Trump’s election fraud falsehoods have cost taxpayers $519m

President Donald Trump’s onslaught of falsehoods about the November election misled millions of Americans, undermined faith in the electoral system, sparked a deadly riot – and has now left taxpayers with a large, and growing, bill.

The total so far: $519 million (£337.8 million).

The costs have mounted daily as government agencies at all levels have been forced to devote public funds to respond to actions taken by Trump and his supporters, according to a Washington Post review of local, state and federal spending records, as well as interviews with government officials. The expenditures include legal fees prompted by dozens of fruitless lawsuits, enhanced security in response to death threats against poll workers, and costly repairs needed after the 6 January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. That attack triggered the expensive massing of thousands of National Guard troops on the streets of Washington amid fears of additional extremist violence.

Although more than $480 million of the total is attributable to the military’s estimated expenses for the troop deployment through mid-March, the financial impact of the president’s refusal to concede the election is probably much higher than what has been documented thus far, and the true costs may never be known.

Many officials contacted by The Washington Post said they were still trying to tally the cost of rapidly scaling up security to deal with the increased threat of violence from Trump supporters. Others have given up on trying to measure their outlays – perplexed over how to calculate the financial impact of a president’s injecting so much instability into the democratic system – opting instead simply to absorb them as the cost of doing business in the Trump era.

Some officials have shifted their attention to planning additional security measures in the volatile environment fostered by Trump’s conspiratorial brand of politics.

“I think anytime you see an event like we saw on 6 January, it changes your perspective going forward. You don’t take things for granted like we used to,” said Michael Rapich, superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, which spent $227,000 (£165,253) on 17 January to deploy 300 troopers to the State Capitol after threats of an armed siege by Trump supporters ahead of the inauguration of President Biden. “It is an incredible amount of money to spend.”

Other states spent even more, and officials are beginning to draft new security budgets that suggest costs for public safety will grow significantly in the future as a result of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The cost to the federal government continues to grow daily as thousands of National Guard troops patrol Washington and lawmakers consider supplemental spending to bolster their security.

The 25,000 troops that were deployed in Washington travelled on military planes and stayed in local hotels – their presence aimed at restoring order in the nation’s capital after an attempted insurrection that overwhelmed the Capitol Police and led to five deaths.

The Guard deployment’s estimated cost, first reported by Bloomberg News, covers the troop presence at the Capitol through mid-March, according to Defense Department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal figures. With an unprecedented show of force that included checkpoints and militarized zones in Washington, the troops thwarted any effort to disrupt Biden’s swearing-in, which took place on the same platform stormed by Trump-supporting rioters two weeks earlier.

It is not clear whether the House Democrats managing Trump’s impeachment trial plan to bring up the financial costs borne by taxpayers as a result of what critics have called his “big lie.” The trial begins Tuesday, and Democrats have focused mainly on Trump’s speech to supporters shortly before the Capitol riot.

A spokeswoman for Trump’s presidential office did not respond to a request for comment. Trump’s defence lawyers have argued that he was within his rights to publicly question the election’s integrity and should not be held responsible for the actions of those who attacked the Capitol after his speech.

Several states are working to calculate the taxpayer costs for additional security and related expenses in the aftermath of the November election and the Jan. 6 protests.

In California, state officials estimated that they spent about $19 million (£13.8 million), deploying 1,000 National Guard troops and hundreds of state troopers from 14 January to 21 January to protect the State Capitol and other locations.

“That’s a lot of money, even by California standards, for one week’s worth of work,” California Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said in an interview. “But it was necessary work to make sure that we didn’t see the damage that could have occurred, had we had a crowd that was bent on doing damage to the building.”

In Ohio, taxpayers spent $1.2 million (£873,585) to deploy National Guard troops to the closed Statehouse building in Columbus. The New Mexico legislature increased its appropriation for Capitol security during the 60-day session by almost 40 per cent this month, handing taxpayers a bill of $1.5 million (£1.09 million) for personnel, equipment and other expenses, officials said.

