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Former President Jimmy Carter says Donald Trump is an illegitimate president

“He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”

Screengrab via CSPAN

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?”

It’s also worth noting that Carter has been relatively muted in his criticisms of Trump to date, and has in fact praised aspects of his foreign policy — including his openness to diplomacy with North Korea and his decision not to launch military strikes against Iran — so it’s not as though he’s an outspoken member of the “resistance.”

Trump himself recently drew the results of the 2016 election into question, but for quite different reasons. During an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd that aired last Sunday, Trump suggested he may not have actually lost the popular vote, if you factor in what he claimed was massive voter fraud.

“There were a lot of votes cast that I don’t believe,” Trump told Todd, citing zero evidence for the claim, which elections experts have repeatedly debunked.

Trump also recently indicated that he’s not completely opposed to the idea of Russia helping him again in 2020. During an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired earlier this month, Trump said he’d be willing to accept dirt on his Democratic opponents from a foreign entity — a willingness at odds with the position of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who testified to Congress that candidates should contact the FBI in such a scenario.

“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump proclaimed when Stephanopoulos brought up the position of his own handpicked FBI director. “It’s not interference, it’s information.”

Amid outcry over those remarks, Trump tried to walk them back. But just a few hours before Carter called him an illegitimate president, Trump signaled during a photo op at the G20 summit in Japan with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he still doesn’t think Russian interference is a serious matter.

Trump responded to a reporter’s shouted question about whether he’d warned Putin not to inference in US elections again by smirking and saying, “Yes, of course I will.”

“Don’t meddle in the election, President,” Trump said, pointing at Putin as the Russian leader smirked back at him. “Don’t meddle in the election.”

Trump’s photo op with Putin was the first the two leaders have had since their joint press conference last July in Helsinki, Finland, when Trump said he believes Putin’s denials about interfering in the 2016 election over the conclusions of his own intelligence community. Trump quickly tried to walk those comments back as well.

Regardless of what Trump believes, however, experts say his administration is not doing enough to ensure that the results of the next presidential election are more free of foreign interference — and hence, in Carter’s eyes, more legitimate — than 2016 was.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.