|Attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election|
|Date||November 4, 2020 - January 7, 2021|
(2 months and 3 days)
|Caused by||Fabricated claims of electoral fraud|
|Resulted in||Failure to overturn election; Joe Biden inaugurated January 20, 2021|
2020 U.S. presidential election
|Attempts to overturn|
After the 2020 United States presidential election in which Joe Biden prevailed, then-incumbent Donald Trump, as well as his campaign, his proxies, and many of his supporters, pursued an aggressive and unprecedented effort to deny and overturn the election. The attempts to overturn the election were described as an attempted coup d'état and an implementation of "the big lie". Trump and his allies promoted numerous false claims that the election was stolen from Trump through an international communist conspiracy, rigged voting machines, and electoral fraud. On November 10, the day after Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley was informed that Trump and his allies were attempting to "overturn the government".
Allegations of election fraud were dismissed by numerous state and federal judges, election officials, governors, and government agencies as completely baseless. Multiple congressional Republicans, as well as governors and other elected officials, refused to acknowledge Biden's victory. Some acknowledged Biden's victory after the certification of the Electoral College vote, while others continued their refusal. Emily Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, delayed initiating the presidential transition, but allowed it to proceed twenty days after the election, and sixteen days after most media outlets had projected Biden to be the winner.
Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Chris Krebs, stated there was no evidence that election systems had been compromised, calling the election "the most secure in American history," leading Trump to fire him days later. Responding to baseless claims of foreign outsourcing of vote counting, Krebs affirmed that all votes were counted in the United States. US Attorney General William Barr stated on December 1 that U.S. attorneys and FBI agents had investigated complaints and allegations of fraud, and found no evidence of fraud at a large enough scale to influence the outcome of the election. Trump's attempts to overturn the election cost taxpayers $519 million according to an analysis by The Washington Post, including $488 million in security fees during and after the 2021 United States Capitol attack and $2.2 million in legal fees.
The Trump campaign and allies filed at least 86 lawsuits during and after Election Day, losing all but one minor case that was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He and his allies encouraged officials in states with close results, particularly those which Biden won, to throw out legally-cast ballots and challenge vote certification processes. Trump pressured the Georgia secretary of state to "find" the 11,780 votes needed to secure his victory in the state in an early January 2021 phone call, and repeatedly urged Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to convene a special session of the legislature to overturn Biden's certified victory in the state; Trump made a similar plea to the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House after Biden's victory had been certified in that state. Trump also pressured the Justice Department to challenge the election results. Before and after the election, Trump stated his expectation that the Supreme Court would determine the outcome, and after the election his legal team sought a path to bring a case before the Court, where conservative justices held a 6-3 majority, with three of the justices having been appointed by Trump. Former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, who was pardoned shortly after the election, called on the president to suspend the Constitution, silence the press, and hold a new election under military supervision. Trump attorney Joseph diGenova called for Krebs to be executed.
On December 10, 2020, after several successive lawsuits had been dismissed, Trump tweeted, "This is going to escalate dramatically. This is a very dangerous moment in our history...The fact that our country is being stolen. A coup is taking place in front of our eyes, and the public can't take this anymore." The next day, the Supreme Court declined to hear Texas v. Pennsylvania, a case supported by numerous Republicans and hailed by Trump as "the big one", which sought to overturn the results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin, all states which Biden won by small margins. After the failure of Texas, Trump reportedly considered additional options, including military intervention, seizing voting machines and another appeal to the Supreme Court, as well as challenging the congressional counting of the electoral votes on January 6, 2021. By December 30, Republican members of the House and Senate indicated their intent to object to the congressional certification of Electoral College results in order to force both chambers to debate and vote on whether to accept the results. Mike Pence, who as vice president would preside over the proceedings, signaled his endorsement of the effort, stating on January 4, "I promise you, come this Wednesday, we will have our day in Congress." Trump and some supporters promoted a false "Pence card" theory that the vice president has the authority to reject certified results. As Congress convened to certify the results, Trump held a rally on The Ellipse. He then encouraged his supporters at the rally to march to the Capitol building, after which some protestors launched an insurrection and breached security at the building. One week later, Trump was impeached a second time for incitement of insurrection; he was acquitted by the Senate.
Trump has a history of claims of electoral fraud, including for elections in which he did not run. In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, in which incumbent president Barack Obama won re-election against Mitt Romney, Trump tweeted that "The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy", that the election was a "total sham", and that the United States was "not a democracy". During the 2016 Republican primaries, after Trump lost to Ted Cruz in the Iowa Republican caucus, Trump claimed that Cruz perpetrated "fraud" and "stole" the Iowa caucuses. Trump called for a repeat of the Iowa caucuses, or for Cruz's win to be declared void.
In 2016, Trump repeatedly suggested that the election was "rigged" against him, and in the final debate he cast doubt on whether he would accept the results of the election should he lose, saying "I'll keep you in suspense". His comment touched off a media and political uproar in which he was accused of "threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy" and "rais(ing) the prospect that millions of his supporters may not accept the results on November8 if he loses". Rick Hasen of University of California, Irvine School of Law, an election-law expert, described Trump's comments as "appalling and unprecedented" and feared there could be "violence in the streets from his supporters if Trump loses." The next day Trump said, "Of course, I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result." He also stated that he would "totally" accept the election results "if I win."
During the campaign, Trump indicated in Twitter posts, interviews and speeches that he might refuse to recognize the outcome of the election if he were defeated; Trump falsely suggested that the election would be rigged against him. In July 2020, Trump declined to state whether he would accept the results, telling Fox News anchor Chris Wallace that "I have to see. No, I'm not going to just say yes. I'm not going to say no." Trump repeatedly claimed that "the only way" he could lose would be if the election was "rigged" and repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power after the election. Trump also attacked mail-in voting throughout the campaign, falsely claiming that the practice contained high rates of fraud. At one point, Trump said: "We'll see what happens...Get rid of the ballots and you'll have a very peaceful - there won't be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation." Trump's statements have been described as a threat "to upend the constitutional order". In September 2020, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, a Trump appointee, testified under oath that the FBI has "not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise."
A number of congressional Republicans insisted that they were committed to an orderly and peaceful transition of power, but they declined to criticize Trump for his comments. On September 24, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution affirming the Senate's commitment to a peaceful transfer of power. Trump also stated that he expected the Supreme Court to decide the election and that he wanted a conservative majority in the event of an election dispute, reiterating his commitment to quickly install a ninth justice following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In 2020, concerns were raised about the acceptance of the election result on October 8, when Republican Senator Mike Lee tweeted "We're not a democracy" and "Democracy isn't the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity (sic) are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that."
After a consensus of major news organizations declared Biden the President-elect on November 7, Trump refused to accept his loss, declaring "this election is far from over" and alleging election fraud without providing evidence. He indicated that he would continue legal challenges in key states, but most of the challenges were dismissed by the courts. His legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani, made numerous false and unsubstantiated assertions revolving around an international communist conspiracy, rigged voting machines and polling place fraud to claim that the election had been stolen from Trump. (For this, a New York court eventually suspended Giuliani's law license.) Trump blocked government officials from cooperating in the presidential transition to Joe Biden. Attorney General William Barr authorized the Justice Department to initiate investigations "if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State."
An Economist/YouGov poll conducted on November 15-17, 2020, found nearly all Trump supporters (88%) asserting that Biden's election was illegitimate, that mail-in ballots were manipulated to favor Biden (91%), that votes had been cast by immigrants who were not eligible to vote (89%), and that there was voter fraud more generally (89%). According to a poll by CNBC/Change Research conducted on November 16-19, only 3% of Trump supporters stated that Biden's victory was legitimate. 73% of Trump voters considered Trump the winner of the election, 66% of them stated that Trump should never concede the election, and 31% said Trump should fight the results until the states certified the results.