Taxpayers paid to deploy helicopters to monitor potential demonstrations in Texas and North Carolina, temporary fencing around the capitols in Lansing, Michigan, and Olympia, Washington, and extra security details for state lawmakers attending legislative sessions.

District of Columbia police dispatched 850 officers to help defend the Capitol, spending more than $8.8 million (£6.4 million) during the week of 6 January, acting police chief Robert Contee III said in his opening statement before a closed session of the House Appropriations Committee on 26 January, Contee said the final tab probably will be much higher, and police and prosecutors will be “engaged for years” investigating and trying the rioters.

“The costs for this insurrection – both human and monetary – will be steep,” he said. “The immediate fiscal impact is still being calculated.”

For many states, the post-6 January costs added to a tab that has been growing since shortly after polls closed on 3 November Trump’s false assertion that night that he had won the election and that it was being stolen in ballot-processing centres led to credible threats against poll workers and facilities where they were working. Between additional legal fees to fend off conspiracy-theory-laced lawsuits from Trump and enhanced security for election officials, states’ costs resulting from the president’s central fabrication about the 3 November vote have escalated rapidly.

States spent untold millions of dollars on election recounts not required by law but demanded by Trump, and on legal and state legislative hearings.

Protesters, some armed, massed at ballot-processing centres in places including Maricopa County, Arizona; Detroit; and Las Vegas in the days after 3 November, echoing Trump’s rhetoric about a rigged election.

The additional costs come as many states are resource-strapped as a result of a pandemic that has racked the economy and decimated state budgets.

Chris Loftis, communications director for the Washington State Patrol, said the new “staggeringly high” costs for security and other expenses constituted “a wasteful distraction of essential and diminishing resources.”

Not included in the more than $4 million (£2.9 million) estimated security bill that Washington state taxpayers face is the yet-to-be-determined cost of repairing a gate at the governor’s mansion broken by armed demonstrators on 6 January.

“Not only have our people, places and processes of democracy been attacked and damaged, but the continuing expense of this new security environment will take away from funds that could have been used for covid vaccines and treatment” and other critical expenses, Loftis said.

In Georgia, the target of a large share of Trump’s post-election fraud allegations, officials conducted two recounts of the presidential vote. One was triggered by Biden’s narrow margin of victory over Trump, leading to a hand recount of all 5 million presidential ballots cast – the largest hand recount in U.S. history. The Trump campaign then requested another recount – this time, a machine rescan of those hand-recounted ballots. Both recounts reaffirmed Biden’s victory. The recounts also generated more costs for staff time and the security of election administrators, who faced growing threats and in some cases required 24-hour police details.

In Fulton County, Georgia’s largest, taxpayers spent an estimated $500,000 (£363,993) on security alone for election officials, who faced harassment and threats fueled by conspiracy theories over the November election.

Other state and local officials spent funds to battle with Trump’s well-funded team of lawyers in court. Trump and his allies devoted more than $11 million (£8 million) to a failed legal effort that included dozens of lawsuits and repeated losses in court because of a lack of evidence to support their allegations. After the Nov. 3 election and through the end of December, Trump and the Republican Party paid at least 65 law firms or lawyers on election-related legal challenges, according to federal campaign finance filings.

The state of Pennsylvania hired several private law firms to deal with the onslaught of election litigation, paying outside lawyers as much as $480 (£350) per hour to fight Trump’s claims of rigged voting.

How much taxpayers ultimately had to spend to beat back Trump’s efforts to delay certification or overturn the results remains unknown, because many state officials did not specifically track their legal expenses.

“Although difficult to quantify, many legal hours were invested by the secretary of state’s general counsel and attorneys with the New Mexico attorney general’s office in responding to the baseless lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign,” said Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the New Mexico secretary of state.

Many officials said that although they wished the cost incurred as a result of Trump’s baseless election-fraud allegations could have gone to more productive purposes, they saw the expenses as necessary to defending democracy.

“Safety isn’t cheap. Preparedness isn’t cheap,” Loftis said. “But neither are the lives of the elected leaders and support staff that we have been protecting, the historic and symbolic buildings they work in or the processes of democracy they represent.”

