Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012.
Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP

Trump wants a ‘major investigation’ into an imaginary problem

Updated
When Donald Trump first asserted, three weeks after winning the presidency, that he lost the popular vote due to widespread fraud, it was obviously a ridiculous lie. A week later, Trump’s own attorneys explained in a legal filing, “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

The bizarre claims soon faded, until the president embraced them once more this week, telling congressional leaders he secretly won the popular vote if you exclude the millions of votes cast illegally by undocumented immigrants. This, of course, borders on delusional, but it also raises a related question: if Trump genuinely believes this nonsense, shouldn’t he call for an investigation into this existential threat to the integrity of the American electoral process?

The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/19/16, 11:40 PM ET

Fact-checking Trump's voter fraud claims

Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent, fact checks Donald Trump’s claims that voter fraud is a widespread problem in American democracy.
When a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about this yesterday, he said “maybe” the Trump administration will pursue this, “but right now, the focus that the president has is on putting Americans back to work.”

As of this morning, that’s apparently no longer the focus.
President Donald Trump continued to perpetuate unsubstantiated and debunked claims of election irregularities Wednesday morning by promising a “major investigation” into what he described as “voter fraud.” […]

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he would ask for an investigation into voter fraud, including alleged votes by undocumented immigrants, people who are allegedly registered to vote in more than one state and “those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time).”

The president said that depending on the results of the investigation, he would call for “strengthening up voting procedures!”
It’s worth pausing to appreciate the fact that Trump can apparently be baited into doing almost anything. He’s pushed this ridiculous ideas about voter fraud for months and never even hinted about the need for an investigation. Yesterday, however, journalists effectively said, “If Trump were serious, he’d be demanding a probe,” leading the president to quickly start tweeting – complete with unnecessary capitalization and exclamation points – about his newfound interest in an investigation, an interest he apparently discovered after watching some TV news.

Nevertheless, we’re still confronted with the fact that the president of the United States wants a federal probe into a problem that exists only in his imagination. The pressure on Justice Department officials to find evidence that will make the White House happy will be enormous, which is a recipe for politicized law enforcement.

The challenge is made more severe given the fact that there’s no evidence to find. If the White House wanted to argue that there were between three and five instances of voters casting illegal ballots in 2016, that would be roughly correct. Instead, Trump World wants us to believe the actual total is between 3 million and 5 million.

And that’s completely bonkers.

But the significance of this extends beyond the brazen dishonesty about made-up problems. When Trump talks about “strengthening up voting procedures,” he’s referring to new voting restrictions to be placed on top of the voter-suppression policies already adopted by Republicans in recent years.

In other words, this is a lie that may yet have real policy consequences, targeting American communities most likely to vote Democratic.

If Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department follows up as directed, it’ll be interesting to see what happens if the investigation fails to find the proof Trump chooses to believe in. Will the administration bury the evidence or lie about it?

Postscript: There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but Trump wants an investigation. There’s ample evidence Russia launched an illegal espionage operation to help dictate the outcome of the American presidential election, but Trump doesn’t want an investigation.

I’ll be eager to hear the White House’s explanation for this.


Donald Trump, Voter Fraud and War On Voting

Trump wants a 'major investigation' into an imaginary problem

Updated