With his return to New York, President-elect Donald Trump faces a pressing need to set more of the foundation blocks of his presidency in place by filling vacancies for secretary of state and other top posts.
Distraction looms, however, much of it created by the president-elect himself, whose extraordinary claims of widespread voter fraud during a 12-hour Twitter offensive on Sunday cast a shadow over the legitimacy of an election that he actually won.
“I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted in the afternoon before alleging in an evening tweet “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California.”
Trump’s transition team did not respond to questions seeking evidence of the claims.
The charges come amid a recount of presidential votes in up to three battleground states, an effort joined by Hillary Clinton despite decidedly tamped-down expectations that the election’s outcome will not change. Wisconsin election officials are expected to meet Monday to discuss a possible timeline for a recount of that state’s presidential votes; recounts are possible in Pennsylvania and Michigan as well.
There’s been no evidence of widespread tampering or hacking that would change the results; indeed, Clinton’s team said it had been looking for abnormalities and found nothing that would alter the results.
Trump narrowly won Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and, as of Wednesday, held a lead of almost 11,000 votes in Michigan, with the results awaiting state certification Monday. All three would need to flip to Clinton to upend the Republican’s victory, and Clinton’s team says Trump has a larger edge in all three states than has ever been overcome in a presidential recount.
Still, Trump and his lieutenants assailed the effort led by the Green Party’s Jill Stein, calling it fraudulent, the work of “crybabies” and, in Trump’s view, tweeted from Florida, “sad.” Clinton leads the national popular vote by close to 2 million votes, but Trump won 290 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232, not counting Michigan.
Trump scheduled a series of meetings in New York on Monday with prospective administration hires, after spending Thanksgiving weekend at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate. But in an unusual public airing of internal machinations, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway warned Sunday that the president-elect’s supporters would feel “betrayed” if he tapped former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as secretary of state. Romney, until recently a fierce Trump critic, was “nothing but awful” to him for a year, she said.
The spectacle of close aides who speak frequently with Trump in private being so explicit about their views in public raised the possibility, at least, that Conway was acting at Trump’s behest by suggesting the president-elect was being generous by considering his former political rival. Romney denounced Trump in scathing terms during the campaign, prompting Trump to call him a “choker” who “walks like a penguin.”
People involved in the transition process said Trump’s decision on his secretary of state did not appear to be imminent. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and John Bolton, a former ambassador to the U.N., have also been under consideration.
Trump was mostly silent on the brewing recount effort until it became known that Clinton would join it, at least in Wisconsin. On Saturday, a day after Wisconsin officials said they would conduct the first presidential recount in the state’s history, Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias said: “We intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides.”
Elias said Clinton would take the same approach in Pennsylvania and Michigan if Stein were to follow through with recount requests in those states.
That launched Trump’s Twitter storm.
“Hillary Clinton conceded the election when she called me just prior to the victory speech and after the results were in,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Nothing will change.”
He quoted from her concession speech — “We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead” — and he concluded: “So much time and money will be spent – same result! Sad.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Conway said Stein, “the Hillary people” and others supporting recounts have to decide whether they are going to back a peaceful transition “or if they’re going to be a bunch of crybabies and sore losers about an election that they can’t turn around.”
Clinton’s lawyer said her team has been combing through the results since the election in search of anomalies that would suggest hacking by Russians or others and found “no actionable evidence.” But “we feel it is important, on principle, to ensure our campaign is legally represented in any court proceedings and represented on the ground in order to monitor the recount process itself,” he said.
Trump beat Clinton in Wisconsin by fewer than 22,200 votes, less than 1 percent of votes cast. He won Pennsylvania by some 70,600 votes, just more than 1 percentage point over Clinton.