Trump Doesn't Have To Win In Court To Erode Trust In Voting : The NPR Politics Podcast President Trump has found little success in court, though he has continued to sew disinformation online and last night fired a top cybersecurity official who had worked to bolster public confidence in the electoral system.

This episode: correspondent Scott Detrow, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and voting reporter Miles Parks.

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Trump Doesn't Have To Win In Court To Erode Trust In Voting

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Trump Doesn't Have To Win In Court To Erode Trust In Voting

Trump Doesn't Have To Win In Court To Erode Trust In Voting

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  • Transcript

JOHN: Hi. This is John at the South Pole. And I am sitting here expecting our station opening flight after the winter very soon. This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Its 2:05 Eastern on Wednesday, November 18.

JOHN: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. All right. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

MILES PARKS, HOST:

Wow.

DETROW: Doing that South Pole summer.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hoo (ph) boy.

PARKS: Is that the farthest away anyone's ever been for a time stamp?

DETROW: I don't think you can get any further.

KEITH: Do we have an award? It could take six years to get there in the mail.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the Biden transition.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

PARKS: And I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting and election security.

DETROW: So President Trump continues to deny reality that he lost a free and fair election, and that Joe Biden is the president-elect. And we are seeing this denial play out in real-world actions even as it continues to lose in court. A lot to walk through, Miles. Let's start with this. Last night, President Trump tweeted that he had fired Chris Krebs. Tell us who he is, why he matters, why he was fired.

PARKS: Yeah. He was the head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security. Now, that sounds in the weeds, but basically this is the top cybersecurity official in the U.S. government who was also charged - he was, you know, among the most important election security officials in the U.S. government. We know that after 2016, cybersecurity and election security went kind of hand-in-hand over the last four years.

And so Chris Krebs, the reason this is significant is he was essentially fired - without being dramatic - for telling the truth. You know, he has said all along, his agency has said all along - they released a statement a week ago with a number of other government agencies that said, basically, this was a secure election. This was potentially the most secure election in U.S. history. Somebody who does not share that understanding, though, is President Trump, who has continued to say basically that fraud is the reason he lost this election. And that difference of opinion cost Krebs his job last night when Trump fired him over Twitter.

DETROW: You've got a lot of reporting on NPR about the cybersecurity situation that I would direct people to. But I want to shift now to Georgia because this morning the president pushed a conspiracy about Georgia's results and the recount there. The Republican secretary of state in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, he oversees voting. He has told NPR that he is facing pressure from the president's allies to throw out votes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER: Senator Graham implied for us to go ahead and audit the envelopes, the signatures on the envelopes, and then throw out the ballots from counties that had the highest frequency error rate of signatures. I think that's similar to what the lawsuit was or has been filed in Michigan. I went ahead and I explained our laws. And it's pretty clear that both Senator Graham, President Trump, they don't understand the laws here in Georgia. They also don't understand that we actually strengthened signature match here in Georgia for the first time in 2005.

DETROW: And Lindsey Graham, of course, a high-profile Trump ally, has denied that he asked the secretary of state to throw out votes. But this is a pretty significant accusation.

PARKS: Yeah. And it gets crazier, too. I mean, ProPublica reported this morning that basically Raffensperger is considering all of these accusations as a retaliation because he says that the Trump campaign asked him for an endorsement earlier this year and that he declined to give them one and that he thinks all of these accusations about his job as secretary of state come back to his decision not to jump into the political realm. Basically, he decided he was in charge of voting. He wanted to stay neutral in this race and declined to endorse President Trump. And he sees it as basically a direct retaliation for that decision.

KEITH: Yeah. And I think what happened here is that as President Trump and his allies started to realize that this is a recount that is not going to change the outcome of the election, that the state is not going to be reviewing signatures, they're just going to be recounting the ballots, President Trump's tweets certainly got increasingly agitated. And by the time that Georgia is getting to the point of certifying this recount and certifying the election, his tweets are basically like, this is a bogus recount. It's totally pointless. And he's back to conspiracies. So it's as if the election isn't going in his direction and so he just starts throwing stuff against the wall that, as Miles says, is just complete misinformation, disinformation, raising doubts unnecessarily about the election system.

DETROW: Well, let's shift to Michigan then. Miles, there is still a lot of Republican attempts to try and throw out votes, to try and discount votes in Michigan, including a very strange, very alarming incident that happened in Wayne County last night. That's, of course, the county where Detroit is. What's the best summary of what happened? Because it was wild.

PARKS: It was wild. And at this point, I think it's important to just note at the front end, it's all over now. The election is on its way to being certified. But that being said, basically, this local board of canvassers in Wayne County, Mich., got, you know, as much of the country has gotten in the last couple weeks, stuck in partisan gridlock. Two Republicans voted not to certify the results. Two Democrats initially voted to certify the results. The Republicans said basically they had security concerns over some election irregularities even though there has been, again, no evidence of any sort of malfeasance on the part of election officials in Michigan or anywhere else in this country. That decision launches this national outcry from a number of Democrats, as well as voting experts, voting rights advocates. And then a couple hours later, the Republicans come back and say, OK, we will vote to certify the results, but we want the secretary of state to audit the results and see what happened.

