Vice President-elect Mike Pence defended President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday for making the baseless claim that “millions” of people voted illegally, saying it was “refreshing” and “his right to express his opinion.”
But his defense of Trump on ABC’s “This Week” notably skipped over any full-throated endorsement of Trump’s claim.
“Look, I don’t know that that is a false statement, George, and neither do you,” he told host George Stephanopoulos.
Trump tweeted last week that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” and alleged there was “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California.”
In reality, although he won the electoral college ― and presidency ― Trump is trailing Clinton by more than 2.5 million votes, and there is no evidence to back up his claims of mass voter fraud. Trump’s team hasn’t provided any, and Pence didn’t, either.
Instead, he performed some verbal gymnastics to assert that Trump’s claim was a positive from a man who speaks his mind, without ever saying whether he agrees. Pence pointed to a Pew Center on the States study from 2012 that said there were “millions” of voter registrations that are inaccurate or no longer valid. The author of that study has said that it was not evidence of voter fraud, as Stephanopoulos pointed out, before pressing Pence on whether he was saying it was Trump’s “right to make false statements.”
“Well, it’s his right to express his opinion as president-elect of the United States,” Pence said. “I think one of the things that’s refreshing about our president-elect and one of the reasons why I think he made such an incredible connection with people all across this country is because he tells you what’s on his mind.”
Pressed again for evidence, Pence said Trump has “expressed his opinion on that.”
“He’s going to say what he believes to be true and I know that he’s always going to speak in that way as president,” he said.
Reince Priebus, Trump’s pick for White House chief of staff, similarly skirted around the question on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“You don’t know that that’s not true,” he said. “It’s possible.”
Host John Dickerson asked whether a president can “just offer a theory that has no evidence behind it, or does he have to tighten up his standards of proof.”
“I think he’s done a great job,” Priebus said. “I think the president-elect is someone who has pushed the envelope and caused people to think in this country.”
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway had yet another defense for Trump’s tweet when asked if it was “presidential behavior” on Sunday’s “State of the Union” on CNN.
“He’s the president-elect so that’s presidential behavior, yes,” she said.