President-elect Donald Trump said Sunday that he had fallen short in the popular vote in the general election only because millions of people had voted illegally, leveling his claim — despite the absence of any such evidence — as part of a daylong storm of Twitter posts voicing anger about a three-state recount push.
"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," Trump wrote Sunday afternoon.
The series of posts came one day after Hillary Clinton's campaign said it would participate in a recount effort being undertaken in Wisconsin, and potentially in similar pushes in Michigan and Pennsylvania, by Jill Stein, who was the Green Party candidate. Trump's statements revived claims he made during the campaign, as polls suggested he was losing to Clinton, about a rigged and corrupt system.
The Twitter outburst also came as Trump is laboring to fill crucial positions in his Cabinet, with his advisers enmeshed in a rift over whom he should select as secretary of state. On Sunday morning, Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser, extended a public campaign to undermine one contender, Mitt Romney — a remarkable display by a member of a president-elect's team. In television appearances, she accused Romney of having gone "out of his way to hurt" Trump during the Republican primary contests.
Claims of wide-scale voter fraud have been advanced for years by Republicans, though virtually no evidence of such improprieties has been discovered — especially on the scale of "millions" that Trump claimed.
Late on Sunday, again without providing evidence, he referred in a Twitter post to "serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California."
A day earlier, Trump's transition team ridiculed the idea that recounts were needed. "This is a scam by the Green Party for an election that has already been conceded," it said in a statement, "and the results of this election should be respected instead of being challenged and abused."
That message runs counter to the one Trump sent on Sunday with his fraud claims — if millions of people voted illegally, presumably officials across the country would want to pursue large-scale ballot recounts and fraud investigations.
But the Twitter posts could energize some of his supporters, who have claimed online that Clinton's 2 million-vote lead in the popular vote has been faked. Trump at times promoted other conspiracy theories during the campaign, including claiming that Sen. Ted Cruz's father was somehow tied to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Many of Clinton's supporters have been galvanized by the notion that vote recounts in the three states — where Trump leads by a combined total of about 100,000 votes — could somehow overturn Trump's commanding Electoral College victory. By announcing, three weeks after Clinton conceded the race, that it would participate in the Wisconsin recount, her team has helped reignite the contentious atmosphere of the campaign, of which Trump's Twitter barrages were a fixture. (By all accounts, Trump types out his Twitter posts himself on his phone.)
After spending almost five days in Palm Beach, Florida, where he celebrated Thanksgiving at his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump made no public statements on Sunday other than those via Twitter. He returned in the afternoon to Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Through the day, Trump appeared fixated on the recount and his electoral performance. In a series of midafternoon Twitter posts, not long before he boarded his flight, Trump boasted that he could have easily won the "so-called popular vote" if he had campaigned only in "3 or 4" states, presumably populous ones.
"I would have won even more easily and convincingly (but smaller states are forgotten)!" he wrote.
The afternoon messages followed a string of early-morning Twitter posts in which the president-elect railed against the recount efforts. In an initial post at 7:19, Trump wrote: "Hillary Clinton conceded the election when she called me just prior to the victory speech and after the results were in. Nothing will change."
He went on to quote a comment by Clinton during one of their debates, in which she said she was horrified by Trump's refusal to say that he would accept the outcome of the election. And he noted that in her concession speech, she had urged people to respect the vote results.
One person who spoke with Trump over the holiday weekend said the president-elect had appeared to be preoccupied by suggestions that a recount might be started, even as his aides played down any concerns. Another friend said Trump felt crossed by Clinton, who he believed had conceded the race and accepted the results.
In a post on Medium, Marc Elias, the Clinton team's general counsel, said the campaign would participate in Stein's recount effort with little expectation that it would change the result, partly out of a sense of duty to the millions who voted for Clinton.
"We do so fully aware that the number of votes separating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the closest of these states — Michigan — well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount," Elias said, noting that Clinton campaign officials had found no "actionable evidence" of hacking or attempts to tamper with the vote.
Late Sunday night, Elias responded on Twitter to Trump's allegations, writing, "We are getting attacked for participating in a recount that we didn't ask for by the man who won election but thinks there was massive fraud."
In Wisconsin, Trump leads by 22,177 votes. In Michigan, he has a lead of 10,704 votes, and in Pennsylvania, his advantage is 70,638 votes.
Trump's aides echoed his concerns about the recount effort in appearances on Sunday morning television news programs. Conway, who was his campaign manager, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Clinton and her campaign advisers would have to decide "whether they're going to be a bunch of crybabies."
As for the debate over Romney, Conway, echoing comments she posted last week on Twitter, made clear that she opposed choosing Romney as secretary of state.
"There was the 'Never Trump' movement, and then there was Gov. Mitt Romney," she said on ABC, adding later, "I only wish Gov. Romney had been as critical of Hillary Clinton" during the general election. During the primaries, Romney called Trump a "fraud" and a "phony."
Conway said it was important for Trump to seek to unify the Republican Party by making gestures to those who opposed his candidacy. But, she added, "I don't think the cost of party unity has to be the secretary of state position."
Moments after appearing on the show, Conway, who is under consideration to be Trump's press secretary, wrote on Twitter that she had told Trump her opinion privately, "and I'll respect his decision."
On "Meet the Press," Conway said people felt "betrayed" by the idea that Romney could get a top job in the Cabinet. "I'm not campaigning against anyone," she said. "I'm just a concerned citizen."
"We don't even know if he voted for Donald Trump," she added.