other companies,” the company says.

There is a long-ago corporate connection to Venezuela, according to news accounts in 2006. Smartmatic replaced Venezuela’s election machinery before a referendum that confirmed Chávez as president in August 2004, and the Venezuelan government made a $200,000 loan to another technology company owned by some of the same people as Smartmatic. With the money from its contracts with Venezuela, Smartmatic in 2005 bought Sequoia Voting Systems, which had contracts in 17 states. But it sold Sequoia in 2007 after an investigation was launched by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States into the company’s possible Venezuela ties. (Dominion eventually purchased assets of Sequoia in 2010, a company spokesperson said.)

In 2017, Smartmatic reported that the Venezuelan government had announced a false turnout figure for a contested election, adding at least 1 million votes to the number. The company said the absence of election monitors from the opposition – which boycotted the election – allowed for the manipulation of turnout figures. The Venezuelan government, which needed a large turnout figure to lend legitimacy to the election, denied the numbers had been manipulated. The company stopped its work in Venezuela in 2018.

“Our votes are counted in Germany and in Spain by a company owned by affiliates of Chavez and (current president Nicolas) Maduro. Did you ever believe that was true?”

- Giuliani

It’s not true. Votes in U.S. elections are not counted in Germany and Spain.

“You couldn’t possibly believe that the company counting our vote with control over our vote is owned by two Venezuelans who were allies of Chavez, our president, allies of Maduro, with a company whose chairman is a close associate and business partner of George Soros, the biggest donor to the Democrat Party, the biggest donor to Antifa and the biggest donor to Black Lives Matter.”

- Giuliani

More baseless insinuations. Mark Malloch-Brown is chairman of SGO Corp., the parent company of Smartmatic. Malloch-Brown is also on the board of Soros’s Open Society Foundations, which makes grants to civil society groups such as Black Lives Matter. George Soros is a billionaire backer of liberal causes, but otherwise has no connection to Smartmatic. (Antifa, short for “anti-fascist,” is not an official organization and thus would not receive donations.)

“China also has a substantial presence in Venezuela and substantial interest in making sure that President Trump does not continue in office.”

- Powell

This is how Powell slips in a Chinese connection but it’s ridiculously weak, especially given the non-existent connection between Venezuela and Dominion.

“That is true. (Reports that a server was seized in Germany.) It is somehow related to this, but I do not know whether good guys got (it) or bad guys got it.”

- Powell

Here, the Trump lawyers embrace an especially ridiculous claim, already debunked in numerous fact checks and flagged by Facebook as false. But it demonstrates how many of their claims are derived from blog posts or Internet posts – and how the Trump team is grasping at straws.

The story was that U.S. army raided the Spanish election software company Scytl in Germany and seized its servers for evidence of manipulation in the 2020 U.S. elections. But Scytl denounced it as “fake news,” noting it has no offices in Germany. The Army denied it too. The story was elevated after Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., said that he was told there was “a tweet in German from Germany that the U.S. Army had gone in and seized the (Scytl) server,” and then Trump’s new favorite network, One American News, aired a report on the claim, claiming that the server would show that Trump actually won 410 electoral college votes, including turning California red.

The federal Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council said in a joint statement that there is “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Chris Krebs, who headed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency before being fired this week by Trump, tweeted after the news conference: “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky.”

“President Trump won by a landslide.”

- Powell

False. Trump lost the electoral college vote, 306-232. That’s exactly his margin in his 2016 race against Hillary Clinton – which he constantly called a landslide. Biden has also received more than 6 million more votes.

This is one of those days when we wished we had more than Four Pinocchios.

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