Congress also is grappling with calculating the expected costs of cleaning up and shoring up the U.S. Capitol after rioters, many carrying Trump flags and wearing the signature MAGA hats of the Trump campaign, smashed windows, broke doors, destroyed light fixtures and sprayed graffiti. The hours-long clash between law enforcement and insurrectionists left the building with battle scars that could take months to assess and repair, officials said.

“Statues, murals, historic benches and original shutters all suffered varying degrees of damage – primarily from pepper spray accretions and residue from tear gas and fire extinguishers – that will require cleaning and conservation,” according to an initial assessment of the damage by the office of the architect of the Capitol, which is responsible for preserving and maintaining the Capitol complex.

An official estimate of repair and cleanup costs is still being compiled, said Laura Condeluci, a spokeswoman for the office.

Congressional officials also are trying to determine the cost of securing the Capitol in the future. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requested a third-party review of security protocols for lawmakers and said she expected Congress to put forward a supplemental spending bill specifically for beefing up security for lawmakers. The $515 million (£374 million) annual budget of the Capitol Police is funded through congressional appropriations.

The Capitol Police, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment about how much the 6 January riot cost, has placed many of its officers on 12-hour shifts and installed magnetometers and other additional security measures in recent weeks to deal with the increased threat of violence against lawmakers.

Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman said in a 28 January statement that “vast improvements” were needed for security in the future, including permanent fencing and backup forces in the vicinity of the Capitol complex.

The idea of erecting a fence around the Capitol has received pushback from some congressional leaders and District Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, and it could ultimately be an expensive prospect if approved. The recent project to replace and upgrade the fencing around the White House complex, for example, cost about $64 million (£46.5 million).

In the meantime, members of Congress are taking additional security measures on their own, including acquiring bulletproof vests and using private security details and surveillance cameras. Taxpayers are ultimately footing the bill as lawmakers increasingly use their publicly funded Members’ Representational Allowances, known as “MRAs,” to protect themselves.

Pelosi has suggested that she wants the supplemental spending bill to cover much of those costs so that members can use the MRAs for their original purpose of constituent services.

Pelosi also has encouraged lawmakers to attend post-trauma counselling sessions organized in response to the riot. A spokesman for Pelosi did not respond to questions seeking the cost of the third-party security review, the counselling sessions or other ancillary expenses in the aftermath of 6 January.

Whatever the cost, those and other measures are expected only to grow over time as lawmakers deal with what the Department of Homeland Security recently described in a bulletin as a “heightened threat environment” in which domestic extremists may act on “perceived grievances fueled by false narratives.”

Robert McCrie, who teaches security management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, compared the circumstances to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, which led to a range of permanent security measures and expenses that have continued for almost 20 years.

“There’s no going back,” he said. “Our institutions have to be protected. They’re symbolic, but more than that, they are centers of government, of our sense of having a stable society. So those funds have to be spent.”

Federal investigators also have devoted considerable time and resources to identifying and prosecuting rioters who breached the Capitol and threatened lawmakers; an officer also died after suffering injuries in the attack, and dozens of others also were injured.

U.S. authorities have opened case files on more than 400 potential suspects and obtained more than 500 grand jury subpoenas and search warrants in the sprawling investigation, the acting U.S. attorney in the District, Michael Sherwin, told reporters 26 January.

A nationwide manhunt has resulted in 135 arrests and 150 federal criminally charged cases, according to Sherwin, the top prosecutor in the District.

More charges could follow.

Law enforcement officials have estimated that roughly 800 people entered the Capitol without authorization, The Post reported last month.

The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment on the costs of the prosecutions and investigations, but some inside the bureau have described the Capitol riot case as their biggest since the 11 September 2001, attacks.

Loftis, the Washington State Patrol spokesman, has said he has the full backing of his agency’s leadership to speak out.

“The selfish madness that caused this national self-inflicted wound must be addressed, as it has heaped tragedy on top of tragedy,” he said. “If those of us in law enforcement don’t speak up in defence of democracy and public safety, then our silence becomes a dreadfully powerful statement in its own right.”

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