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Trump's campaign shouts 'rigged' as Iowa caucuses thrown into chaos

There was no evidence that the state Democratic Party, which is overseeing the election, was "rigging" the results.
Image: Donald Trump Jr. speaks with his brother Eric and wife Lara, as well as his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle during a "Keep Iowa Great" press conference in Des Moines
Donald Trump Jr. speaks as his brother and sister-in-law Eric and Lara Trump, and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, stand near him during a "Keep Iowa Great" press conference in Des Moines, on Feb. 3, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

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By Allan Smith, Shannon Pettypiece and Ben Collins

President Donald Trump's adult sons and campaign suggested the Iowa caucuses were "rigged" as the state Democratic Party said it found "inconsistencies" and delayed releasing the results, leading to widespread confusion in the Hawkeye State.

"Mark my words, they are rigging this thing ... what a mess," Eric Trump, one of the president's sons, tweeted. "This is why people don’t want the #Dems running our county."

"The fix is in... AGAIN," tweeted Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. "And we get to watch it play out on live TV. Incredible."

There was no evidence that the state Democratic Party, which is overseeing the election, was "rigging" the results, although the confusion that followed Monday's caucusing was met with a steady flow of conspiracy theories online as to what exactly was going on.

Early Tuesday, the state party said it would release results from the Democratic caucuses later in the day after "manually verifying all precinct results."

Mandy McClure, the communications director for the Iowa Democrats, said Monday night there were "inconsistencies" in reporting the three sets of results.

"In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report," McClure said, adding, "This is simply a reporting issue. The app did not go down, and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results."

The state party had said earlier it was conducting "quality control checks, making sure the numbers are accurate."

"Quality control = rigged?" Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted, adding in a later statement, "It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process."

The malfunction in the reporting system gave the Trump campaign an opportunity to try to create division between the establishment and the anti-establishment wings of the Democratic Party. And if the results are viewed as suspect, that could lessen the impact of the victory for the candidate who emerges on top.

Such division could further two of the Trump team's goals: prolonging the Democratic primary process so the candidates spend more time and resources fighting among themselves, and trying to discourage Democratic turnout by fueling the perception that the process wasn’t fair — similar to what was done in 2016 during the contest between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

In a Fox News interview Tuesday, Kayleigh McEnany, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, questioned whether the results were "being rigged against Bernie Sanders."

In recent weeks, Trump and his allies have echoed the claims from 2016 of a "rigged" process and suggested the Democratic Party is currently conspiring against Sanders, who was leading in the RealClearPolitics polling average of Iowa surveys heading into the caucuses.

Those intraparty wounds from 2016 still remain. Just last summer, Sanders told MSNBC of the 2016 race that "some people say that if maybe the system was not rigged against me, I would have won the nomination and defeated Donald Trump." But, pushing back on Trump's claims about the 2020 primary, senior Sanders campaign adviser Jeff Weaver told MSNBC ahead of the caucuses Monday the process "is not currently rigged."

Speaking at his Iowa election headquarters following Monday's vote, Sanders said he had a "a good feeling" the Iowa results, once announced, will be favorable to his candidacy.

In his own analysis of the chaos, Trump did not go quite as far as his children and campaign, simply calling it "an unmitigated disaster," adding in a tweet that "The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is 'Trump.''

Trump also vowed that as long as he is president, the Iowa caucuses would remain the first nominating contest in the nation, despite criticisms of the process.

Trump was NBC News' projected winner in the Republican caucuses, getting about 97 percent of the vote. Such a strong result was not in doubt.

Iowa's most prominent Republicans were singing a much different tune than Trump's campaign and family. In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst said the caucus "process is not suffering because of a short delay in knowing the final results."

"Iowans and all Americans should know we have complete confidence that every last vote will be counted and every last voice will be heard," they said. "We look forward to Iowa carrying on its bipartisan legacy of service in the presidential nominating process."

As it became clear the state Democratic Party was dealing with major issues in releasing the totals, election workers said a new smartphone app created for organizers to report the results was to blame for the chaos.

"The app is the issue, and the hotline is smoked," said Joe Galasso, a volunteer in charge of new registrations for Waukee Precinct 2, in Dallas County. A source familiar with the process said the backup phone line was "a disaster."

"The app is f---ing up," said a senior aide to one of the campaigns, who asked not to be identified. "Can't trust the numbers coming in."

NBC News previously reported that security experts had expressed some concern about the app, which is also set to be used in the Nevada caucuses later this month. Trouble began brewing earlier Monday as some precinct leaders and county chairs said they were unable or unwilling to use the app.

In a statement Tuesday, Iowa Democrats said that while "the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data" due "to a coding issue in the reporting system," which the state party said has been fixed. Several precincts reported long hold times to reach the party’s telephone reporting system, the backup to the app, immediately following the caucuses.

Dana Ramus, legal counsel for former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, released a statement railing against “considerable flaws in tonight’s Iowa caucus reporting system."

"The app that was intended to relay caucus results to the party failed; the party's backup telephonic reporting system likewise has failed,” Ramus wrote.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's campaign manager, Roger Lau, told reporters the delayed results did not inspire confidence: "Every second that passes sort of undermines the process a little bit."