In Politico/Morning Consult polls conducted in June 2021, 51% of registered Republican voters said they believed that an ongoing election audit in Arizona would reveal significant problems that could imply that Trump had been the true winner, while 29% of registered Republican voters believed it was likely that such audits would succeed in restoring Trump to the presidency.
Stop the Steal is a far-right and conservative campaign and protest movement in the United States promoting the conspiracy theory that falsely posits that widespread electoral fraud occurred during the 2020 presidential election to deny incumbent President Donald Trump victory over former vice president Joe Biden. Trump and his supporters have asserted, without evidence, that he is the winner of the election, and that large-scale voter and vote counting fraud took place in several swing states. The Associated Press, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Decision Desk HQ, NBC News, The New York Times, and Fox News projected Biden as the president-elect, having surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes needed to claim victory. A New York Times survey of state election officials found no evidence of significant voting fraud, nor did the Justice Department, and dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his proxies to challenge voting results in several states were met with failure.
"Stop the Steal" was created by Republican political operative Roger Stone in 2016. A Facebook group with that name was created during the 2020 counting of votes by pro-Trump group "Women for America First" co-founder and Tea Party movement activist Amy Kremer. Facebook removed the group on November 5, describing it as "organized around the delegitimization of the election process". It was reported to have been adding 1,000 new members every 10 seconds with 360,000 followers before Facebook shut it down.
All subsequent "Stop the Steal" groups have since been removed by Facebook moderators over their discussions of extreme violence, incitement to violence and other threats, all of which are violations of Facebook's community standards. Several "Stop the Steal" groups were founded by right-wing extremists after Trump published tweets on Twitter encouraging his supporters to "Stop the Count". Since then, many of these unorganized "Stop the Steal" groups have started protesting in several U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C.; Detroit, Michigan; Lansing, Michigan; Las Vegas, Nevada; Madison, Wisconsin; Atlanta, Georgia; and Columbus, Ohio. Several of these protests have included members of extremist groups such as Three Percenters, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, which CNN reported was an illustration, to those who track such groups, of "the thinning of a line between the mainstream right and far-right extremists." One variant of the conspiracy theory is the notion that billionaire liberal donor George Soros "stole the election".
Italygate is a pro-Trump, QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theory originating from a fake news website. It alleges that the election was rigged in Biden's favor by using satellites and military technology to remotely switch votes from Trump to Biden from the U.S. Embassy in Rome. There is no evidence of this.
The allegations were published on January 6, 2021, the day the U.S. Capitol building came under siege from Trump supporters. The New York Times later revealed that, in Trump's last weeks in office, his chief of staff Mark Meadows tried to get the Department of Justice to investigate these claims.
In Michigan on December 7, 2020, "Stop the Steal" protestors gathered outside the private home of Michigan's Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to shout obscenities and chant threatening speech into bullhorns. President-elect Joe Biden's Michigan win by 154,000 votes had been officially certified by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in November.
On Saturday, December 12, 2020, post-election protests were held in Washington, D.C., in which at least nine people were transported from the protest by DC Fire and EMS workers for treatment in hospital. Among the injured were four people who suffered stab wounds and were said to be in critical condition. Two police officers suffered non-life-threatening injuries, and two other people suffered minor injuries. An additional 33 people were arrested, including one arrested for assault with a dangerous weapon. Earlier in the day large groups of protesters and counter-protestors assembled outside the Supreme Court and Freedom Plaza. Although small fights broke out periodically, in general the protests were mostly peaceful. Most participants did not wear masks, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Donald Trump was the source of these conspiracy theories, these claims were also pushed and expanded on by far-right news organizations such as One America News Network (OANN), Newsmax, The Gateway Pundit, as well as by Sean Hannity and other Fox News commentators. Attempts by Facebook and other mainstream social networks to restrict groups that spread false election claims led to a surge in the popularity of Parler, a right-leaning alternative social networking site that has attracted supporters of Stop the Steal. Parler subsequently went offline after Amazon Web Services withdrew support for the app.
On January 11, 2021, Facebook announced that it would remove content containing the phrase "stop the steal" from Facebook and Instagram. On January 12, Twitter announced that it had suspended 70,000 accounts that it said "share harmful QAnon-associated content at scale".
By March 2021, organizations linked to the Stop the Steal movement, including the Proud Boys and the boogaloo movement, had largely shifted their efforts to spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines as a way of undermining government credibility.
On April 7, 2021, the U.S. District Court of Minnesota charged self-proclaimed Boogaloo Bois member Michael Paul Dahlager, a 27-year old from St. Cloud, Minnesota, with illegal possession of a machine gun. Dahlager had travelled to the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul for a December 12, 2020, "Stop the Steal" rally where he scouted law enforcement positions and numbers. Dahlager had discussed with confidential informants his willingness to kill law enforcement members and incite violent uprisings against the government. Dahlager had allegedly planned to carry out an attack in early 2021 of the state's capitol building, but abandoned it after he believed that informants had were among his inner circle. Dahlager pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in July 2021.
As of June 2021, Trump has continued to echo the conspiracy theory that the election was "stolen"; particularly focusing on the efforts of Arizona Senate Republicans to audit the results of the election in Maricopa County and on a lawsuit disputing the results of the election in Georgia. The efforts of Arizona Republicans to audit the results have drawn the attention and support of some Republican politicians, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and the former president. Trump has reportedly told associates he could be "reinstated" as president by August 2021, however there is no constitutional mechanism to reinstate a president after the results of an election have been certified by Congress.
After vote counts showed a Biden victory, Trump engaged in what has been called a "post-election purge", firing or forcing out at least a dozen officials and replacing them with loyalists. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was fired by tweet on November 9. Undersecretary for Defense Joseph D. Kernan and Acting Undersecretary for Policy James H. Anderson resigned in protest or were forced out. The White House sought to learn the names of political appointees who had applauded Anderson upon his departure, so they could be fired. The DOD chief of staff, Jen Stewart, was replaced by a former staffer to Representative Devin Nunes. On November 30, Christopher P. Maier, the head of the Pentagon's Defeat ISIS Task Force, was ousted and the task force was disbanded; a White House official told him that the United States had won the war against the Islamic State, so the task force was no longer needed.
Trump's allegations of election fraud in battleground states were refuted by judges, state election officials, and his own administration's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). After CISA director Chris Krebs contradicted Trump's voting-fraud allegations, Trump fired him on November 17. Two other Department of Homeland Security officials - Bryan Ware, CISA's assistant director, and Valerie Boyd, the DHS's assistant secretary of international affairs - were also forced out.
Bonnie Glick, the deputy administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, was abruptly fired on November 6; she had prepared a transition manual for the next administration. She was due to become acting administrator of the department on November 7. Firing her left the position of acting administrator vacant, so that Trump loyalist John Barsa could become acting deputy administrator.
Career climate scientist Michael Kuperberg, who for the past five years has produced the annual National Climate Assessment issued by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was demoted on November 9 and returned to his previous position at the Department of Energy. Several media outlets reported that David Legates, a deputy assistant secretary at NOAA who claims that global warming is harmless, would be appointed to oversee the congressionally mandated report in place of Kuperberg, based on information obtained from "people close to the Administration", including Myron Ebell, the head of President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency transition team and director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. As of May 18, 2021, the Biden administration reappointed Kuperberg as executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
On November 11, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty resigned from her posts as Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and administrator of the quasi-independent National Nuclear Security Administration, reportedly due to longstanding tensions and disagreements with Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.
