Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.
As millions of dollars have poured in for Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s three-state recount, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is now joining the effort to investigate possible vote tampering, reports Joe Lauria.
Although lacking "actionable evidence of hacking,” Hillary Clinton’s campaign has decided to join the recount of votes from the presidential election in the state of Wisconsin that was launched by Jill Stein, the presidential candidate from the U.S. Green Party.
Marc Elias, the Clinton campaign counsel, said the campaign decided to take part in the recount to discover whether there was "outside interference” in the election results. He said the campaign had been inundated with messages from Clinton supporters to do "something, anything, to investigate claims that the election results were hacked and altered in a way to disadvantage Secretary Clinton,” particularly in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Donald Trump narrowly beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where the margin was only 11,612 votes, the closet presidential contest in that state’s history.
Clinton would have to win all three states in the recount to receive 276 electoral votes to Trump’s 260. A total of 270 votes are needed to win the presidency. Trump now leads 306 to 232. The electors will vote in their state capitals on Dec. 19. It is not clear if the three recounts would be finished by then.
"This election cycle was unique in the degree of foreign interference witnessed throughout the campaign: the U.S. government concluded that Russian state actors were behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and the personal email accounts of Hillary for America campaign officials,” Elias wrote in an online message.
"We have quietly taken a number of steps in the last two weeks to rule in or out any possibility of outside interference in the vote tally in these critical battleground states,” he said, adding that since the day after the election the campaign had lawyers and data scientists "combing over the results to spot anomalies that would suggest a hacked result.”
But because the Clinton campaign "had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology, we had not planned to exercise this option ourselves.” But now that Stein had initiated a recount in Wisconsin, "we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides,” Elias wrote.
Stein has raised $6 million in just three days to pay for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She filed with Wisconsin on Friday, where officials said the recount would soon begin and plans to file in the other states next week.
"If Jill Stein follows through as she has promised and pursues recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, we will take the same approach in those states as well,” Elias said.
There is no evidence of prior coordination between Stein and the Clinton campaign in the recount effort. But Stein’s call for the recounts in the three states that could reverse the results of the election in Clinton’s favor raised a number of questions about her motives, which she responded to in an online video and several television interviews.
Stein said she is not activating the recounts to either help Clinton or hurt Trump but to ensure the reliability of the country’s voting systems. She said she did not believe the recount would change the election’s result.
"You wouldn’t get into an airplane and wait for it to crash to decide you need quality assurance and a backup system,” Stein told the PBS News Hour. "Our voting system is no less important and we’re basically calling for a system to verify voting. We shouldn’t have to show there’s been a disaster in order to safeguard a very vulnerable voting system.”
Stein told PBS there is "not a smoking gun here,” but that this was an election "in which we saw hacking all over the place, we saw hacking into the Democratic Party database and hacking into voter database in Illinois and Arizona and evidence that it was attempted much more broadly.”
In her fundraising appeal on her campaign website, Stein was quoted blaming the hacking on "foreign agents.” A press release on the same site carried the same quote but without the words "foreign agents.” The first quote was later altered to remove reference to foreign agents. [The original can be seen archived here.]
During the campaign, Clinton had repeatedly made the accusation that Russian agents were trying to influence the election and had hacked into the Democratic Party database and the emails of her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
But at his last testimony to Congress as Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper admitted there was no proof about who was behind the supposed hacks into email accounts of Democratic leaders, which proved embarrassing to the Clinton campaign.
Asked in the online video why she chose recounts in the three states won by Trump that could swing the election, Stein said because the results in those states were close. But there were other closely contested states won by Clinton that Stein has not asked to be recounted.
While Stein is keeping the donor list secret, it is unlikely she would have been able to raise so much money in so short a time without the help of Clinton supporters who would not have backed a recount in states Clinton had already won. Stein only raised $3.5 million for her entire campaign, about half of what has poured in for the recount.
Stein may have chosen those states knowing she could get Clinton supporters to pay for her fight for electoral integrity without any intention of deliberately helping Clinton. As Stein and election analysts say, a recount overturning the election result is unlikely.
But with the Clinton campaign now joining in a supposed search for evidence that hackers, especially "foreign agents,” tampered with election computers, the controversy may be useful for the Clinton team in their effort to lobby electors to change their vote, which previously had centered on Clinton’s two-million-vote plurality in the national popular vote.
Clinton supporters have so far apparently made little headway in their efforts to get Republican electors to vote for Clinton instead. Twenty-four states do not legally bind electors who are awarded to the candidate who wins the popular vote in each state.
On Friday, the Obama administration said there was no evidence that Russia or anyone else had hacked the election. An article in The Hill newspaper said there was a split within the Democratic Party about whether to go for a recount between the Clinton camp, which was for it, and Obama’s camp, which was not.
Meanwhile, the national Green Party distanced itself from the recount effort led by Stein. Scott McLarty, the Green Party’s national media coordinator, told me via email on Friday that, "The recount is a project of the Stein/Baraka campaign.”
McLarty said the national party’s steering committee was never asked by Stein to endorse the recount. But he said she asked the committee to act as the financial agent for the flood of donations, which the committee declined to do.
Some Green Party officials have individually supported the recount. But McLarty said on Saturday, "The Green Party of the United States has not taken an official position on the recount yet.” His comment came hours before the Clinton campaign, which had remained silent on Stein’s move, said it would join the effort to recount the votes.
On Twitter, Trump dismissed the significance of the recount efforts. "Hillary Clinton conceded the election when she called me just prior to the victory speech and after the results were in,” Trump said in a tweet Sunday. "Nothing will change.”
He dismissed the recount bid as a "Green Party scam to fill up their coffers by asking for impossible recounts … now being joined by the badly defeated & demoralized Dems.”
Stein is not welcoming the Clinton camp to the recount. "Why would Hillary Clinton — who conceded the election to Donald Trump — want #Recount2016? You cannot be on-again, off-again about democracy,” Stein tweeted. "Why would Hillary Clinton — who holds ‘public’ and ‘private’ positions — want to engage in something as transparent as #Recount2016?”
Stein came under heavy criticism from her own supporters for choosing the three states that could give Clinton the presidency, should the count be overturned. Clearly feeling the sting of this criticism, and now with $6 million to work with, Stein said she is open to recounts in other states, perhaps even those won narrowly by Clinton.
"I will do a recount in any state where the deadline has not passed. Help my staff find state deadlines,” she tweeted. "We’re open to hearing from experts regarding any state & pursuing voting integrity if deadlines permit.”
Stein also hit back with a series of sarcastic tweets against allegations that she was in cahoots with the Democrats from the beginning and specifically to charges reverberating online that she is part of a plot by Democratic financier and political mastermind George Soros:
"#IfSorosPaidForTheRecount, my staffers say they’d … buy a better Obamacare plan. #IfSorosPaidForTheRecount, my staffers say they’d … pay off their student loans. #IfSorosPaidForTheRecount, my staffers say they’d … buy a new car.”