One evening a few years ago, I was approached by a friendly, seemingly rational man outside our apartment on Keren HaYesod in Jerusalem and somehow got sucked into a conversation about "chemtrails." Try as I might, I could not seem to extricate myself as he spun an elaborate conspiracy theory and assured me there was plenty of evidence to back it up. I thought of that guy while watching Rudy Giuliani's press conference yesterday, which began with an appeal to fair-mindedness before descending into madness.
According to the tale told by Giuliani and two other Trump lawyers, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis, Democratic election officials across the country conspired to assure Joe Biden's victory through a "massive fraud" that initially involved tricky election software produced by Dominion Voting Systems. "One of its most characteristic features is its ability to flip votes," Powell said. "It 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." But because so many people voted for Trump, she explained, "it broke the algorithm that had been plugged into the system."
That's when Democrats resorted to Plan B, which involved hurriedly manufacturing phony absentee ballots. "A truck pulled up to the Detroit center where they were counting ballots," Giuliani said. "The people thought it was food, so they all ran to the truck. Wasn't food. It was thousands and thousands of ballots, and the ballots were in garbage cans, they were in paper bags, they were in cardboard boxes, and they were taken into the center." It turned out "these were ballots for Biden" and "only for Biden," meaning the conspirators did not even bother to mark votes in other races. According to Giuliani, this sort of thing happened not only in Michigan but also in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Arizona, flipping those battleground states to Biden while Republican poll watchers were kept at a distance so they could not see what was happening.
In Giuliani's view, it defies logic to suppose that Democratic officials in all those states independently decided to sabotage Trump's reelection: "Isn't the logical conclusion—that I think any jury would accept if they heard this evidence—that somebody had this plan? Maybe that was always the plan?" Was Biden himself involved? Probably! "I think the logical conclusion is this is a common plan, a common scheme, that comes right directly from the Democrat Party," Giuliani said, "and it comes from the candidate."
The conspiracy described by Trump's lawyers extends even further. "What we are really dealing with here and uncovering more by the day," Powell said, "is the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States."
By Giuliani's account, this vast, international, communist-influenced scheme was both incredibly sophisticated and remarkably inept, since it left conspicuous clues, including statistically impossible vote tallies for Biden and shipments of clearly fraudulent ballots, unloaded in plain view. He repeatedly slammed members of the press for willfully ignoring this evidence and falsely reporting that there is no factual basis for the president's claim that Biden stole the election.
The anti-Trump conspiracy is "easily provable," Giuliani averred, based on testimony from "hundreds of witnesses, maybe thousands." But although he repeatedly faulted reporters for not reading those affidavits, he conceded that the vast majority are not available for them to read. "We have a hundred more of these," he said, referring to statements about alleged fraud in Detroit. "I can't show them to you because those people don't want to be harassed….Do you know how many affidavits we have in the Michigan case? 220 affidavits. They're not all public, but eight of them are."
While Giuliani is confident that his mostly secret evidence would be enough to persuade "any jury," judges who have actually considered Republican claims of massive election fraud were not impressed. Last week Wayne County, Michigan, Judge Timothy Kenny ruled that the public affidavits to which Giuliani referred, which were submitted as part of a lawsuit filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center on behalf of two Republican poll challengers, provided "no basis" for ordering an independent audit or issuing an injunction against certification of the election results in Detroit.
Giuliani's claim that "thousands and thousands" of fraudulent Biden ballots suddenly appeared in the count room at Detroit's TCF Center in the middle of the night seems to be based on statements from two Republican poll watchers. Neither of them mentioned the "garbage cans" or "paper bags" that Giuliani described, and Kenny found neither of them compelling.
"I heard other challengers say that several vehicles with out-of-state license plates pulled up to the TCF Center a little before 4:30 a.m. and unloaded boxes of ballots," Andrew Sitto said. "Tens of thousands of ballots were brought in and placed on eight long tables. Unlike the other ballots, these boxes were brought in from the rear of the room….I specifically noticed that every ballot I observed was cast for Joe Biden."
Kenny said "Mr. Sitto's affidavit, while stating a few general facts, is rife with speculation and guess-work about sinister motives." He noted that Sitto did not actually know how many ballots were delivered or how many of them were marked for Biden.
Contrary to Sitto's implication that bringing ballots in "from the rear of the room" was inherently suspicious, former Michigan Elections Director Christopher Thomas said "all ballots were delivered to the back of Hall E at the TCF Center." Thomas also said the city used rental trucks to deliver ballots, which would explain the "out-of-state license plates." Kenny concluded that "there is no evidentiary basis to attribute any evil activity by virtue of the city using a rental truck with out-of-state license plates."
Another Republican observer, Daniel Gustafson, said "large quantities of ballots were delivered to the TCF Center in what appeared to be mail bins with open tops." Gustafson "offers little other than to indicate that he witnessed 'large quantities of ballots' delivered to the TCF Center in containers that did not have lids, were not sealed, or did not have marking indicating their source of origin," Kenny wrote. "Mr. Gustafson's affidavit is another example of generalized speculation fueled by the belief that there was a Michigan legal requirement that all ballots had to be delivered in a sealed box. Plaintiffs have not supplied any statutory requirement supporting Mr. Gustafson's speculative suspicion of fraud."