In October 2020, Trump signed an executive order that created a new category of federal employee, Schedule F, which included all career civil servants whose job includes "policymaking". Such employees would no longer be covered by civil service protections against arbitrary dismissal, but would be subject to the same rules as political appointees. The new description could be applied to thousands of nonpartisan experts, such as scientists who give advice to the political appointees who run their departments. Heads of all federal agencies were ordered to report by January 19, 2021, a list of positions that could be reclassified as Schedule F. The Office of Management and Budget submitted a list in November that included 88 percent of the office's workforce. Federal employee organizations and Congressional Democrats sought to overturn the order via lawsuits or bills. House Democrats warned in a letter that "The executive order could precipitate a mass exodus from the federal government at the end of every presidential administration, leaving federal agencies without deep institutional knowledge, expertise, experience, and the ability to develop and implement long-term policy strategies." Observers predicted that Trump could use the new rule to implement a "massive government purge on his way out the door."
Meanwhile, administration officials had ordered the Budget Office to begin work on a 2022 budget proposal that they would submit to Congress in February, ignoring the fact that Biden would have already taken over by that point.
After the 2020 United States presidential election, the campaign for incumbent president Donald Trump filed a number of lawsuits contesting election processes, vote-counting, and the vote-certification process in multiple states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Many such cases were quickly dismissed, and lawyers and other observers noted that the lawsuits were unlikely to have an effect on the outcome of the election. By November 19, more than two dozen of the legal challenges filed since Election Day had failed.
"In this action, the Trump Campaign and the Individual Plaintiffs [...] seek to discard millions of votes legally cast by Pennsylvanians from all corners - from Greene County to Pike County, and everywhere in between. In other words, Plaintiffs ask this Court to disenfranchise almost seven million voters. This Court has been unable to find any case in which a plaintiff has sought such a drastic remedy in the contest of an election, in terms of the sheer volume of votes asked to be invalidated. One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens.
"That has not happened. Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more."
Prior to November 17, the four-member board of canvassers of Wayne County, Michigan, was deadlocked on election-result certification along party lines with the two Republican members refusing to certify, but on November 17 the board voted unanimously to certify its results. Trump subsequently called the two Republican members of the board, following which the two Republicans asked to rescind their votes for certification, signing affidavits the following day stating that they had voted for certification only because the two Democratic members had promised a full audit of the county's votes. The two denied Trump's call had influenced their reversal.
Trump issued an invitation to Michigan lawmakers to travel to Washington. Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, State Senator Mike Shirkey and State Representative Jim Lilly were photographed in the lobby of the D.C. Trump Tower, where they were drinking $500-a-bottle champagne and were not wearing masks. Chatfield later floated the possibility of a "constitutional crisis" in Michigan, while Shirkey suggested that certification be delayed. On November 21, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox publicly called upon the Michigan State Board of Canvassers to not proceed with the planned certification of election results. On November 23, the State Board of Canvassers certified the election.
The 2020 United States presidential election in Georgia produced an initial count wherein Biden defeated Trump by around 14,000 votes, triggering an automatic recount due to the small margin. While the recount was ongoing, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina privately called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to discuss Georgia's vote counting. Raffensperger, a Republican, told The Washington Post that Graham had asked whether Raffensperger could disqualify all mail-in ballots in counties that had more signature errors. Gabriel Sterling, a Republican election official and staffer to Raffensperger, was present for the call, and Sterling confirmed that Graham had asked that question.
Raffensperger viewed Graham's question as a suggestion to throw out legally-cast ballots, although Graham denied suggesting that. Graham acknowledged calling Raffensperger to find out how to "protect the integrity of mail-in voting" and "how does signature verification work?", but declared that if Raffensperger "feels threatened by that conversation, he's got a problem". Graham stated that he was investigating in his own capacity as a senator, although he is the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham also claimed that he had spoken to the secretaries of state in Arizona and Nevada. The secretaries, however, denied this, and Graham then contradicted himself, stating that he had talked to the Governor of Arizona but no official in Nevada.
The Trump campaign requested a recount in Milwaukee and Dane counties, both Democratic strongholds. On November 20, Wisconsin election officials reported that Trump campaign observers were attempting to obstruct the recount. According to officials, observers were "constantly interrupting vote-counters with questions and comments." At one table, a Republican representative was objecting to every ballot that was pulled for recount. At other tables, there were two Republican observers when only one was allowed; it was also reported that some Republicans had been posing as independents. Completed by November 29, the recounts ended up increasing Biden's lead by 87 votes.
On November 25, one day after Pennsylvania certified its election results, a Republican state senator requested a hearing of the State Senate Majority Policy Committee to discuss election issues. The event, described as an "informational meeting," was held at a hotel in Gettysburg and featured Rudy Giuliani asserting that the election had been subject to massive fraud. Trump also spoke to the group by speakerphone, repeating his false claim that he had actually won in Pennsylvania and other swing states, and saying "We have to turn the election over."
In Arizona, a state won by Biden, Republican members of the Arizona Senate promoted Trump's false claims of election fraud. In mid-December 2020, Eddie Farnsworth, Chairman of the State Senate Judiciary Committee, claimed that "tampering" or "fraud" might have marred the election, despite the testimony given by election officials, attorneys, and the Arizona Attorney General Election Integrity Unit at a six-hour hearing, all of whom testified that there was no evidence for such claims. Hearings held in the Michigan Legislature similarly presented no evidence of any fraud or other wrongdoing.
Days before the 2020 presidential election, Dennis Montgomery, a software designer with a history of making dubious claims, asserted that a program called Scorecard, running on a government supercomputer called Hammer, would be used to switch votes from Trump to Biden on voting machines. Trump legal team attorney Sidney Powell promoted the conspiracy theory on Lou Dobbs Tonight on November 6, and again two days later on Maria Bartiromo's Fox Business program, claiming to have "evidence that that is exactly what happened." She also asserted that the CIA ignored warnings about the software, and urged Trump to fire director Gina Haspel. Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), characterized the supercomputer claim as "nonsense" and a "hoax." CISA described the 2020 election as "the most secure in American history," with "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised." A few days later, Trump fired Krebs by tweet, claiming that Krebs' analysis was "highly inaccurate."
During a November 19 press conference, Powell alleged without evidence that an international Communist plot had been engineered by Venezuela, Cuba, China, Hugo Chávez (who died in 2013), George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, and antifa to rig the 2020 elections. She also alleged that Dominion Voting Systems "can set and run an algorithm that probably ran all over the country to take a certain percentage of votes from President Trump and flip them to President Biden." The source for many of these claims appeared to be the far-right news organization One America News Network (OANN). She also repeated a conspiracy theory spread by Texan Congressman Louie Gohmert, OANN and others: that accurate voting results had been transmitted to the German office of the Spanish electronic voting firm Scytl, where they were tabulated to reveal a landslide victory for Trump nationwide (which included implausible Trump victories in Democratic strongholds such as California, Colorado, Maine statewide, Minnesota, and New Mexico), after which a company server was supposedly seized in a raid by the United States Army. The U.S. Army and Scytl refuted those claims: Scytl has not had any offices in Germany since September 2019, and it does not tabulate any U.S. votes. In a March 2021 report, the Justice and Homeland Security Departments flatly rejected accusations of voting fraud conducted by foreign nations.
