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At the moment, a substantial percentage of US citizens reportedly believes that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was substantially affected by fraud of one sort or the other. (NOTE: whether or not those persons are correct is completely off-topic for this question)

The main reason for these beliefs is a series of unproven claims made by the incumbent president (Donald Trump) and his staff.

These claims are now so widespread that they form a political movement in their own right, whether or not the actual claims have any truth to them, thereby seriously affecting politics in the coming year by undermining the respect for elected officials and their decisions. Conversely, the number of people believing that the election was indeed correct (an even larger number) forbids any concession to the fraud-believers.

It seems to me like there are only two ways that any government can gain full legitimacy in the eyes of the people in such a situation:

Either (supposing that the election actually was skewed by substantial fraud), those claims of fraud are proven and confessed, the apparent winner resigns in shame after which a new and presumably fair election takes place.

Or (supposing that the claims of widespread fraud are without merit), said claims must be unequivocally renounced by the incumbent/former president, effectively admitting that they were lies or at least gross exaggerations.

So, is there any way to force an incumbent or former US president to account for sweeping claims of voter fraud under oath (and threat of perjury)? To either state on record that the claims were groundless or present actual proof?

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  • Note: I'm not intrested (in the context of this question) in discussions about the actual merit of these claims. Only the question as asked. If anyone can edit any remaining opinion-based-ness out of it, please do. – Guran Jan 8 at 15:17
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – CDJB Jan 9 at 7:27
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Congress (or either house of it) could launch an investigation, and hold hearings. It could subpeona people who have made claims of fraud, including a current or former President. It could question people under oath. But if a person asserted thst fraud had happened, but could not or would not furnish evidence, or furnished only evidence already rejected by the courts, or not persuasive to those not accepting the fraud theories, Congress really couldn't do anything to such a person. Such testimony would not be perjury unless one could prove that the person knowingly lied, which does not seem possible in such a case. I doubt a useful effect on the court of public opinion, so I doubt if such hearings would in practice, be held. But Congress does have the legal right to hold such hearings, in pursuit of possible changes to the law to prevent fraud or false claims of fraud in future elections.

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  • So,in theory, congress could say “ok, we’ll hold a hearing to investigate these claims of voter fraud”, subpoena Trump and (by some hand waved Perry Mason maneuvers) put him in a position where he must admit to lying, perjure himself, plead the fifth or get charged with contempt? All highly theoretical outside court fiction naturally. – Guran Jan 8 at 20:04
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    Not quite, @Guran They could easily hold a hearing, subpoena Trump, and require him to respond under oath. But I don't see how thy could fore him to admit lying or to be vulnerable to a perjury charge. If he responded "I am sure there was fraud" and cited the various allegations previously presented in court cases, I don't see how you would prove him to be lying. Indeed he might not be -- he might seriously believe those claims. It is neither perjury nor contempt to be mistaken under oath. If he refused to answer, that could lead to a contempt charge. – David Siegel Jan 8 at 20:15
  • Yeah, I do realize that the only possibility would be to provoke him to wander off script and into a perjury trap. I also realize that is more Hollywood court drama than real life. – Guran Jan 8 at 20:34
  • I accept this as the answer, since it both provides an answer to the direct question and expands a bit about why that would hardly be successful. – Guran Jan 9 at 22:13
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The claims have already been dismissed by every Court that has heard them so I doubt whether another statement would have the effect you seem to believe. Die hard fanatics would presume the statement was given under duress and accord it no weight whatsoever.

Your premise also seems to assume that fraud or misconduct could be directly attributed to a candidate - many of the things people are taking issue with were decisions by elected officials in response to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic so I'm not sure your position is correct.

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    That doesn't answer the question in the least. The question was whether someone, specifically POTUS, can be forced to testify under oath concerning their own allegations. It's not about whether it would work or whether fraud can be attributed to that person. It's only about whether that person can be put in a context where perjury on their claims has serious legal outcomes. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Jan 8 at 16:57
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    Valid points, but they do not answer the question. – Guran Jan 8 at 18:22
  • Actually, most of the claims have not been made in court, as most of the lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign did not actually allege fraud (perhaps because the lawyers didn't want to present false claims in court, which has consequences for them). Even Rudy Giuliani explicitly said in court that they are not alleging fraud. They were just alleging procedural issues like distance of poll observers and legality of curing ballots, etc. – user102008 Jan 9 at 1:15
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The answer is simply no, under the US legal system, you cannot force people to "unequivocally renounce" their claims through legal proceedings, no matter how silly and unsupported the claims, because delusions in themselves are not criminal and their expression is protected by the 1st Amendment. You can firmly state your belief that the flying spaghetti monster stole the election by mind controlling people etc. and none of that is actionable in court. (Aside, in some other legal systems, if someone is proven to be sufficiently delusional that may even be proof of legal insanity, but the US standards for that are different.)

On the other hand, actions are actionable in practically all legal systems and delusional beliefs do not confer complete absolution from things like criminal incitement, although there is fairly high bar for that in the US.

In the civil realm, torts like defamation require a certain standard of malice be proven, which is a fairly complicated discussion. E.g. Dominion Voting Systems is suing some Trump-related lawyers for that. Even when a defamation suit is won by the plaintiff, from what I know, (besides awarding monetary compensation) at best the judge could enjoin the defendant from repeating the claims further, but not "unequivocally renounce" them... although in some countries when such a suit is won against a press company, the latter is forced to print or air a retraction. I'm not sure if that can happen in the US, especially with individuals (Trump is not a press company anyway). From what I know, only a few countries like France mandate force retractions to be published by private individuals when they lose a defamation suit (publication of the retraction happens in a newspaper etc. nonetheless.) I actually found a fairly long (TLDR) paper on retractions following defamation suits in the US, although it seems mainly to be a proposal; you may want to have a look at that, or better ask on law SE.

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