Investigative reporter Greg Palast: Trump's plans to steal the election go well beyond the mail

Election-theft expert says Trump has a plan to steal the election legally — and the USPS isn't the problem

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 25, 2020 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump would prefer to do away with Mail-In-Voting (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump would prefer to do away with Mail-In-Voting (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

CORRECTION: In the original transcript of this interview, Greg Palast said that in a hypothetical presidential election in the House of Representatives under the 12th Amendment, Donald Trump would win by a vote of 30-20. That is clearly false. In the current House, Republicans control 26 congressional delegations and Democrats control 23, with one state (Pennsylvania) evenly divided. Should such an election occur after the new Congress is sworn in next January, those numbers could well have changed.

Donald Trump is interfering with the U.S. Postal Service, in an apparent attempt to steal the 2020 election. He has repeatedly and publicly confessed to this scheme. For example, Trump has said that the post office must be denied additional funding because it would help facilitate mail-in voting — which he has previously said would hurt his chances of re-election chances. Trump has also said that mail-in voting is fraudulent and must be stopped. (There is virtually no evidence of such fraud.) He has also said that mail-in ballots may not be counted for "months or years" — a gesture toward his evident desire to remain president indefinitely. 

This is one of many examples when Trump has shown himself to be an authoritarian who does not respect democracy: He has threatened not to leave office if he loses the 2020 presidential election, wants to extend the number of years he can be president and has floated the idea of delaying the date of the election if he believes that will help him "win." During his speech on Monday before the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump said again that he wants to stay in office for 12 more years. He also said that mail-in voting is one of the biggest "scams" in human history and once again suggested that the only way Joe Biden and the Democrats can defeat him is by cheating. With such wild claims Trump is, again, creating a pretext for a "Reichstag fire" event which he will try to use to nullify the 2020 Election.  

Trump is also threatening to dispatch 50,000 "poll watchers" in a Jim Crow-style campaign to prevent "fraud" by intimidating and harassing Democratic Party voters — a large proportion of them Black or brown — in major cities like Detroit and Milwaukee. Trump is never subtle in his schemes: Last week he told Fox News' Sean Hannity that he would only send his "law enforcement" agents to "Democratic Party" areas

Donald Trump's efforts to steal the 2020 presidential election by interfering with mail delivery is being orchestrated by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor and Republican Party booster. DeJoy is also personally and financially invested in destroying the Postal Service because of his major investments in XPO, a competing delivery company. DeJoy has also previously invested in Amazon and UPS.

DeJoy has ordered the removal of high-volume mail sorting machines, taken away mailboxes, ended overtime for postal workers and changed other rules and regulations which in some cases have caused weeks-long delays. His changes will cause a predictable delay in the delivery of mail-in ballots, which in many states will be discarded and not counted.

During his Senate hearing last Friday, DeJoy claimed that he would pause these disruptive damaging changes to the U.S. mail, and promised that mail-in ballots would be delivered on schedule

Like other Trump officials, DeJoy was at best being evasive and at worst lying in his testimony before Congress. Whistleblowers within the USPS as well as leaked memos indicate that he has no intentions of allowing the mail to proceed as normal in these weeks leading up to Election Day. There are also suggestions that DeJoy is targeting service delays to heavily Democratic areas, which would give Trump and even larger unfair advantage.

On Monday, DeJoy testified before the House Oversight Committee, where he proved incapable of answering basic questions about the Postal Service and admitted to being in contact with the Trump 2020 campaign team through intermediaries. DeJoy also claimed that the damaging and disruptive changes to mail delivery began before he was appointed as postmaster general. When challenged with a chart which clearly showed that the delays corresponded with the beginning of his tenure, DeJoy had no sensible explanation.

In all, Donald Trump and his regime's interference with the U.S. mail represents yet another crisis for the country and its failing democracy. Greg Palast, the investigative journalist and bestselling author who is one of the country's foremost experts on vote rigging, vote fraud and election theft, believes that the Trump regime's interference with the mail is largely a distraction from bigger problems with democracy and voting in America.