In a subsequent interview with Newsmax on November 21, Powell accused Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, of being "in on the Dominion scam" and suggested financial impropriety. Powell additionally alleged that fraud had prevented Doug Collins from winning a top-two position in the November 2020 nonpartisan blanket primary against incumbent Kelly Loeffler in the Senate race in Georgia. She also claimed that the Democratic Party had used rigged Dominion machines to defeat Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary and that Sanders had learned of this but had "sold out." She stated that she would "blow up" Georgia with a "biblical" court filing. Powell suggested that candidates "paid to have the system rigged to work for them." On the basis of these claims, Powell called for Republican-controlled state legislatures in swing states to disregard the election results and appoint a slate of "loyal" electors who would vote to re-elect Trump, based on authority supposedly resting in Article Two of the Constitution. The Washington Post reported that on December 5 Trump asked Kemp to convene a special session of the Georgia legislature for that purpose, but Kemp declined. Trump also pressured Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler to overturn the result and use electors loyal to Trump, but Cutler declined, saying that the legislature had no power to overturn the state's chosen slate of electors.
Conservative television outlets amplified baseless allegations of voting machine fraud. Fox News host Lou Dobbs had been outspoken during his program supporting the allegations, but on December 18 his program aired a video segment debunking the allegations, although Dobbs himself did not comment. Fox News hosts Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo had also been outspoken in supporting the allegations, and both their programs aired the same video segment debunking the allegations over the following two days.
Smartmatic, a company accused of conspiring with Dominion, demanded a retraction from Fox News. Smartmatic wanted corrections to be "published on multiple occasions" during prime time to "match the attention and audience targeted with the original defamatory publications." They also threatened legal action. On February 4, 2021, Smartmatic filed a lawsuit against Dobbs, Bartiromo, Pirro, and Fox News itself, as well as against Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, seeking $2.7 billion in total damages.
In December 2020, Dominion sent a similar letter to Sidney Powell, demanding that she retract her allegations and retain all relevant records; the Trump legal team later instructed dozens of staffers to preserve all documents for any future litigation. The company filed a $1.3 billion defamation suit against Powell in January 2021. While fighting the lawsuit in March 2021, Powell's attorneys claimed that her speech was protected because she was sharing her "opinion" and that, because she was serving as an attorney for the Trump campaign, it was her role to make accusations against Dominion. Dominion had complained that Powell's comments were "wild," "outlandish," and "impossible." Powell's attorneys seemed to concede that Powell had been obviously lying, saying that "reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact" and therefore that she had not defamed Dominion.
After Biden won the election, angry Trump supporters threatened election officials, election officials' family members, and elections staff in at least eight states via emails, telephone calls and letters; some of the menacing and vitriolic communications included death threats. Officials terrorized by the threats included officials in the swing states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, as well as a few less competitive states. Some officials had to seek police protection or move from their homes due to the threats. The director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, described the threats as frightening and said, "These threats often go into areas related to race or sex or anti-Semitism. More than once they specifically refer to gun violence." Prominent Republicans ignored or said little about the threats of violence.
On November 15, the Georgia Secretary of State reported that he and his wife were receiving death threats. On November 30, Trump attorney Joseph diGenova said the recently fired head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Chris Krebs, should be "taken out and shot" for disputing the president's claims about election fraud. On December 1, Republican Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling publicly condemned Trump and Georgia Senators Perdue and Loeffler for making unsubstantiated claims and for failing to condemn the threats of violence against election workers, including those made against a young, low-level Dominion employee and his family. After Democratic Georgia State Senator Elena Parent spoke out against the false claims of voter fraud, she was targeted by online vitriol, threatened with death and sexual violence, and had her home address widely circulated online. Parent attributed the onslaught to Trump, saying, "He has created a cult-like following and is exposing people like me across the country to danger because of his unfounded rhetoric on the election."
In early December, an "enemies list" circulated on the web falsely accusing various government officials and voting systems executives of rigging the election, providing their home addresses, and superimposing red targets on their photos.
The Arizona Republican Party twice tweeted that supporters should be willing to "die for something" or "give my life for this fight." Ann Jacobs, chairwoman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said she had received constant threats, including a message mentioning her children, and photos of her house had been posted on the web.
On January 1, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence asked a federal judge to dismiss a suit naming him as the defendant; filed by Texas Republican congressman Louis Gohmert and others, the ultimately unsuccessful suit asserted that the Vice President had the sole constitutional authority to conduct the congressional certification of Electoral College results without restriction. Attorney Lin Wood, a conspiracy theorist and QAnon promoter who had worked with Trump attorney Sidney Powell to file baseless lawsuits alleging election fraud, tweeted that day that Pence and other prominent Republican officials should be arrested for treason and that Pence should "face execution by firing squad". Two weeks earlier, Wood had tweeted that people should stock up on survival goods, including "2nd Amendment supplies." Emerald Robinson, a White House correspondent for pro-Trump One America News, tweeted "Folks, when [Lin Wood] tells people to prep, I listen."
After Trump urged his supporters to protest in Washington as Congress convened to certify the election results, some posters in far-right online forums interpreted it as a call to action, with one asserting, "We've got marching orders," while others made references to possible violence and to bringing firearms to the protest. In a discussion of how to evade police blockades and the District of Columbia's gun laws, one poster remarked, "We The People, Will not tolerate a Steal. No retreat, No Surrender. Restore to my President what you stole or reap the consequences!!!"
On December 5, Trump placed a call to Georgia governor Brian Kemp in which he urged the governor to call a special session of the state legislature to override the election results and appoint electors who would support Trump. He also called the Pennsylvania speaker of the house with similar objectives, and had earlier invited Michigan Republican state officials to the White House to discuss election results in that state. The Georgia and Pennsylvania contacts were made after Biden's victories had been certified in those states; Biden's Michigan victory was certified three days after the Trump White House meeting.
After Georgia had twice recounted and twice certified its results, Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger received death threats. He was pressured to resign by others in his party, including the state's two senators. On December 23, Trump called the investigations chief in the Georgia Secretary of State's office, who was then investigating allegations of mail ballot fraud, and urged the official to "find the fraud" (a misquote that was amended by the Washington Post in March 2021 to "[you would] find things that are gonna be unbelievable"); the investigation ultimately concluded that the allegations had no merit. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton sued the state and three others, asking the United States Supreme Court to invalidate the states' voting results, alleging that they had violated the Constitution, citing a litany of complaints that had already been rejected by other courts. Trump and seventeen Republican state attorneys general filed motions to support the case, the merits of which were sharply criticized by legal experts and politicians. The day the suit was filed, Trump warned Georgia attorney general Chris Carr to not rally other Republican officials in opposition to the suit.
Sixty-four Republican members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly signed a letter urging the state's congressional delegation to reject Biden's electoral votes. Kim Ward, the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania senate, said that Trump had called her to say there had been fraud in the election, but she had not seen the letter before it had been released. She stated that Republican leaders were expected to support Trump's claims and if she had announced opposition to the letter, "I'd get my house bombed tonight."
On November 21, a group of Republican legislators in Pennsylvania petitioned the US Supreme Court in appeal of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision against the legislators, who had asked to nullify mailed ballots after they had been cast, or to direct the legislature to select Pennsylvania's electors. The high court denied the request in a one-sentence, unsigned order on December 8. By the time of the high court's decision, the Pennsylvania election results had been certified in Biden's favor. Lawyers for Pennsylvania argued to the high court that the legislators' request was "an affront to constitutional democracy" and that "Petitioners ask this court to undertake one of the most dramatic, disruptive invocations of judicial power in the history of the Republic; no court has ever issued an order nullifying a governor's certification of presidential election results."
On December 8, 2020, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton sued the states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where certified results showed Joe Biden the victor over Trump, alleging a variety of unconstitutional actions in their presidential balloting, arguments that had already been rejected in other courts. Paxton asked the Supreme Court to invalidate those states' 62 electoral votes, allowing Trump to be declared the winner of a second presidential term. Trump and seventeen Republican state attorneys general filed motions to support the case.
