Updated – Donald Trump and his top spokeswoman were unable to explain how Michigan officials' sending mail-in ballot applications to their residents "was done illegally," as the president claimed before also threatening to withhold federal aid dollars for the key 2020 battleground state.
"If people mail in ballots there's a lot of illegality," Mr Trump told reporters Wednesday afternoon. But he declined to offer a single piece of evidence to support his claim; voting experts have found very little fraud in US elections even though Republican officials continue making such claims as mail-in voting typically favors Democratic candidates.
That came hours after he used a morning tweet to pan Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson while also – falsely – contending absentee ballots had been sent to 7.7 million voters in the state, which Mr Trump needs to keep in his column to win a second term.
"Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election," Mr Trump tweeted. "This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!"
Only that is not what residents there got in the mail.
They were instead sent applications for mail-in ballots. Mr Trump, hours later, deleted the original tweet and posted a new one stating Michigan residents were sent applications – but he stuck with his threat to withhold federal dollars.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president's tweet was "meant to alert" Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Russell Vought, his budget chief, that any voter fraud would cause him to try withholding the aid monies.
But by 5 p.m., the president said he doubts his threat to withhold federal funds will be necessary, partially walking back his threat.
Ms McEnany, who is an attorney, also was unable to describe what laws the president was alleging were broken.
The president, like Ms McEnany moments earlier, declined to clearly explain what kinds of federal dollars Mr Trump is thinking of blocking if he decides Michigan has erred in its mail-in ballots efforts.
Mr Trump came under almost immediate criticism after posting the initial tweet.
Daniel Goldman, who was House Democrats' lead counsel during their impeachment inquiry of the president, noted "that the president's attempted extortion of states was anticipated" during that probe.
"In fact, it was a hypothetical" scenario laid out to witnesses that was "designed to show how absurd that would be," according to Mr Goldman. "The absurd has sadly become reality."
Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas Law School, said "federal law makes it a crime to hold out appropriations in order to interfere with individuals' exercise of their right to vote:"
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