Former President Jimmy Carter made a remarkable claim during an event at the Carter Center in Leesburg, Virginia, on Friday, describing President Donald Trump as an illegitimate president who wouldn’t have won but for Russian interference on his behalf.
“I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated, would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016,” the 94-year-old Carter said. “He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”
The panel moderator, historian Jon Meacham, asked Carter if that means he thinks Trump “is an illegitimate president.” Carter said he does.
“Based on what I just said, which I can’t retract, I would say yes,” Carter said, as the crowd responded with chuckles.
Carter’s position is a matter of opinion. There is no hard evidence that Trump wouldn’t have prevailed without Russian help.
But there’s no doubt that that help — which, according to the US intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, included digital propaganda and disinformation campaigns, the hacks of Democratic targets, and the ensuing WikiLeaks email dumps that were timed to do maximum damage to Hillary Clinton — helped Trump overcome a 3 million vote loss in the popular vote and win in the Electoral College.
Carter’s opinion, however — coming as it does from a former president — is a remarkable one. On Twitter, former Clinton administration Secretary of Labor Robert Reich described Carter’s comments as “stunning” and asked, “When has a former president ever accused a current president of being illegitimate?”