AP Fact Check: New Trump salvo on voter fraud lacks evidence

AUSTIN, Texas — President Donald Trump on Friday pressed his widely debunked claims of massive voter fraud by encouraging the work of a Texas man who has offered no evidence to support his claim that millions of people illegally voted in the 2016 election.

Trump tweeted: “Look forward to seeing the final results of VoteStand. Gregg Phillips and crew say at least 3,000,000 votes were illegal. We must do better!”

The tweet came less than an hour after a CNN interview with Phillips, who has refused to substantiate his claims since he made them days after the November election.

Phillips tweeted that a Houston-based group, True the Vote, “will lead the analysis” of widespread voter fraud. But the founder of that group said Friday it has not confirmed that millions voted illegally.

Here’s more about the man Trump is cheering on, and about True the Vote.

Who is Phillips?

Phillips is a former Texas state official whose brief stint as deputy executive director at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission drew media scrutiny over privatization efforts. He went on to found AutoGov, a health care software contractor whose clients include state governments, and created a mobile app called VoteStand that allows people to report suspicious voting activity.

Phillips also previously worked as a state health official in Mississippi, resigning under fire from lawmakers. A state panel concluded that he stepped down as executive director of the Mississippi’s Department of Human Services on the same day he went to work for a company that he had given a state contract.

“Mr. Phillips’s actions create the appearance of impropriety, facilitating an erosion of the public trust,” according to the panel’s 1995 report.

After the 2016 election, Phillips tweeted that his “completed analysis” of voter registrations concluded that the “number of non-citizen votes exceeded 3 million.” He has rebuffed media requests for evidence, saying since Nov. 15 that he would release it broadly to the public, but he hasn’t. He suggested Friday that he might do so in a few more months.

Upset that Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated him in the popular vote, Trump has repeatedly blamed that result on illegally cast or counted votes but offered no substantiation. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have completed their election results with no reports of the kind of widespread fraud that Trump alleges.

What about True the Vote?

Phillips is a board member of True the Vote, a conservative group that has challenged the validity of voter rolls in numerous states. Tax records from 2014 show the group reported raising nearly $1.2 million and having an estimated 50,000 volunteers.

It was founded by Catherine Engelbrecht, who also started the tea party group the King Street Patriots. That organization drew national attention in 2010 after sending hundreds of observers to Houston-area polling stations, spurring complaints of intimidation from minority rights groups.

Engelbrecht said Friday that she believes millions of people illegally voted in the last election but also acknowledged “there is no way to confirm that at this point.” She said the group still lacks voter files from many states but hopes to begin releasing findings by late spring.

King Street Patriots is in a legal battle over Democratic efforts to release the identity of its donors. The case is set to go before the Texas Supreme Court next month.

What’s next?

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said this week that Trump will take executive action to launch an investigation into voting fraud. The Republican who leads the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, said he’s seen no evidence of fraud in the 2016 election and his committee will not investigate it. Chaffetz, however, said Trump is free to order the Justice Department to investigate the issue.

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