Palast is the author of several books, including "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" and "Billionaires & Ballot Bandits." His new book is "How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt for America's Vanished Voters."

In our most recent conversation, Palast warned that the Trump regime and Republican Party and their agents are implementing a massive nationwide campaign to challenge the legitimacy of votes cast in support of Joe Biden. This is part of a plan that may also include intimidation and perhaps even coordinated violence and acts of terrorism by pro-Trump paramilitaries and other forces against post offices, polling stations and other election facilities. The goal is to create national chaos and a state of emergency in which millions of votes are left uncounted and the presidential election, under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, is decided by the House of Representatives. The result of that, Palast predicts, will be the re-election of Donald Trump.

You can also listen to my conversation with Greg Palast on my podcast "The Truth Report" or through the player embedded below.

As usual, this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is actually happening with Donald Trump, the Postal Service, and his efforts to steal the 2020 election?

No. 1, we should thank Donald Trump and his postmaster general because he has woken people up to the fact that mail-in voting can be really dangerous. It is like playing Russian roulette with your voting ballot. Twenty-two percent of all mail-in votes never get counted. And that was under Barack Obama, when they were promoting mail-in voting. What is going to happen with Trump and the Republicans?

Mail-in voting has already been a disaster in America. One in 10 people who ask for absentee ballots do not get them. One in 10 people who do get their ballots and send them back have their ballots rejected, thrown out and not counted. Mail-in voting was a big problem before Trump decided to make it worse.

There have always been problems with the post office in its handling of mail-in ballots. But the post office is not the main problem with voter suppression and vote rigging in America. In many ways, focusing on Trump and the post office is a distraction.

There are eight states which require a person to have a witness signature. Three states require notarizing either the ballot or the request for a mail-in ballot. This was difficult before, but in a pandemic is problematic to the extreme. Very little of this has to do with the post office. The biggest reason why people don't get their ballots is that they are not registered voters. What happened? Many of those people have been purged from the voter rolls. Seventeen million people have been purged during the last few years.

The real theft of the 2020 presidential election is not the lack of mailboxes that will stop people from mailing in their ballots or getting them. It's not the lack of sorting machines. It is a lack of commitment to counting ballots by both parties.

The real danger of mail-in voting is that you do not get your ballot because some political functionary has decided to slow-walk your ballot to you or has removed your registration or decided they're not going to send it because, for example, you are one of the several million people on what are called the "inactive voter" list. The post office is not responsible for that interference and trickery.

Is Trump's sabotage of the U.S. mail an intentional distraction? Some type of sophisticated strategy?

Donald Trump and his agents are not that strategic. What they are doing with the mail is just one more thing among many that they are doing to try to keep the American people from voting in November.

Yes, if you tear apart the United States Postal Service the problems with voting are going to get worse. There is no question of that. Overtime is being eliminated by Trump's postmaster. There are going to be 120 million mail-in ballots. How will those ballots get processed if overtime is reduced? Trump's postmaster is also eliminating the requirement that mail comes in and goes out the same day. That is a longstanding post office rule. So yes, what is happening with Trump and the post office is very destructive and dangerous and will make it harder for people to vote. But, again, it is not the worst part of how mail-in voting, and voting more generally, in this country is being undermined. The whole system of voting in America needs to be fixed.

Why is Donald Trump being so bold as to publicly admit that he is sabotaging the mail so that he can win the 2020 election?

It is quite brilliant. But again, it is not Donald Trump being brilliant, but rather the people around him who are directing these efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. Trump's advisers are creating a situation where they will challenge the vote in November. Mail-in ballots are going to be central to the scheme. About half of all ballots cast, about 60 million, are going to be challenged. If there are 120 million mail-in votes, 26 million of them will not be counted.

My big fear is that Donald Trump is establishing the grounds for making a claim that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Moreover, they will focus on black people as part of that strategy. This is an old lie and stereotype in America — that black people somehow vote twice. Watch the film "Birth of a Nation" and you will see that racist stereotype's origins. Trump has repeatedly said that people of color are going to be sending in multiple ballots.

