The top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid said Saturday that the campaign would join a third-party candidate’s effort to seek a full recount in Wisconsin, and potentially two other states, though he said the campaign had seen no “actionable evidence” of vote hacking.
In a post on Medium, Marc Elias, the campaign’s general counsel, described an intensive behind-the-scenes effort by the campaign to look for signs of Russian hacker activity or other irregularities in the vote count.
The essay suggested that the campaign was joining the recount effort with little expectation that it would change the result. But many of the campaign’s supporters, picking up on its frequent complaints of Russian interference in the election, have enthusiastically backed the recount effort led by Jill Stein, who was the Green Party candidate.
Stein filed for a recount in Wisconsin Friday afternoon, about an hour before the deadline. She has raised more than $5 million for the effort, which now will turn to Michigan and Pennsylvania, where there are deadlines this week.
In his post, Elias sounded less enthusiastic than the recount’s many supporters. “Because we had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology,” he wrote, “we had not planned to exercise this option ourselves.”
He added, “Now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides.”
Should Stein pursue additional recounts, “we will take the same approach in those states as well,” he wrote. But he noted 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.”
The Clinton campaign will not contribute financially to the effort, which has been funded by small contributions. But it will pay to have its own lawyers present at the recount, campaign officials said.
Trump issued a statement Saturday calling the recount push “ridiculous” and “a scam by the Green Party.”
He suggested that most of the money raised would not actually be spent on the recount. “The results of this election should be respected instead of being challenged and abused, which is exactly what Jill Stein is doing,” said Trump, who himself suggested in the weeks before the election that the vote could be rigged.
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.
The Obama administration issued a statement to The New York Times Friday in response to questions about intelligence findings related to Russian interference in the election. In the statement, it said it had concluded that the election had been free of interference.
The administration issued a second statement on Saturday saying that “the federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyberactivity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on Election Day.”
It added: “As we have noted before, we remained confident in the overall integrity of electoral infrastructure, a confidence that was borne out on Election Day. As a result, we believe our elections were free and fair from a cybersecurity perspective.”
Clinton conceded the race to Trump early Nov. 9, when it became clear that he would have a large margin of victory in the Electoral College. But as her lead in the popular vote has grown — it now exceeds 2 million votes — her base has increasingly pressured her to challenge the results.
That has been fueled in part by how aggressively the Clinton campaign spread the word of Russian involvement in the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from the personal account of John D. Podesta, the campaign’s chairman. The campaign also charged that the Russians were behind fake news about Clinton’s health, among other stories — a claim supported to some extent by recent studies.
Some critics saw those accusations as an effort to shift the discussion from mistakes the Clinton campaign had made in taking on Trump.
Now Clinton finds herself in a difficult position of not wanting to lead the charge for a recount that Democrats believe will go nowhere, but also not wanting to abandon supporters who have donated to Stein’s last-ditch effort.
Elias’ post offered a revealing look at how much time and energy the campaign has spent in the past two weeks looking for evidence of Russian hacking or other irregularities, and how it has tried to keep those efforts secret.
“Since the day after the election, we have had lawyers and data scientists and analysts combing over the results to spot anomalies that would suggest a hacked result,” Elias wrote. “These have included analysts both from within the campaign and outside, with backgrounds in politics, technology and academia.”
He said those efforts had been followed by “numerous meetings and calls with various outside experts to hear their concerns and to discuss and review their data and findings.” The campaign shared its data as well.
“Most of those discussions have remained private, while at least one has unfortunately been the subject of leaks,” he wrote, a reference to conversations between Podesta and a group of experts that included J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist with deep experience in the vulnerabilities of voting systems.
Halderman put his own post on Medium early Thursday, describing his suspicions and the case for recounts. But even he doubted the election result would change.