126 Republican members of the House of Representatives signed onto the Texas lawsuit. After congressman Michael Waltz added his name, the Orlando Sentinel published an editorial apologizing for endorsing him. On December 11, the Supreme Court denied the plaintiff's motion to intervene in the election, stating: "the state of Texas' motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing." On December 12, after the Supreme Court had rejected the Texas lawsuit, Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, calling for the Republican House members who backed the suit to not be seated in Congress based on the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment providing that persons who "have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against" the United States are ineligible for office; Pascrell wrote that "Men and women who would act to tear the United States government apart cannot serve as members of Congress" and that "These lawsuits seeking to obliterate public confidence in our democratic system by invalidating the clear results of the 2020 presidential election attack the text and spirit of the Constitution, which each member swears to support and defend."
On December 14, in accordance with the law, the local electors of the Electoral College met in each state capital and in the District of Columbia and formalized Biden's victory, with 306 electoral votes cast for Biden and 232 electoral votes cast for Trump. On the same day that the electors voted, self-appointed "alternate" slates of Republican electors convened in or near the state capitols of five states where Biden had won by a relatively small margin (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania) and attempted to issue counterfeit electoral college certificates. A group of Republican activists claiming to be electors attempted to enter the Michigan State Capitol to do likewise, but were barred entry by building security. Scattered protests opposing the election results occurred near other state capitols. Stephen Miller, an aide to Trump, announced on Fox & Friends that "an alternate slate of electors [pledged to Trump] in the contested states is going to vote and we are going to send those results to Congress". The "votes" cast by the pro-Trump "alternate electors" have no legal standing.
In Texas, the state's official electors voted 34-4 to call on Republican-controlled legislatures in five swing states won by Biden to ignore their states' election results and appoint electors pledged to Trump instead.
In an address to the nation on the evening of December 14, after the Electoral College vote, President-Elect Biden strongly criticized Trump's continued refusal to concede.
After legal efforts by Trump and his proxies had failed in numerous state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, some right-wing activists and Trump allies - including Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and L. Lin Wood - suggested that Trump could suspend the Constitution, declare martial law and "rerun" the election. Many retired military officers, attorneys, and other commentators expressed horror at such a notion.[a] Trump held an Oval Office meeting on December 18 with Rudy Giuliani, chief of staff Mark Meadows, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Powell, and Flynn. At the meeting, Trump entertained the idea of naming Powell, who has promoted election conspiracy theories and falsehoods, as special counsel to investigate election matters, though most advisors in attendance strongly opposed the idea. Flynn reportedly discussed his idea to declare martial law, although others also resisted that idea, and Trump's opinion on the matter was unclear. Trump also reportedly considered an executive order to confiscate voting machines, which he falsely claimed were rigged against him. That same day, Flynn appeared on Newsmax TV to suggest that Trump had the power to deploy the military to "rerun" the election in the swing states that Trump had lost. Trump dismissed reports about a discussion of martial law as "fake news", but it remained unclear whether he had endorsed the notion.
An attempt by Trump to invoke martial law to invalidate the results of the election would be illegal and unconstitutional. In late December 2020, legal scholars Claire O. Finkelstein and Richard Painter wrote that while it was very unlikely that Trump would actually "attempt to spark a military coup," Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen should be prepared to direct federal law enforcement "to arrest anyone, including if necessary the president, who ... conspired to carry out this illegal plan." Likening a hypothetical invocation of martial law to overturn the election to the 1861 firing on Fort Sumter, Finkelstein and Painter wrote that any such plan would constitute seditious conspiracy and possibly other crimes, and that any military officers or enlisted personnel ordered to assist in such a plan would be required, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to disregard such an illegal order.
On December 18, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and General James McConville, the Army chief of staff, issued a joint statement saying, "There is no role for the US military in determining the outcome of an American election." On January 3, all ten living former secretaries of defense - Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld - published an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, noting that "efforts to involve the US armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory", and noting that "civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic." The former defense secretaries wrote that "acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates - political appointees, officers and civil servants - are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team."
Elizabeth Neumann, an adviser at Defending Democracy Together and a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security under Trump, stated that "In the conspiratorial conservative base supporting Trump, there are calls for using the Insurrection Act to declare martial law. When they hear that the president is actually considering this, there are violent extremist groups that look at this as a dog whistle, an excuse to go out and create ... violence."
Beginning in late December, false legal theories went viral on pro-Trump social media suggesting that Vice President Mike Pence could invoke the "Pence Card", a legal loophole that would enable him, in his capacity as President of the Senate, to reject pro-Biden electoral votes from contested swing states on the grounds that they were fraudulently appointed. The theory stems from a misreading of 3 U.S.C. § 12, which directs the Vice President to request electoral vote certificates from any state that has not yet sent these votes to the National Archives by the fourth Wednesday in December. Under the theory, Pence had unilateral authority to declare that state certificates from contested states had not in fact been received, and that new certificates (presumably supporting President Trump) should be issued. Trump re-tweeted a post calling for the invocation of the Pence Card on December 23, the day specified in statute, but Pence took no action consistent with the theory. As of January 5, 2021 , Trump was continuing to assert that Pence had unilateral power to throw out states' official electoral certificates on grounds of fraud. During the Capitol Building riots, numerous rioters chanted "Hang Mike Pence", and the phrase trended on Twitter until Twitter banned it.
Two weeks after Barr announced there was no evidence of significant election fraud, Trump announced on December 14 that Barr would be leaving as attorney general by Christmas. Before Trump's announcement, he enlisted his chief of staff Mark Meadows and other aides to pressure deputy attorney Jeffrey Rosen, who would replace Barr on December 23, and other Justice Department officials to challenge the election results. Meadows and a top Trump aide emailed allegations of voting anomalies in three states to Rosen and other officials. Meadows also sought to have Rosen investigate a conspiracy theory, promoted by a Giuliani ally, that satellites and military technology had been used in Italy to remotely change votes from Trump to Biden. Trump also enlisted a private attorney, Kurt Olsen, to seek a meeting with Rosen to propose a legal challenge he had drafted; it was similar to a challenge initiated by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton and supported by dozens of Republican members of Congress and state attorneys general, that attempted unsuccessfully to have the Supreme Court reject election results in four states. Rosen and his deputy Richard Donoghue resisted the efforts, exchanging emails mocking them, in one case, as "pure insanity."
The Associated Press reported in December that Heidi Stirrup, an ally of Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who months earlier had been quietly installed at the Justice Department as the White House's "eyes and ears," had in recent days been banned from the building after it was learned she pressured officials for sensitive information about potential election fraud and other matters she could relay to the White House. Stirrup had also circumvented Justice Department management to extend job offers to political allies for senior Department positions and interfered with the hiring of career officials.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House forced B. J. Pak, the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta, to resign on January 4, 2021, because he was not investigating claims of election fraud to President Trump's satisfaction.
On January 6, 2021, a joint session of Congress presided over by Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took place to count the electoral votes. Normally a ceremonial formality, the session was interrupted by a mob that stormed the Capitol.
On December 27, 2020, Republican Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas and the slate of Republican presidential electors for Arizona filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against Vice President Mike Pence, seeking to force him to decide the election outcome. Gohmert argued that the Electoral Count Act of 1887 was unconstitutional, that the Constitution gave Vice President Pence the "sole" power to decide the election outcome, and that Pence had the power to "count elector votes certified by a state's executive," select "a competing slate of duly qualified electors," or "ignore all electors from a certain state." Pence, represented by the Justice Department, moved to dismiss the case, since Congress, and not the vice president, was a more suitable defendant. The Justice Department also argued that "the Vice President - the only defendant in this case - is ironically the very person whose power [plaintiffs] seek to promote. A suit to establish that the Vice President has discretion over the count, filed against the Vice President, is a walking legal contradiction." Lawyers for Congress also supported Pence's position.
