WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump vowed Saturday to press forward with a legal fight, pushing unfounded claims of voter fraud in response to the news that President-elect Joe Biden had won the election.
Trump was at his Virginia golf club when NBC News and other networks projected Biden as the winner.
While crowds gathered outside the White House to celebrate Trump's defeat, inside the building it was mostly quiet. Several aides were in quarantine after his chief of staff tested positive for Covid-19.
Hours ticked by after Biden was projected to be the winner without a public appearance by Trump. He released a statement within minutes of the announcement claiming that the "election is far from over."
"Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated," Trump said. "The American People are entitled to an honest election: that means counting all legal ballots, and not counting any illegal ballots."
Trump took to Twitter hours after the announcement to continue to make unfounded claims that rampant voter fraud occurred. He also boasted about the 71 million votes he won, the most by any incumbent president but not enough to secure re-election.
When asked, neither Trump nor his campaign have presented evidence that illegal ballots were counted. Despite having repeated the claim for days now, the Trump campaign has failed to provide any sound evidence of voter fraud.
Trump sought to depict the decision by news networks to project Biden as the winner as evidence that forces were working against him.
"We all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don't want the truth to be exposed. The simple fact is this election is far from over," Trump said in his statement. He added, "I will not rest until the American People have the honest vote count they deserve and that Democracy demands."
Election administrators around the country have also worked to make the process transparent, allowing representatives from both parties, as well as the news media, into the rooms to watch votes as they are tabulated. Philadelphia offered a livestreamed video to allow the public to watch.
Still, Trump's team of lawyers pressed on with its strategy to litigate the election results even as some privately acknowledged that the efforts would have little impact.
"Now that there's a call, I'm sure the lawsuits will continue, but the fact remains: You can't un-count votes," a person close to Trump's re-elect effort admitted.
On Saturday afternoon, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, claimed at a news conference in Philadelphia that "highly suspect ballots" were cast that amounted to "absolute fraud."
Pennsylvania put Biden over the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
When votes began to be tabulated on election night, Trump was initially leading in Pennsylvania as polls first closed. The lead had been expected — Trump had discouraged mail voting, and his supporters had been expected to use in-person voting, compared to Biden's supporters, who made up a greater share of mail-in votes. As mail-in and absentee votes were counted throughout the week, Trump's lead shrunk.
"You don't lose leads like that without corruption," Giuliani argued without providing evidence.
Trump also tried to cast doubt on the Pennsylvania results Saturday, writing in his statement that "legal observers were not permitted meaningful access to watch the counting process" and adding that "legal votes decide who is president, not the news media."
Poll watchers have always been in the room where votes were being counted and were never denied access, but they were asked to stand a distance away from the ballot counting machines because of the coronavirus.
"Obviously, he's not going to concede when at least 600,000 ballots are in question," Giuliani said, providing no basis for the number.
But allies have began spectating about what happens next and whether Trump will remain the most influential figure in the Republican Party.
"He'll be able to say they stole it, and he'll go down to Florida and continue to be the most influential Republican in the country," predicted a former White House official close to the campaign.