Several US TV networks late Thursday halted live coverage of Donald Trump’s first public appearance since election night after concluding that the president was spreading disinformation.
Trump unleashed a flood of incendiary and unsubstantiated claims in a 17-minute address, insisting that Democrats were using “illegal votes” to “steal the election from us.”
The president spoke as late vote counting in battleground states showed Democrat Joe Biden steadily closing in on victory.
“OK, here we are again in the unusual position of not only interrupting the president of the United States but correcting the president of the United States,” said MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, as the network quickly ended its live coverage.
NBC and ABC News also pulled the plug on their live coverage of Trump.
“What a sad night for the United states of America to hear their president say that, to falsely accuse people of trying to steal the election,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper.
He described it as “lie after lie after lie about the election being stolen,” with no evidence, “just smears.”
Fact Check: Trump claims election rigged
As the tortuous US presidential election appeared headed to a conclusion, Donald Trump addressed the nation Thursday and claimed without evidence that he was being robbed of a second term.
The White House press conference was the president’s first public appearance in more than 36 hours, and came after a day punctuated by tweets that showed his displeasure as his Democratic rival Joe Biden moved closer to victory.
In his 17-minute presentation Trump made a series of inaccurate comments about the election and its conduct. He left without taking questions.
A breakdown of what he said.
– ‘Illegal’ votes –
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us,” Trump said.
Vote counting is ongoing. The president appeared to be drawing a contrast between votes cast on election day and ballots counted later.
In several key states including Pennsylvania — which Trump must win to be reelected — in-person ballots were counted straight after polls closed on November 3, giving him a large lead over Biden.
But as ballots sent by mail or deposited at official drop boxes — done because of the coronavirus pandemic — were counted, the president’s advantage eroded. Both types of voting are legal.
– Mail-in voting –
“I’ve been talking about mail-in voting for a long time. It’s really destroyed our system. It’s a corrupt system and it makes people corrupt even if they aren’t, by nature. But they become corrupt. It’s too easy,” Trump said.
The president has consistently railed against mail-in voting, saying it would cause a “rigged” election. But US officials and international observers have said there has been no fraud.
“They’re finding ballots all of a sudden. It’s amazing how all those mail-in ballots are so one-sided,” he said, though his own warnings may well have persuaded Republican voters against voting by mail.
Mail-in voting was in use in the United States long before the coronavirus pandemic, and it is a tried and tested system that was greatly expanded this year.
“There’s simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud,” Ellen Weintraub of the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) said as part of a 66-tweet thread in May, as Trump ramped up his attacks on postal voting.
“We take all election-related threats seriously,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray, testifying on September 24 at a Senate national security hearing.
“We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” he said.
– Claims of victory –
“We were winning in all the key locations, by a lot actually, and then our numbers started miraculously getting whittled away in secret,” Trump claimed.
He went on to claim that he won the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia by “a lot,” and also said he was victorious in Michigan.
Trump was once ahead in all three states, but his leads dwindled when mail-in ballots were counted. Biden now has a significant advantage in Michigan — US networks called it in his favor — and is rapidly narrowing the gap in Pennsylvania.
Trump’s lead in the southern state of Georgia fell to 0.1 percent while he was speaking.
“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election, they’re trying to rig an election,” the president said of his opponents.
There is no evidence to support that claim.
– Control of the Senate –
“We kept the Senate despite having twice as many seats to defend as Democrats,” Trump said.
With votes still being counted and at least one runoff to come, definitive control of the upper house of the US legislature has not been determined. As of 0230 GMT on Friday, the split is 48-48 between Democrats and Republicans, according to The New York Times.