On January 1, 2021, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle dismissed the suit saying that due to the plaintiffs' lack of standing, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction relating to the constitutional status of the Electoral Count Act. On appeal, the next day, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed Gohmert's appeal in a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel.
On January 2, 2021, Trump held a one-hour phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump was joined by chief of staff Mark Meadows, trade adviser Peter Navarro, Justice Department official John Lott Jr., law professor John Eastman, and attorneys Rudy Giuliani, Cleta Mitchell and Kurt Hilbert. Raffensperger was joined by his general counsel Ryan Germany.
In that call, Trump repeatedly referred to disproven claims of election fraud and urged Raffensperger to overturn the election, saying "I just want to find 11,780 votes." Raffensperger refused, noting that Georgia had certified its results after counting the votes three times, and said at one point in the conversation, "Well, Mr. President, the challenge you have is the data you have is wrong." Trump issued a vague threat suggesting that Raffensperger and his general counsel Ryan Germany might be subject to criminal liability. After the Georgia call, Trump and his team spoke on Zoom with officials in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Raffensperger told his advisers that he did not wish a recording or a transcript to be made public unless Trump made false claims about the conversation or attacked Georgia officials. On the morning of January 3, Trump tweeted that Raffensperger "was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions" about various election-related conspiracy theories endorsed by Trump. Raffensperger replied by tweet, "Respectfully, President Trump: What you're saying is not true. The truth will come out." Later that day, The Washington Post reported on the call and published the full audio and transcript. (The Associated Press also obtained the recording.)
Two months later, it was revealed that Trump had also called Raffensperger's chief investigator, Frances Watson, on December 23. He spoke to her for six minutes, during which he told her: "When the right answer comes out, you'll be praised."
Legal experts stated that Trump's attempt to pressure Raffensperger could have violated election law, including federal and state laws against soliciting election fraud or interference in elections. Election-law scholar Edward B. Foley called Trump's conduct "inappropriate and contemptible" while the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called Trump's attempt "to rig a presidential election ... a low point in American history and unquestionably impeachable conduct."
Democrats condemned Trump's conduct. Vice President-elect Harris, as well as Representative Adam Schiff, (the chief prosecutor at Trump's first impeachment trial) said that Trump's attempt to pressure Raffensperger was an abuse of power. Dick Durbin, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, called for a criminal investigation. On January 4, 2021, Democratic Representatives Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking him to open a criminal investigation of the incident, writing that they believed Trump had solicited, or conspired to commit, "a number of election crimes." More than 90 House Democrats supported a formal censure resolution, introduced by Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, to "censure and condemn" Trump for having "misused the power of his office by threatening an elected official with vague criminal consequences if he failed to pursue the president's false claims" and for attempting "to willfully deprive the citizens of Georgia of a fair and impartial election process in direct contravention" of state and federal law. Some congressional Democrats called Trump's conduct an impeachable offense.
Several House and Senate Republicans also condemned Trump's conduct, although no Republican described the conduct as criminal or an impeachable offense. Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who is not seeking reelection in 2022, called it a "new low in this whole futile and sorry episode", and commended "Republican election officials across the country who have discharged their duties with integrity over the past two months while weathering relentless pressure, disinformation, and attacks from the president and his campaign." Other congressional Republicans ignored or sought to defend Trump's Georgia call, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Georgia Senator David Perdue, who told Fox News in an interview that he thinks releasing the tape of the call was "disgusting."
The day after Attorney General William Barr said he intended to resign, Trump began to pressure his planned replacement, Jeffrey Rosen, to help him fight the election results. In particular, Trump asked Rosen to file legal briefs supporting lawsuits against the election results; to announce Justice Department investigations of alleged serious election fraud; and to appoint special prosecutors to investigate Trump's unfounded allegations of voter fraud and accusations against Dominion Voting Systems. Rosen refused, as did his deputy, Richard Donoghue, as the Justice Department had already determined and announced that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. However, Trump continued to pressure them.
Despite these disagreements, Rosen became acting U.S. Attorney General on December 24 as originally planned. Trump continued to pressure Rosen, asking him to go to the Supreme Court directly to invalidate the election results, but Rosen - along with his predecessor Barr and former acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall - said such a case would have no basis and refused to file it.
Meanwhile, assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark, acting head of the Civil Division, proposed himself as Rosen's replacement, suggesting to Trump that he would support Trump's efforts to overturn the election results. On January 3, Clark revealed to Rosen that Trump intended to appoint him in Rosen's place. Rosen, Donoghue, and head of the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel made a pact to resign if Rosen was removed. Confronted with the threat of mass resignations, the president backed away from the plan.
During this time (the last week of December and early January), White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sent multiple emails to Rosen, asking him to investigate conspiracy theories that Trump was the true victor. One of Meadows's proposed stories was that Italy had used satellites to switch votes from Trump to Biden. Rosen did not open the investigation.
In December 2020, several Republican members of the House, led by Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, as well as Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, declared that they would formally object to the counting of the electoral votes of five swing states won by Biden during the January 6, 2021, joint session. The objections would then trigger votes from both houses. At least 140 House Republicans reportedly planned to vote against the counting of electoral votes, despite the lack of any credible allegation of an irregularity that would have impacted the election, and the allegations' rejections by courts, election officials, the Electoral College and others, and despite the fact that almost all of the Republican objectors had "just won elections in the very same balloting they are now claiming was fraudulently administered."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on December 15 had acknowledged Biden's victory the day after the Electoral College vote, privately urged his Republican Senate colleagues not to join efforts by some House Republicans to challenge the vote count, but he was unable to persuade Hawley not to lodge an objection. Hawley used his objection stance in fundraising emails. Eleven Republican senators and senators-elect Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, James Lankford, Steve Daines, John Kennedy, Marsha Blackburn, Mike Braun, Cynthia Lummis, Roger Marshall, Bill Hagerty, and Tommy Tuberville - one-quarter of Senate Republicans - announced that they would join Hawley's challenge. However, many senators acknowledged that it would not succeed. On January 2, 2021, Vice President Pence had expressed support for the attempt to overturn Biden's victory. Neither Pence nor the 11 senators planning to object made any specific allegation of fraud; rather, they vaguely suggested that some wrongdoing might have taken place. Other Senate Republicans were noncommittal or opposed to the attempt by the 11 Republican senators to subvert the election results.
Objections to the electoral votes had virtually no chance of success, as Democrats had a majority in the House of Representatives and, although the Senate had a Republican majority, there was no majority for overturning the election results. Trevor Potter, a Republican former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and the president of the Campaign Legal Center, wrote that the counting joint session "gives Trump's die-hard supporters in Congress an opportunity to again provide more disinformation about the election on national television." After Senator John Thune, the second highest-ranking Senate Republican, said that the challenge to the election results would fail "like a shot dog" in the Senate, Trump attacked him on Twitter.
In early January, Trump began to pressure Pence to take action to overturn the election. As vice president, Pence presides over the Congressional session to count the electoral votes - normally a non-controversial, ceremonial event. For days beforehand, Trump demanded both in public and in private that Pence use that position to overturn the election results in swing states and declare Trump-Pence the winners of the election. Pence demurred that the law does not give him that power, but Trump insisted that "The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act." Pence ultimately released a statement stating: "It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not".
An hour before the joint session was set to start, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani tried to call freshman Senator Tommy Tuberville but accidentally left a message in the voicemail of another senator, which was subsequently leaked to The Dispatch, stating that "we need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down... So if you could object to every state and, along with a congressman, get a hearing for every state, I know we would delay you a lot, but it would give us the opportunity to get the legislators who are very, very close to pulling their vote... they have written letters asking that you guys adjourn and send them back the questionable ones and they'll fix them up".