The secretary of state there in Michigan, Jocelyn Benson, for her part, says these were just normal administrative errors that we see every election. There's no indication that there were any fraudulent issues or anything close to something like that. So basically, we're on our way to certification. But it is another thing that the Trump campaign is celebrating as some sort of big win, saying that this is some sort of indication of some wrongdoing, even though, again, there has been no evidence put forward. It's just a lot of questions, allegations, allusions to wrongdoing.

DETROW: Tam, I want to end the segment on this. It's so strange to me that as the president leads this charge from Twitter to stir up disinformation to, you know - we're seeing these attempts to try and overturn results of elections or throw out large chunks of votes. By the metrics we usually, you know, keep track of, he hasn't really been that interested in the job that he's desperately trying to keep over the last few weeks.

KEITH: You know, his schedule, day after day after day, has just said the president has no public events. His focus, at least based on everything we can tell, is simply just about this election. It's like Election Day, election night never ended in the West Wing.

DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will talk about how all of this is playing out in the courtroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DETROW: And we're back. And let's remember, as we talk about what's going on in court cases, that the support that President Trump is getting from top Republicans is, by and large, not fully endorsing these broad false rigged election plans, but instead the fact that he has a right to challenge things in court. That's at least what, you know, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is saying and several other Senate Republicans are kind of mirroring. So, Miles, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer overseeing these election challenges, was in federal court yesterday in Pennsylvania. How did that go?

PARKS: You know, it depends on the metrics. As everything does when it comes to the Trump campaign's legal battles, I think it depends on the metric you're using. If you're thinking about, does it seem like the judge is going to go along with what Giuliani wants them to do in terms of delaying certification? That seems incredibly unlikely from the judge's remarks yesterday. But I will say this much. I got off the phone with a disinformation researcher earlier this morning who was telling me that basically, any time - accusations about fraud or any other sort of disinformation are using the justice system to kind of inject that into the nation's bloodstream. They have a little bit more legitimacy than when politicians air those claims. We're seeing Giuliani use this platform to continue pushing this narrative, even if it still looks just incredibly unsuccessful that this is going to have any effect on any vote tallies in Pennsylvania or more broadly across the country.

DETROW: You and Pam Fessler have pointed out an interesting trend in both of your reporting in that when you look at the claims about fraud that Trump and his lawyers make in legal filings, in hearings where, you know, perjury laws apply, it sounds a lot different than the widespread fraud claims that they're making elsewhere.

PARKS: Yeah. I mean, two things. One, it's - there's just a lot more consequences to lie in court than when you lie in the court of public opinion. But the other thing is that it's just in a forum usually that's a little bit more open to persistent questioning. You know, they can't - Giuliani has to take the questions from the judge, whereas you see these press conferences from the Trump campaign, a lot of times they either don't take questions or when they take questions, they don't answer the questions that they're asked. And so when you're in court, you just don't have the opportunity there to not take questions about all of these, you know, frankly, baseless claims that you're making.

DETROW: Tam, does the Trump campaign concede at all that, by and large, dozens and dozens of their lawsuits have been thrown out or rejected or not made any progress?

KEITH: Well, I will say they've been pretty noncommunicative lately. And, you know, the phone calls that were every day or a couple of times a day right after the election have essentially gone away. And the last time I was on a call that they held, they said something to the effect of, well, you know, you have to have patience. We're sort of building our way up. And we aren't there yet. They are losing again and again and again and again, and they are not acknowledging that. Any sort of minor victory they get, they celebrate from the rooftops, however, which I guess is what you would expect.

DETROW: Yeah. So we've talked about Georgia. We've talked about Pennsylvania, Michigan. Let's talk about Wisconsin very quickly. Joe Biden has a lead of a bit more than 20,000 votes there. The deadline is approaching for the Trump team to request and pay for a recount. What, if anything, have they done on that front?

PARKS: So in Wisconsin, the Trump campaign announced that they're going to be doing - they're going to be asking for a partial recount that's going to only cover Milwaukee and Dane counties, which Dane County covers Madison as well. This is going to cost the Trump campaign something like $3 million. It's a way that the Trump campaign can basically not pay for an entire recount of the entire state, but they can still continue kind of pushing this idea that the places that we need to investigate are the big cities, are places like Milwaukee, even though we know that recounts traditionally have just not changed the results more than a few hundred votes.

KEITH: There's a couple of other things going on here with the Wisconsin recount. They announced like the morning after the election that they were going to demand a recount in Wisconsin. They've been fundraising off of it. And so if they were to not do any recount at all, they would have to admit that they were giving up. So they're moving forward with this. The other thing is just the fact that they are picking two Democratic counties and they're not asking for a recount in the rest of the state. I mean, why wouldn't they want a recount in the areas of the state where there are more Trump votes? It makes no sense unless all they want to do is either throw out Democratic votes and/or just continue to sort of run out the clock.

DETROW: Yeah. And you know, I think kind of underscoring the theme here, there was a moment on that federal court hearing yesterday where Rudy Giuliani specifically asked for just the votes in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to be thrown out.

KEITH: Yeah.

PARKS: Yeah. I mean, it's - no one's - I don't think there's really any argument about, you know, what the goals or aims here are.

DETROW: All right. Thanks to both of you for your reporting on this incredibly confusing storyline. We will be back in your feeds tomorrow talking about the transition that continues to happen regardless and what Joe Biden has been up to.

I'm Scott Detrow. I cover that Biden transition.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover that White House.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover that voting.

KEITH: (Laughter).

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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