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Trump spent $600,000 to be told he's wrong about voter fraud

An independent report showing no widespread election fraud in 2020 would have gotten in the way of the Trump campaign's fundraising.

Former President Donald Trump is a man who has been sued dozens of times for allegedly refusing to pay his bills in full. So he must have really hated that his campaign spent over $600,000 to be told he was wrong.

According to The Washington Post, the Trump campaign commissioned an outside firm to try to substantiate the claims of widespread fraud Trump was peddling. Employees of Berkeley Research Group, you may be shocked to learn, discovered no irregularities that would have swung the election.

It’s honestly incredible that over two years later we’re still learning the myriad ways Trump and his advisers were aware that his claims of fraud were fabricated.

The research got shoved into a drawer rather than released, either to the public or in court filings, including the campaign’s last-ditch bid to the Supreme Court. That fits neatly with how much Trump had already gained at that point from insisting that the election had been stolen. But unfortunately for him and his enablers, their continued efforts to defraud the American people makes criminal charges all the more likely.

In late November 2020, Berkeley Research Group was brought in “to study 2020 election results in six states, looking for fraud and irregularities to highlight in public and in the courts,” the Post reported. “Among the areas examined were voter machine malfunctions, instances of dead people voting and any evidence that could help Trump show he won.” The findings from the roughly dozen researchers were reportedly shared with Trump, then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and others in a December 2020 conference call. Rather than bow to the evidence, Meadows “showed skepticism” of the firm’s conclusions, the Post reported, and Trump and his team did nothing to slow their deluge of efforts to overturn the election. 

In the process, the Berkeley subsidiary contracted for the project got paid over $600,000 for its work, labeled “recount: legal consulting” in related Federal Election Commission filings. That’s a lot of money — but a drop in the bucket compared to how much Trump had already made pushing the lie to his supporters. The blitz of fundraising appeals that went out in the month after Election Day drew in $207.5 million from donors. His leadership PAC alone raked in around $31 million from Nov. 24 to Dec. 31. 

It’s honestly incredible that over two years later we’re still learning the myriad ways Trump and his advisers were aware that his claims of fraud were fabricated. Just this month, The Associated Press published tapes of Trump campaign staffers in Wisconsin acknowledging defeat but still preparing, in the words of Trump’s lead operative in the state, to “fan the flame and get the word out about Democrats trying to steal this election.”

And last year, the House Jan. 6 committee presented testimony from multiple witnesses documenting times they had told Trump — or had been told by Trump — that he’d lost. Yet the fundraising appeals flowed via emails and text messages and Facebook posts, and the cash flowed back to the campaign.

The big question that remains is how much of that cash grab was fully aboveboard. A former FEC lawyer told NPR last year that there’s not necessarily anything illegal about campaign donations’ going to some political activity other than the one disclosed to donors. But last summer, in its second public hearing, the Jan. 6 committee revealed that the “legal defense fund” donors were supposedly donating to never actually existed. That opens the door to a potential charge of wire fraud, according to some legal experts, including fellow MSNBC columnist Barb McQuade.

While the committee opted to focus on Trump himself in the bulk of its final report, its so-called Green Team tracking the money provided its findings in the report’s third appendix. The massive influx of money to Trump’s PAC, in particular, resulted in some very questionable spending documented in the appendix’s pages. And evidence continues to mount that the Trump campaign was well aware of the deception it was undertaking.

The biggest potential layup for special counsel Jack Smith continues to be charges related to the classified documents discovered at Mar-a-Lago and the subsequent lies and obstruction Trump undertook to cover up his hoarding. But the Berkeley Research Group’s report could show the intent required to prosecute Trump, his campaign staff or both for ripping off the American people. Like many of the charges Smith could bring, it would be nearly unprecedented, especially against a former president and current candidate — but just because it would be a heavy lift doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try.