At the January 6 session, after Republican senators had raised objections to Biden's electoral victory, the House debated and voted. A majority of Republicans, totaling 139 and including GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and his deputy Steve Scalise, voted to support at least one objection.
At the end of February 2021, Representative Zoe Lofgren released a nearly 2,000-page report that examined the social media posts of Republican leaders who had voted against certifying the election results. The report focused on their posts before the November election and after the January 6 riot.
Starting in December, Trump repeatedly encouraged his supporters to protest in Washington, D.C., on January 6 in support of his campaign to overturn the election results, telling his supporters to "Be there, will be wild!" The Washington Post editorial board criticized Trump for urging street protests, referring to previous violence by some Trump supporters at two earlier rallies and his earlier statement during a presidential debate telling the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by." Multiple groups of "die-hard" Trump supporters staged rallies in Washington on that day: Women for America First; the Eighty Percent Coalition (also at Freedom Plaza) (the group's name refers to the belief that approximately 80% of Trump voters do not accept the legitimacy of Biden's win); and "The Silent Majority" (a group organized by a South Carolina conservative activist). George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone, ardent allies of Trump, headlined some of the events. In addition to the formally organized events, the Proud Boys, other far-right groups, and white supremacists vowed to descend on Washington on January 6, with some threatening violence and pledging to carry weapons. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio said that his followers would "be incognito" and would "spread across downtown DC in smaller teams." On January 4, Tarrio was arrested by District police on misdemeanor and felony charges.
As the certification process was underway, Trump gave a speech encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol. Many of them did, whereupon they joined other protesters already gathered in the area and violently stormed and breached the Capitol, eventually entering the Senate and House chambers as well as numerous offices. The Congressional proceedings were suspended, the legislators were taken to secure locations, and Pence and later Pelosi were evacuated. Protestors penetrated the Senate chamber. One unarmed woman was shot and killed by Capitol Police inside the Capitol building after she attempted to climb through a broken door into the Speaker's Lobby; the officer who shot her had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, however, there were no criminal charges against the officer. One other protester was trampled to death, two died of natural causes, and a Capitol Police officer collapsed at the scene and died the next day due to unknown causes.
On January15, Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell visited the White House, where he was photographed carrying notes that appeared to suggest an additional attempt to overturn the election. The document bore a heading containing the words "taken immediately to save... Constitution" and called for 780th Military Intelligence Brigade (Cyber) civilian lawyer "Frank Colon NOW as Acting National Security [illegible]", and mentioned the "Insurrection Act" and "martial law". It further recommended "[m]ov[ing] Kash Patel to CIA Acting" and made reference to Trump loyalist Sidney Powell.
Starting in late January, QAnon adherents began expressing their beliefs that Trump would be re-inaugurated as the 19th President on March 4, the original date for presidential inaugurations until the passage of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933. This belief was adopted from a false aspect of sovereign citizen ideology that asserts there has not been a "legitimate" U.S. President since Ulysses S. Grant (whose first inauguration occurred on March 4, 1869) due to an 1871 law that supposedly turned the U.S. into a corporation. In February, it was reported that National Guard troops were expected to remain in Washington, D.C., through March 12 due to concerns over possible activity by QAnon adherents on March 4.
On March 2, it was reported that security measures were being added in Washington, D.C., in preparation for possible events on March 4. Despite these reports, the Capitol Police had advised lawmakers earlier that week that there was no indication of any protests or acts of violence in Washington, D.C., being planned. However, based on new intelligence that an identified but undisclosed militia group might attempt an attack on the Capitol building from that date to March 6, the agency issued an updated alert on March 3. House leadership subsequently rescheduled a March 4 vote to the previous night to allow lawmakers to leave town, though it later said the reschedule was not done out of security concerns. Meanwhile, the Senate did not follow suit, and it continued debating on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 as planned.
In addition to the Capitol Police advisory, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint intelligence bulletin, featuring similar warnings of possible violence on March 4, to state and local law enforcement agencies across the U.S. on the previous day. The Associated Press reported that federal agents were monitoring hotel rooms, flight, and rental car reservation increases, as well as bus charters, for that day. It also reported a decline in online activity on some social media platforms regarding March 4, similar to another decline of online chatter leading up to the events of January 6.
Ultimately, March 4 passed without any serious incidents being reported. Afterwards, it was reported that the QAnon community had recently become skeptical of the March 4 theory. Prominent QAnon influencers did not treat the date with any significance unlike January 6, and some even dissuaded followers from participating in events scheduled on that date and accusing the news coverage about the date of being part of a false flag narrative designed to entrap them. Similar rhetoric had been observed prior to the January 6 riot and Biden's inauguration. According to Newsweek, some QAnon adherents rescheduled the purported date of Trump's re-inauguration to March 20, based on a misinterpretation of a 2019 act that "extends support provided by the General Services Administration to the president- and vice president-elect for up to 60 days after the inauguration"; it was also the 167th anniversary of the founding of the Republican Party.
On March 31, 2021, the Arizona Senate Republican caucus hired four firms to perform an audit of the presidential ballots in Maricopa County, with a Florida-based company called Cyber Ninjas being the lead firm. There was no stated purpose of overturning the election, and there is no mechanism under the Constitution by which the Congressional certification of the result could be reversed. Nevertheless, Trump and some of his supporters expressed the hope that the Arizona result would be changed and that there might be a "domino effect" in which other states changed their results.
At least nine sitting Republican Senators condemned Trump's claims of fraud: Roy Blunt, Susan Collins, Joni Ernst, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey. Members of the second Bush administration widely opposed the attempt, with statements from George W. Bush, Andrew Card, Dan Coats, Ari Fleischer, Condoleezza Rice, Tom Ridge and Karl Rove. Former members of the Trump administration also condemned the attempt, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Director of National Intelligence Michael Chertoff, and H. R. McMaster, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (2017-2018).
A spokesperson for President-elect Biden called the effort a publicity stunt that would fail, a statement echoed by Senator Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat of the committee with jurisdiction over federal elections. A bipartisan group of senators condemned the scheme to undo the election for Trump; Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) said, "The 2020 election is over. All challenges through recounts and appeals have been exhausted. At this point, further attempts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election are contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans' confidence in the already determined election results." In a separate statement, Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, denounced his Republican colleagues who had sought to overturn the election results, terming them "the institutional arsonist members of Congress" and called the submission of objection to counting the electoral votes a "dangerous ploy" by Republican members of Congress who - in seeking "a quick way to tap into the president's populist base" - were pointing "a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government." Other prominent Republicans who spoke out against attempts to subvert the election results included Governor Larry Hogan, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House.
The former Republican Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote in The Economist that "President Donald Trump's actions to destroy faith in our elections and throw centuries of American principles out the window must be met with universal condemnation from all political leaders, regardless of party."
The New York Post, which had promoted Trump's celebrity in New York since the 1980s and had twice endorsed his presidential candidacy, published a front-page editorial in December asking the president to "stop the insanity" and "end this dark charade," asserting that he was "cheering for an undemocratic coup." The editorial continued: "If you insist on spending your final days in office threatening to burn it all down, that will be how you are remembered. Not as a revolutionary, but as the anarchist holding the match." The Post characterized Trump attorney Sidney Powell as a "crazy person" and his former national security advisor Michael Flynn's suggestion to declare martial law as "tantamount to treason." The conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal published an editorial entitled "Trump's Bad Exit", writing: "As he leaves office he can't seem to help reminding Americans why they denied him a second term" and "his sore loser routine is beginning to grate even on millions who voted for him."
