West Virginia’s chief elections officer, now a candidate for governor, has again said the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
“The election was stolen, and it was stolen by the CIA,” Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, said Thursday night during a MetroNews debate for gubernatorial candidates.
Of the candidates at the debate, Warner was the only one who went so far.
Businessman Chris Miller, son of Congresswoman Carol Miller, when asked if the election was stolen responded “possibly.” House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, son of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, would only say that West Virginia elections were secure and would go no farther.
A fourth gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who did not attend the debate, signed West Virginia on to a 2020 federal lawsuit that sought to invalidate election results in Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed it for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution.
Warner, a longtime Army officer who comes from an active political family, was explicit at the debate: “The election was stolen.”
‘Stop the Steal’
For Warner, who has served as West Virginia’s Secretary of State since 2017, the claim was a variation on a consistent public position of casting doubt on the presidential election.
Warner is now vying to become West Virginia’s chief executive, touting his long record in the U.S. Army and his two terms as the state’s chief elections officer. Polls have shown him running behind some of the other candidates, but he has picked up a key endorsement from the former president’s orbit and hopes for more.
Following the 2020 election, Warner participated in a March for Trump rally and appeared in the backdrop of Right Side Broadcasting coverage holding up a “Stop the Steal” sign. At that point, he questioned voting methods in some states.
He continued into early 2022, questioning elections processes in swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. On August 22, 2022, Warner argued in a spirited discussion on MetroNews’ “Talkline” that “votes came in outside the law.”
That was after former President Donald Trump and his allies lost 62 lawsuits contesting election processes, vote counting and the vote certification process in states that included Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Most were dismissed because of lack of evidence.
Michael Flynn endorsement
More recently, Warner has promoted an endorsement by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was among Trump’s most prominent allies in supporting election fraud claims.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was Trump’s national security adviser for just 24 days. He was fired over his lies about discussions over U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak prior to the Trump administration’s taking office.
Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. In late 2020, as Flynn was fighting to keep Trump in office, he received a pardon.
Flynn was among the high-level Trump supporters, including attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who gathered in the Oval Office on Dec. 18, 2020, for a now-notorious late-night brainstorming session about overturning the election. Flynn had been advocating for the imposition of martial law, saying Trump should “seize” voting machines to hold a new election.
In testimony before the select congressional committee investigating the events surrounding Jan. 6, Flynn asserted his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination in response to a series of questions, including whether he believes in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America.
In announcing an endorsement from Flynn last month, Warner said Flynn “recognizes the link between free, fair, and secure elections and the legitimacy and effectiveness of government.”
Flynn endorsed Warner by saying, “Ultimately, our national security is directly related to how legitimate the government is viewed by our citizens. If elections are in question, then respect for government is diminished and our consequent ability to protect the country is degraded. Secretary Warner’s work on election integrity and security has set the example for what is needed right now across this entire country.”
Warner’s claims: Hunter’s laptop
Warner’s basis for questioning the 2020 presidential election, discussed briefly during last week’s gubernatorial debate, has taken a twist.
By pointing toward the Central Intelligence Agency, he is making an argument that information about Hunter Biden’s laptop recovered from a repair shop in October 2020 was suppressed from full consideration by voters.
Warner said all was revealed “when Mike Morell testified under oath to Jim Jordan that, yes, he colluded with Antony Blinken to sell a lie to the American people two weeks before the election for the very purpose of throwing the presidential election. How does it not get stolen if the FBI covers it up and Mark Zuckerberg pays $400 million to put his thumb on the scale? That’s not fair.”
That’s a big tangle to parse.
Mike Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, has been a Trump critic. In October, 2020, Morell signed an open letter contending the Biden laptop story “has the classic earmarks of a Russian disinformation operation.” Then-candidate Joe Biden cited the letter to deflect criticism.
Three years later, no concrete evidence has emerged to confirm the assertion that the laptop contained Russian disinformation.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, led by Congressman Jim Jordan, a Republican of Ohio, has focused its efforts on Hunter Biden’s business dealings. The committee’s Republican majority has contended that Antony Blinken, then a Biden campaign adviser and now Secretary of State, first reached out to Morell about the laptop story.
The allegation has been that the Biden campaign was creating a pretext, through the letter by national security officials, to suppress the laptop story in the weeks before the election.
House Democrats responded to the contention by releasing an excerpt from Morell’s interview. Asked whether Blinken had directed, suggested or insinuated that he should write such a statement, Morell said, “My memory is that he did not.”
Warner’s summary also includes references to the FBI and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. That’s an allegation that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation reached out to social media companies with warnings that the contents of the laptop could have been subject to tampering by Russian operatives.
Facebook and Twitter restricted sharing of an article focusing on emails from the laptop by the New York Post. Zuckerberg told a popular podcaster that FBI agents had reached out to with warnings that “you should be on high alert.” The warning wasn’t specifically about the laptop article specifically, Zuckerberg said, but Facebook judged that it “fit that pattern.”
Finally, Warner’s mention of Zuckerberg and $400 million is a reference to grants to nonprofit organizations supporting election activities and infrastructure just after the covid-19 pandemic. Critics on the right have contended that funding disproportionately supported Democratic voting efforts and increased Joe Biden’s margin in swing states.
Warner cites a ‘psychological operation’
Warner has sewn these claims together before, in particular while as a speaker for a “ReAwaken America” rally last August headlined by Flynn.
While on stage and in the spotlight, Warner said the CIA had used a “psychological operation” to affect the election. He also spoke of some of his fellow Americans as “enemies.”
“Fifty-one so-called intelligence experts sign a letter saying this has all the indicia of Russian disinformation. Note the quibbling here. Doesn’t say it is; they say it has the indicia of,” Warner said, his hand wavering to make the point.
“So they put the information out, and then Joe Biden uses it. Catch that: Joe Biden used that against Trump in that election just two weeks prior and said ‘Oh, that has been debunked by 51 intelligence experts.’ And there wasn’t time to overcome that. And now they start laughing about it. They brag about it. What they got away with.”
Warner cited his own military service — and Flynn’s — to say “We’re familiar with psychological operations. This is where I really get pissed. They lied to the American people.”
He continued by describing his oath as a West Point cadet to protect and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Warner said he then spent two decades defending against foreign enemies.
“It wasn’t until March of this year, more than two years after the 2020 election, that I had to start worrying about those domestic enemies. And that domestic enemy — we have met the enemy and they are us — it’s the CIA and the FBI,” Warner said to cheers.