If Trump and the Republicans cannot win by challenging all those votes because Biden is too far ahead, then we will see some version of what happened in Florida in 2000 with Gore and Bush.

Then Roger Stone led $600-an-hour consultants who went crazy in the Miami-Dade County voting offices and stopped the counting of the ballots that the machines could not read. The result was that Bush became president by 537 votes. If you had counted all those votes in Miami, George W. Bush would likely not have been elected president. This time the Republicans and their operatives are going to say, "That building is filled with fraudulent ballots. That post office building has a million ballots from Bolivia or what have you that should not be counted!"

I believe there is a good chance that right-wing paramilitaries such as the Boogaloo Boys, the Proud Boys or other similar people are going to burn down the post offices. They are going to attack county offices. The riot this time will not be consultants wearing suits, like in 2000, but instead men armed with assault rifles. I also believe there are going to be large-scale protests on Election Day because of the interference with the vote. I really believe that there is a good chance that this nation will be on fire on Election Day. If Donald Trump is behind in the vote there are going to be massive attacks on polling places.

People are not going to get their mail-in ballots. They are going to have to wait in line during a pandemic. I am worried that the lines will be attacked by right-wingers trying to protect Trump and keep him in office. I am very worried that places such as Miami, Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., will be in flames. In that scenario for example, the Florida legislature says, "There are a million mail-in ballots stuck in the post office. We believe they are fraudulent. We are getting word that there are huge numbers of questionable signatures. We cannot finish counting the votes on time and therefore we cannot certify the vote on time."

What happens then? Florida does not certify the vote. The Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan does not certify the vote. Wisconsin does the same. Neither Biden or Trump gets 270 votes in the Electoral College as a result. Now the election is resolved under the 12th Amendment, which says it goes to the House of Representatives where Nancy Pelosi will call for a single vote from each state. Trump will win. [See correction above.] In that scenario, Donald Trump will be constitutionally elected by a right-wing riot and the burning of people's votes.

The Republican Party, Trump and the right-wing propaganda media have spent years developing and circulating the lie that there is massive "vote theft" or "fake ballots" cast by Democrats. Of course, Republicans have actually been arrested for trying to rig elections using those means. Why don't Republican operatives simply print up their own fake ballots, mail them in, and then claim that there is massive voter fraud? Create the "crime" that you later discover.

Exactly. That is an obvious trick, where fraudulent votes are sent in by the same right-wing operatives who then claim to "discover" them. I would not put such a plot past the likes of Roger Stone. Photocopy 1,000 ballots and mail them in and then say, "Look at all these fraudulent ballots!"

Donald Trump is threatening to use his own army of 50,000 "poll watchers" against Democratic voters. Trump has said he will deploy law enforcement agents in heavily Democratic communities as a way of ensuring that there is no "voter fraud," but will not be sending law enforcement to Republican-controlled areas. Trump and William Barr also now have a secret police force which ran amok in Portland and elsewhere, and will certainly be used against the American people on Election Day.

The 50,000 volunteers that Trump has called for are not intimidation forces. I stood in line with the Souls to the Polls for five hours. I have stood in long lines in places such as Georgia and Milwaukee. I do not believe that a single person in those lines would be intimidated by anyone, even one of Trump's people with an AK-47. The real issue will be that Trump's poll watchers are going to challenge every ballot. So it's not intimidation. The issue will be that they will go in as poll watchers and challenge every ballot.

What type of America are Donald Trump, William Barr, Stephen Miller and the Republican Party as a whole trying to create? To what end is their vote-rigging, vote suppression and other means of interference in the people's will being directed?

There is apartheid in American voting. Let's begin with that basic premise. The votes of nonwhite people are not being fully counted. This is because of the smart people around Donald Trump who have implemented many tactics and strategies to suppress and otherwise stop Democratic voters and their ballots from even being counted. 