In 2011, Fox News created a "Monday Mornings with Trump" segment during which Trump would call in to Fox & Friends to offer his views on current affairs, and the hosts of that program continued to be supportive of Trump during his presidency. On January 4, 2021, host Ainsley Earhardt stated that many conservatives "feel like it was rigged," although host Steve Doocey responded, "That's the case that Donald Trump and his lawyers have put out. They said there is all this evidence. But they haven't really produced the evidence." Host Brian Kilmeade stated that he had another "worry" about "the protest the president is calling for on Tuesday and Wednesday [as Congress convened to certify the election results]. I mean, this is the type of anarchy that doesn't work for anybody, Republicans or Democrats, in the big picture."
All ten living former secretaries of defense - including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates - published an essay on January 3, 2021, stating: "The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived." They also warned of grave consequences of any contemplated military involvement in the situation.
The Chief Executive of the United States Chamber of Commerce commented that "[e]fforts by some members of Congress to disregard certified election results... undermines our democracy and the rule of law and will only result in further division", while almost 200 business leaders signed a statement from the Partnership for New York City declaring that such a move would "run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy". The National Association of Manufacturers called for Vice President Pence to invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and remove Trump from office.
A former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, acknowledging that she once "worked for him and...believed in him," told reporters that "the new Ted Cruz, post-Trump, is one I don't recognize...his actions directly played into the hands of the mob."
During the riot, a Cumulus Media executive told its radio hosts that they must stop spreading the idea of election fraud. The memo said the election was over and that "there are no alternate acceptable 'paths'," and thus the radio hosts must immediately "help induce national calm."
According to a Washington Post assessment, Trump's falsehoods about fraud cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars in spending to enhance security, resolve legal disputes and repair property, among other things.
Drawing on the false allegations of voting fraud and a stolen election, in early 2021 Republican state legislatures began to implement new laws and rules to restrict voting access in ways that would benefit Republican candidates.
News media was split about the appropriateness of describing the efforts to overturn the election as an attempted coup. Articles in The Atlantic, Bloomberg News, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Intelligencer, The Nation, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, and Vanity Fair characterized the efforts as an attempted coup. In addition, cable news political commentators for MSNBC and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough cited the Wikipedia article "coup d'état" and specified that this would technically be an autocoup. Consistent with the notion of an attempted coup and rejection of the results of the 2020 election, longtime Republican strategist Steve Schmidt stated: "The Republican Party is an organized conspiracy for the purposes of maintaining power for self-interest, and the self-interest of its donor class... It's no longer dedicated to American democracy."
Steven Levitsky, the co-author of How Democracies Die, said that "in technical terms, it's probably not a coup. But it is an illegal and authoritarian attempt to stay in power." Naunihal Singh, the author of Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups, opined that Trump's actions were not a coup without military action. Erica De Bruin, assistant professor of government at Hamilton College, submitted a November 11, 2020, op-ed to The Washington Post, arguing that Trump's actions did "not yet fit" the definition of a coup but more closely matched the description of an autocoup. Scholars Michael Albertus and John Chin also stated that the behavior better fit the political science definition of an autocoup rather than a classical coup, with Chin stating: "[i]f this were a coup, it'd be a very strange one, a slow-motion kind of coup that goes against pretty much what most scholars have observed about coups from time immemorial." Joshua Keating similarly argued in Slate that the autocoup descriptor was most accurate, but that regardless of the technical definition "Republicans are drawing up a playbook that won't soon be forgotten" and pointing out that "[p]olitical scientists have identified a phenomenon known as the 'coup trap', in which countries that have experienced coups in the recent past are more likely to have more of them."
Daniel Drezner wrote a December 2020 op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that while Trump and his confederates were ineptly trying to overturn the election results in a "ham-handed effort to besmirch the election outcome by any easily available means necessary", the attempts were insufficiently violent to meet the criteria for a coup and consequently should not be equated to Turkish military coups d'état. Jonathan Powell described the coup classification as "completely inaccurate", clarifying that "[t]he types of places that have coups are limited to countries that are incredibly poor, that have really stagnant economies, that are economically marginalized, that generally have very serious forms of other types of domestic instability, like civil war", but said that while the attempt "might not be specifically tied to a potential coup right now, it is certainly very alarming for the US's potential to remain a democracy in the future."
On January 6, 2021, rioters forced a recess of a joint session of Congress as they counted electoral votes. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) described the event as a coup attempt. New York Attorney General Letitia James similarly described the event as a coup attempt. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) described the events as an "insurrection", language also echoed by President-elect Biden.
According to a July 2021 book by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, during the weeks following the election Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley became concerned Trump was preparing to stage a coup, and held informal discussions with his deputies about possible ways to thwart it, telling associates, "They may try, but they're not going to fucking succeed. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We're the guys with the guns." The book also quoted Milley saying, "This is a Reichstag moment. The gospel of the Führer." Milley reportedly told police and military officials preparing to secure Joe Biden's presidential inauguration, "Everyone in this room, whether you're a cop, whether you're a soldier, we're going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power. We're going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren't getting in."
"Trump won" is a political slogan adopted by Trump supporters who, contrary to the election results, believe that Trump won the 2020 U.S. presidential election. As of May 2021, an Ipsos/Reuters survey reported that 53% of Republican-identifying respondents agreed with the belief that Trump was still the legitimate President of the United States. As of June 2021 , some still believe that Trump will be restored to power by some extraordinary process, possibly later in 2021. These beliefs have led to concerns from the Department of Homeland Security about violence by right-wing extremists in the summer of 2021.
Trump's efforts to cling to power are unprecedented in American history. While political parties have fought over the results of presidential elections before, no incumbent president has ever made such expansive and individualized pleas to the officials who oversee certification of the election results.
President Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election are unprecedented in American history and an even more audacious use of brute political force to gain the White House than when Congress gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency during Reconstruction.
A good case can be made that the storming of the Capitol qualifies as a coup. It's especially so because the rioters entered at precisely the moment when the incumbent's loss was to be formally sealed, and they succeeded in stopping the count.
The confusion and negative effect from illegitimate infusion of private funding in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and several other states during the 2020 election can be shown to have had a disparate and inequitable impact on the electorate.
PolitiFact spoke to six scholars of constitutional law and presidential power and asked them whether the executive order allows Trump to declare martial law. They were unanimous: It doesn't. ... Under the Constitution, the president does not have the power to unilaterally impose martial law.
It's mind-boggling to me that we have people that are actually trying conduct a coup and take the votes away from the voters.
Just so people who think this, to call this a coup is hyperbolic, or an attempted coup, you just look at the definition in Wikipedia: it says, "Typically, it's an illegal, unconstitutional attempt to seize power by a political faction". Definition of a coup. Of course, if he's already in power, it'd be an "autocoup". But at the same time, you look at the definition, and if... I guess I would just say to Trump defenders, if it's not an attempted coup, if it's not an "illegal unconstitutional attempt to seize power by a political faction" when he's trying to call people to the White House to get them to change their votes, trying to call the Governor of Arizona to try to stop him from doing legally what he has to do which is to certify the election results, trying to get those in Michigan and Wayne County to illegally not certify the votes there... if Republicans don't think it's a coup or doesn't fit this definition of a coup in all four corners then I'd love to hear what they would call it.
Because Trump is attempting to remain in power, rather than remove someone else from it his efforts come closer to what scholars call an attempt at a "self-coup" - or, using the Spanish term, an autogolpe - in which a head of state attempts to remain in power past his or her term in office.
To be clear, the takeaway from this is not to relax completely. However ineptly, Trump and his legal team are trying to overturn the results. The effect on GOP public attitudes is disheartening. Tufekci is correct to observe that the watchword is vigilance. That said, what is happening is not a coup, or even an attempt at a coup. It is a ham-handed effort to besmirch the election outcome by any easily available means necessary. That is not good, but it is very different from Turkey's myriad coups.