The Amazingly Bad Voter-Fraud Theories Behind Trump's DOJ Scheme

Aaron Blake / The Washington Post
The Amazingly Bad Voter-Fraud Theories Behind Trump's DOJ Scheme Donald Trump. (photo: Getty Images)

As former president Donald Trump endorsed his reelection bid this weekend, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) pressed forward with his remarkable turnabout on Trump’s actions vis-a-vis Jan. 6. While Grassley sharply criticized Trump’s voter-fraud rhetoric shortly after Jan. 6, he is now defending Trump’s efforts to get the Justice Department to help overturn the election.

“That was the advice that one person in the Justice Department was suggesting — but just one person. And [Trump] rejected all that,” Grassley told Newsmax of Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark’s gambit to get state legislatures to designate new electors. “And they’re trying to make it a scenario [where] he was trying to get the Justice Department” to get alternate electors.

We’ve already laid out the huge problems with this defense — most notable among them being the implication that Trump backed off the scheme for moral reasons. (The reasons were clear: It wasn’t going to work.)

But another aspect of this hasn’t been explored enough. And that’s this: the sheer desperation and ridiculousness of what undergirded this entire effort.

An interim Senate Judiciary Committee report released Thursday showed this effort revolved around some of the most specious conspiracy theories at the Trump team’s disposal — theories that in several cases had already been debunked and in every case didn’t pass the smell test.

On Dec. 27, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) contacted acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue at Trump’s behest. Perry proceeded to share a few theories with Donoghue, including that there were 205,000 more votes than voters in Pennsylvania and that more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians voted twice.

The same day, Trump called acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen and offered both the former theory — about more votes than voters in Pennsylvania — and a theory that video from State Farm Arena in Atlanta “shows fraud” by election workers who counted ballots hidden under a table multiple times.

The theory about State Farm Arena had already been debunked extensively weeks earlier (indeed it was one of the most talked-about and debunked theories). The 4,000 voters-voting-twice theory came from matching first names, last names and dates of birth in voting records, but this too had been debunked as a fraud-finding method in the weeks prior.

As for the idea that there were more votes than voters (here’s what Perry sent Donoghue)? This was also pretty easily explained — and was just as quickly debunked. While there were nearly 7 million votes cast, a system used by the Pennsylvania secretary of state, called the Statewide Uniform of Registered Electors (SURE), recorded only 6.8 million voters at the time. The reason: The SURE data lagged, because it involved manually entering records about people’s voter histories.

The gap was due to incomplete data in multiple counties, but mostly in Pittsburgh-based Allegheny County, which accounted for 120,000 votes of the approximately 200,000-vote gap. How do you know the data was, in fact, incomplete? Because at the time, it would have meant the turnout rate in Allegheny County was less than 64 percent of registered voters, while statewide it was 76 percent. That doesn’t make any sense.

What’s more, it was clear that such data could lag, because even those pushing the theory acknowledged it:

Even the state GOP lawmakers’ news release notes that “three small rural counties have not fully posted results online” and that, thus, the totals aren’t complete. Why not allow for the possibility of other data also being incomplete, particularly data involving extensive voting histories?

Closer to the turn of the year, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows began barraging DOJ officials with yet more theories. Here’s a look at what they were, and when they were debunked (in parenthesis):

One thing to keep in mind in all of this is that these weren’t just theories the White House and its allies were floating for public consumption; these were the things they used to try to convince seasoned, smart lawyers at the Justice Department that their claims had merit — merit enough to get the Justice Department to call the election results into question.

The theories were bad enough that Donoghue and Rosen privately derided them in their then-private correspondence:

When then-acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen shared the email from Meadows with Donoghue, Donoghue responded, “Pure insanity.”

About an hour later, Meadows shared previously debunked claims about “signature matching anomalies in Fulton county, Ga.”

“Can you believe this?” Rosen wrote to Donoghue. “I am not going to respond to the message below.”

Donoghue responded: “At least it’s better than the last one, but that doesn’t say much.”

It is indeed a veritable smorgasbord of what the dregs of the Internet and extreme figures in the GOP had to offer on this stuff. But given that so many of the Trump team’s claims had been rejected in courts and otherwise debunked, this was apparently what they had to work with when the clock was ticking toward midnight and they badly needed an assist from DOJ.

It all can perhaps be best summed up by a Trump quote that Donoghue jotted down in his notes from their Dec. 27 meeting: “You guys are not following the internet the way I do.”

That much was certainly true.

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