According to the Elections Assistance Commission, in the 2016 election 1,913,369 ballots cast in person were rejected, thrown out. In addition, 925,973 people were forced to cast provisional ballots which were not counted. In other words, roughly 1 million provisional ballots cast and rejected, 2 million in-precinct ballots cast and rejected, and then 3 million mail-in ballots which were either never received or were rejected. That comes to nearly 5.9 million ballots cast and not counted. And that was 2016. That is what elected Donald Trump. Nothing has been done to protect the American people's votes.

Why don't the Democrats make it clear to Donald Trump and the Republicans, "We're going to challenge every single one of your votes"?

What I would like the Democrats to do is to challenge the Republican Party's challenges to the votes. In Michigan, and this is very important, Republicans challenged every Hillary Clinton vote. The Democrats did not challenge a single Trump vote.

In response to your question, we should not answer the Republican Party's attack on American democracy with another attack on democracy. Every vote should be counted. Voters' intent should count — whether it is for Trump or whomever. If Donald Trump has 50,000 Boogaloo Boys or other right-wingers challenging votes, then the Democrats need 50,000 patriots — and they do not even have to be Democrats, just people who believe in democracy who will go in and say, "No, you cannot challenge those ballots. No, you can't say that that signature is wrong. You have no expertise in signatures. Count that ballot!"

I believe in a true "We the people" democracy. That having been said, in terms of realpolitik why don't the Democratic Party's leaders tell the Republicans, "Whatever you do to stop our voters we are going to do yours 10 times worse unless you play it straight and fair."

I really do not like the idea of mass challenges of votes. I do not want anyone playing that game. It would be sufficient for the Democrats to have people to challenge the challenges. I want Democrats to go to court and say, "Count the ballots. We need those ballots counted." We also know that the chance a ballot will be challenged is 900 percent higher if a voter is black than if they are white.

We also need to go to the courts and demand an end to that discrimination. The Republicans also try to stop young people from voting. That should be challenged in court as well. Let me tell you, we still do have a Voting Rights Act in America. It may be weakened, it may be gasping for life, but we have it and we need to start enforcing it and demanding it. 

I want the Democratic Party to be ready to challenge this attack on democracy. Trump and the Republicans are going to continue suppressing the votes of nonwhite people, young people, and others who support the Democratic Party. That is going to happen regardless of how much the Democrats put into the U.S. Post Office. Yes, the Postal Service should be protected, but that cannot be the main focus of stopping the theft of the 2020 election by Donald Trump.

What should people do if they are stopped or otherwise interfered with by one of Trump's enforcers at a polling place? Would it be viable for the Democrats and other people of conscience to have their own security — a 21st-century version of the Deacons for Defense and Justice — to stop such interference and intimidation?

The American people do not need a vigilante force. We do need people who are vigilant and organized. For example, young people, who as a group are less susceptible to the pandemic, could volunteer to be poll watchers. They need to be there to challenge Trump and the Republican Party's efforts to interfere with people's votes. They must also know the rules. For example, 64% of all African-,American males are asked for their voter ID even in states which prohibit asking for a voter ID. If you're a Black man, you're going to be asked for your ID, even though it's illegal to ask you for your ID.

Some people lose their vote because they do not have the acceptable ID. We need people at the polls to say, "No, you may not ask for that ID." We have to know those rules and then we have to have people who will stay after the polls close for the opening of the mail-in ballots.

These trained observers would be watching for things such as when votes are disqualified because the "wrong" color ink was used. Our poll watchers must say, "No, that vote must count."

What is the best-case scenario on Election Day in November — and what is the worst?

The best-case scenario is that the vote is so overwhelming against Trump that the Republicans and other Trumpists cannot steal the election. The voters make it such a defeat for Trump the outcome cannot be changed. The worst-case scenario is that the United States is in flames and the vote is not certified in several key states and then Trump wins through the 12th Amendment. I am very worried about massive violence and not the shutdown of the election per se, but rather using the violence as an excuse to go to the 12th Amendment.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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