Gregg Phillips, the unlikely apparent source for President Trump's unsupported claim that 3 million or more "illegal voters" cost him the popular vote, says he might be changing his mind about releasing the names of those voters to everyone on the internet.
“If I had my druthers, and they said, ‘Gregg, you can release your list or you can give it to [the Department of Justice],’ I’d instantly agree to give it over to DOJ. They could bump it up against the Homeland Security file,” Phillips told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “There’s a group of us who don’t think we should release the names at all.”
As of right now, however, releasing the names is the plan, said Phillips, who identifies himself on Twitter as the founder of a voter-fraud reporting app.
On Monday, Trump told congressional leaders he believed 3 million to 5 million people illegally voted in November. A day later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump’s belief was “based on studies and evidence people have presented to him.”
That “evidence” could include the data Phillips claimed to have a week after the election, which gained legendary viral notoriety on the right. The Washington Post's Philip Bump called Phillips' tweet "Donald Trump's new explanation for losing the popular vote" back in November.
Here’s the problem: No one has seen any of the data, nor the algorithm Phillips and his group have put it through, let alone confirmed if it’s even possible for any part of it to be true.
Days after Phillips claimed, without providing any evidence, there had been 3 million illegal voters, Trump wrote, “If the election were based on total popular vote I would have campaigned in N.Y. Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily.”
Days later, Trump was still thinking about it. “In addition to winning the electoral college in a landslide,” he tweeted on Nov. 27, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
He added, “It would have been much easier for me to win the so-called popular vote than the Electoral College in that I would only campaign in 3 or 4-states instead of the 15 states that I visited. I would have won even more easily and convincingly (but smaller states are forgotten)!”
And then he made a specific charge: “Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California—so why isn’t the media reporting on this? Serious bias—big problem!”
A few weeks later, on Dec. 21, it remained on his mind. “Campaigning to win the Electoral College is much more difficult & sophisticated than the popular vote,” he said. “Hillary focused on the wrong states!
“I would have done even better in the election, if that is possible, if the winner was based on popular vote—but would campaign differently.”
On Monday, President Trump got specific, telling congressional leaders he believed 3 million to 5 million people illegally voted in November.
That matches up nearly with Phillips’s November claim to “have verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens,” adding that “we are joining .@TrueTheVote to initiate legal action.#unrigged.”
His two tweets on the subject quickly went viral on far-right-wing and conspiracy sites, racking up over 10,000 retweets. An InfoWars story based on his tweet reached the top of right-wing news aggregator The Drudge Report, which in July had more than a billion readers.
When reporters asked to see Philips’s information in November, he flatly said “no,” adding that “We will release it in open form to the American people. We won’t allow the media to spin this first.”
Phillips told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that his group would not only release the full data but was also working to highlight each of the 3 million names his algorithm has identified as an illegal voter—from “dually registered” ones to ones “associated with a dead person”—for everyone, including the Trump administration, to see.
Phillips claims his group, a band of volunteers loosely affiliated with a right-wing organization called True the Vote, has “184 million voting records we’ve collected over time.”
He did not share the data set or algorithm with The Daily Beast, or give a timeline for when either would be released.
He said his team has “worked on various projects and analysis and plenty of different methodologies on key components on the valuations such as verifying identity and verifying citizenship.”
“I believe in this stuff to my core, in my bones. A lot of people are saying, even people on the Trump side, ‘Who cares? He won,’” said Phillips. “Well, I care.”
All of the volunteers have day jobs, Phillips said. “I’m just a regular guy,” he said.
He said that’s why there’s been a delay between his November proclamation that 3 million people voted illegally and the release of his alleged evidence.
“We have identified what we believe to be likely 3 million illegal voters. I’ve got 184 million records that we have applied an enormous amount of analytic capability to,” he said.
Phillips said he doesn’t want to accuse someone of felony voter fraud who isn’t a felon.
“That’s exactly what’s taking so long. Rather than publishing things that might be wrong, we not only just want to do a quality check on our own algorithm, we want to do an internal audit, if you will,” he said.
Still, at the beginning of his conversation with The Daily Beast, he insisted he’d release the data and algorithm to the public once he was sure the data was fine-tuned. (He didn’t give a timeline for any of this when pressed.)
“I committed from the outset to publish all of this data to the public. I’m gonna let the public see everything we’ve done. Our analysis, everything, will be published. We will also give copies to the federal government,” he said. “We’re gonna publish the entire data set.”
In the meantime, though, he’s mostly gone dark. He’s yet to post on Twitter this year, he said, after finding himself the subject of accusations he’s responsible for crimes he said were actually committed by another person with his name—a somewhat ironic development. He also deleted his Facebook account.
“I’m not a racist. I’m not a child molester. I’m not an Israeli spy. It’s just Twitter,” he said. “Somebody accused me of murder in Sarasota. I’m a 55-year-old white guy. This was a 30-year-old black guy. Same exact name. Spelled the same.”
Doesn’t that give him some reservations about releasing his list to the public? Even if he thinks it’s entirely right, won’t random people on Twitter implicate the wrong people with the same name?
“I agree with you. You kind of spurred it in my brain yet again, what we plan to do. It’s been a bit of a hot topic within the group: ‘What we are gonna do?’” he said. “We’re not looking to hurt anybody. That’s not our gig.”
Phillips said the data set his group is working with came from True the Vote, a conservative vote-monitoring group that splintered off from the Tea Party’s King Street Patriots. Both King Street Patriots and True the Vote were founded by Texas Republican organizer Catherine Engelbrecht.
Engelbrecht said she’s “confident the president has data to support his contentions,” although she said the president is not citing True the Vote’s or Phillips’s.
“At least not yet,” she said.
“Months ago, [Phillips] sent out a tweet based on his independent analysis. It went viral. Suddenly it appeared in a story in Drudge, which was linked to the then-PEOTUS and… it was a surreal experience,” said Engelbrecht. “No reporter ever contacted him until his connection to all of this had gotten way, way, way out of hand.”
King Street Patriots has been successfully sued by the Texas Democratic Party for voter intimidation, and True The Vote was the subject of a 2012 congressional investigation for voter suppression. Engelbrecht later filed an ethics complaint against Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings for his handling of the investigation.
Phillips estimated True the Vote has 100,000 volunteers, and said it encourages splinter groups like the one creating the supposed illegal immigrant database. He said the side project doesn’t have a name.
Phillips said he was “dumbfounded” by both the magnitude of the response to his initial tweet and also the attacks he received in return.
He called Twitter “the meanest, nastiest, most horrible place on earth.”
“In my view, it’s bad for public discourse,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
In the meantime, he and his group are back to figuring out which people his algorithm might be confusing with illegal immigrants.
“We’re about halfway through,” he said. “Our biggest problem right now is that people are just tired. It really is tough work.”