While she was working at a "satellite location" prior to Election Day, city employee Jessy Jacob said, a supervisor told her not to ask voters for identification. Jacob, whose claims Giuliani repeatedly cited yesterday, also said she saw other workers coach people to vote a straight Democratic ticket and accompany them to the voting booths.
"The allegations made by Ms. Jacob are serious," Kenny wrote. "In the affidavit, however, Ms. Jacob does not name the location of the satellite office, the September or October date these acts of fraud took place, [or] the number of occasions she witnessed the alleged misconduct. Ms. Jacob in her affidavit fails to name the city employees responsible for the voter fraud and never told a supervisor about the misconduct." He added that "Ms. Jacob only came forward after the unofficial results of the voting indicated former Vice President Biden was the winner in the state of Michigan."
While working at the TCF Center, Jacob said, she was told not to check whether signatures on mail-in ballots matched the names of eligible voters. She said supervisors also instructed her to "pre-date" ballots that arrived the day after Election Day.
"Ms. Jacob ascribes a sinister motive for these directives," Kenny said. "Evidence offered by long-time State Elections Director Christopher Thomas, however,
reveals there was no need for comparison of signatures at the TCF Center because
eligibility had been reviewed and determined at the Detroit Election Headquarters on
West Grand Blvd. Ms. Jacob was directed not to search for or compare signatures because the task had already been performed by other Detroit city clerks at a previous location….As to the allegation of 'pre-dating' ballots, Mr. Thomas explains that this action completed a data field inadvertently left blank during the initial absentee ballot verification process. The entries reflected the date the City received the absentee ballot."
Melissa Carone, a Republican who was working at the TCF Center as an I.T. contractor for Dominion Voting Systems (yes, the same company that supposedly supplies fraud-facilitating software), said she "witnessed nothing but fraudulent actions take place." The irregularities allegedly included a cover-up aimed at concealing the "loss of vast amounts of data" and "untrained counter tabulating machines that would get jammed four to five times per hour."
Kenny noted that "Ms. Carone's description of the events at the TCF Center does not square with any of the other affidavits"; that "there are no other reports of lost data, or tabulating machines that jammed repeatedly every hour during the count"; and that "neither Republican nor Democratic challengers nor city officials substantiate her version of events." He concluded that "the allegations simply are not credible."
Zachery Larsen, a Republican vote challenger and former Michigan assistant attorney general, alleged that ballots were processed without confirming voters' eligibility. He "expressed concern that he was unable to observe the activities of election official[s] because he was required to stand six feet away from the election workers." He also complained that he was not allowed to reenter the TCF Center on November 4 after he left briefly to eat.
"Mr. Larsen's concern about verifying the eligibility of voters at the AVCB [absent voter counting board] was incorrect," Kenny said. "As stated earlier, voter eligibility was determined at the Detroit Election Headquarters by other Detroit city clerk personnel."
Likewise, Kenny wrote, "the claim that Mr. Larsen was prevented from viewing the work being processed at the tables is simply not correct. As seen in a City of Detroit exhibit, a large monitor was at the table where individuals could maintain a safe distance from poll workers to see what exactly was being performed."
Kenny also noted that "Mr. Larsen's claim about the reason for being excluded from reentry into the absent voter counting board area is contradicted by two other individuals." According to those affidavits, "Democratic challengers were also prohibited from reentering the room because the maximum occupancy of the room had taken place. Given the COVID-19 concerns, no additional individuals could be allowed into the counting area."
Kenny noted that Larsen never filed a formal complaint about the irregularities he said he observed. "Given the concerns raised in Mr. Larsen's affidavit, one would expect an attorney would have done so," the judge said. Instead Larsen "only came forward to complain after the unofficial vote results indicated his candidate had lost."
Maybe Giuliani's secret affidavits are more substantial than the ones that are publicly available. But until he lets a court see them, there is no way to know.
Giuliani's explanation for the failure to make any headway with allegations of systematic election fraud is that Democrats "have some friendly judges that will issue ridiculously irrational opinions just to come out in their favor." Yet Giuliani himself, while challenging the election results in Pennsylvania this week, seemed to concede that he could not prove the "massive fraud" he described yesterday.
Giuliani was asking U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann to block certification of Pennsylvania's election results, which Brann said would "invalidate more than 6.8 million votes…thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth." Brann wondered how that outcome could "possibly be justified." Although Giuliani began the hearing by alleging "widespread nationwide voter fraud," Brann noted that none of the Trump campaign's specific claims were examples of that. Later he asked whether the practices challenged by the lawsuit should be judged by the "strict scrutiny" standard that applies to burdens on fundamental rights. "If we had alleged fraud, then yes," Giuliani replied, "but this is not a fraud case."
What about the allegedly nefarious software that Giuliani and Powell said was at the heart of the original plan to steal the election? Such claims are "unsubstantiated," if not "technically incoherent," a group of 59 computer scientists and election security experts said in an open letter published this week. "Anyone asserting that a U.S. election was 'rigged' is making an extraordinary claim, one that must be supported by persuasive and verifiable evidence," they wrote. "To our collective knowledge, no credible evidence has been put forth that supports a conclusion that the 2020 election outcome in any state has been altered through technical compromise."
[This post has been revised to clarify the context of the exchange between Giuliani and Brann.]