CNN and its journalist Kaitlan Collins both made false statements about Wisconsin’s election when they “fact-checked” President Donald Trump on his voter fraud claims in CNN’s town hall.
A CNN story the day after the Trump town hall was headlined, “Fact-checking Trump’s CNN Town Hall in New Hampshire.” The story continues the media’s obnoxiously biased decision to affix the label “false” next to statements by Trump, while not attaching a similar label to false or misleading statements made by President Joe Biden and various Democrats.
Even more egregiously, CNN’s and Collins’ fact checks were outright false in one key way and arguably false or misleading in another.
First, here’s what CNN’s story says:
“Among Trump’s litany of falsehoods about the 2020 election, he claimed ‘so many illegal votes were cast in Wisconsin,’ and that ‘in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they had so many illegal votes…'”
The CNN story then declares: “Facts First: There is no evidence of illegal votes cast in Wisconsin. A recount requested by the Trump campaign specifically confirmed the initial result establishing Joe Biden’s victory in the state.”
The above paragraph repeats a false claim made by Collins during the CNN town hall when she attempted to fact-check Trump on the same point. Collins said, at about 22:33 in, “Mr. President, there weren’t any fraudulent votes in Wisconsin.”
THIS IS PROVABLY FALSE.
First, let’s fact-check the statement by CNN and Collins. We will focus on the 2020 election. Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, a Republican prosecutor in Wisconsin, has obtained convictions of multiple people who cast illegal votes in Wisconsin. We won’t bore you with all of them. To disprove the CNN and Collins statements, due to their absolutism, we just have to prove a single case of illegal voting in Wisconsin in the 2020 election.
Here you go:
Donald C. Holz
On Aug. 3, 2022, Toney announced in a news release: “DEFENDANT CONVICTED OF FELONY VOTER FRAUD FROM NOVEMBER 3, 2020 ELECTION AND RECEIVES JAIL TIME.” That was the case of Donald C. Holz, Case No. 2021CF000760.
Toney announced that Holz was “found guilty of Felony Election Fraud – Voting by Disqualified Person after entering a “no contest” plea in court. “Holz was sentenced to 10 days jail and a $500 fine and court costs. Holz was on felony supervision stemming from a drunk driving conviction and ineligible to vote in the November 3, 2020 election. The investigation revealed that Holz illegally cast a ballot in that election,” Toney’s release says.
Jamie M. Wells
Toney also convicted Jamie M Wells in Case No. 2022CF000106. In a news release, he announced that Wells “was convicted of misdemeanor election fraud pursuant to Wis. Stat. 12.(3)(g) – Falsify Voter Registration for illegally voting in the November 3, 2020 election.”
According to the news release, the investigation “reflected that Wells never lived in the ward where she registered and voted. The investigation also revealed that Wells did not live in Fond du Lac County despite voting in Fond du Lac County. Wells was convicted after using a P.O. Box. address her residential voting address on her voter registration form. It is illegal in Wisconsin to register to vote with an address that is not your residential address, as the DOJ Election handbook makes clear.”
Toney also announced the conviction of Sam Wells, Case No. 2022CF000107. According to Toney’s release, Wells “was convicted of Election Fraud –Falsify Voter Registration. The conviction stems from the defendant illegally registering his residential address as a P.O. Box and voting in Fond du Lac County in the November 3, 2020 election, despite the defendant never having resided in the ward where he voted and not residing in Fond du Lac County. The defendant was sentenced to a fine of $300 and court costs.”
Toney added: “The defendant was originally charged with felony election fraud but the charge was amended to misdemeanor election fraud reflecting the defendant was otherwise eligible to vote and that his vote would not have impacted the results of the election. The Court could have sentenced up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.”
Some of the convictions came in front of judges who were appointed by Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.
Toney also charged a man he says voted twice in the 2020 election. That case is pending.
It’s not just Toney’s office. To give another example, Lisa Campion “was fined $500 Friday for illegally voting in the November 2020 presidential election, even though she was ineligible to do so because she was still on probation,” according to WTAQ. That case was filed in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. This is not intended to be a complete list.
But what of Trump’s own claim about Milwaukee and Wisconsin? Both CNN and Collins told viewers it was false.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also declared Trump’s statement false in a story written by Molly Beck that was headlined, “Trump’s recitation of false claims during the CNN town hall included a big one about Milwaukee voting in 2020.”
Outright editorializing, Beck wrote that Trump “invented” a number of “false election claims.” Beck also wrote that Trump has pushed “factually deficient conspiracy theories” about Wisconsin.
So much for objectivity.
But did he?
Rick Esenberg, the founder and current President and General Counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, had an informative take on that.
The quote attributed to me is correct but, much as I don't agree with Trump's stolen election claim, it's not really "false" to say there were "illegal" votes. There were dropboxes and, whether you agree or not, SCOWI held that was illegal. (1/4) https://t.co/qDarFGOLL1
— Rick Esenberg (@RickEsenberg) May 12, 2023
Esenberg shared the Journal Sentinel story and tweeted, “The quote attributed to me is correct but, much as I don’t agree with Trump’s stolen election claim, it’s not really ‘false’ to say there were ‘illegal’ votes. There were dropboxes and, whether you agree or not, SCOWI held that was illegal.”
“Nevertheless, SCOWI also held – in a case right after the election and 18 months before ours – that these votes could not be thrown out – because the Trump campaign knew that drop boxes were being used and did not sue until after the election.”
“Nor can we know if tossing out these votes would have changed the election results for reasons we explained in study of the 2020 election in Wisconsin.”
“So Trump’s claim was incomplete or maybe even misleading. That’s really not good but I don’t know that you can say that the words he spoke were false. We should still care about differences like this.”
Beck did quote Esenberg, but only on the point about the dropbox ruling not being retroactive.
If something is credibly open to interpretation, it’s not provably “false” and that claim simply doesn’t belong in a supposedly objective news story.
If the media are going to fact-check Trump, they should make sure they get it right.
There’s also the use of special voting deputies. Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said members of the Wisconsin Election Commission blatantly and openly violated state law and committed felony crimes throughout the state of Wisconsin by ordering that special voting deputies should not go into nursing homes during the 2020 presidential election, as required by statutes. It’s not clear how many votes this directive led to, and local district attorneys declined to file charges.
It’s true that reviews, including by Esenberg’s group and a non-partisan agency, did not find organized, widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin, although they identified various concerns. It’s also true that voter fraud prosecutions in Wisconsin are relatively rare. However, those are different questions.
The Heritage Foundation has compiled a list of illegal voting in Wisconsin, although some of the cases predate 2020.