(CNN) In the space of a single sentence uttered Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray unwound months of wild conspiracy theories pushed by President Donald Trump and his allies about mail-in ballots in the 2020 election.
"Now, we have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise," Wray said in response to a question about the safety of voting by mail, which millions of Americans are expected to do amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Wray was testifying in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Under oath. Meaning that if he didn't tell the truth about his knowledge in regard to what he knew about the record of fraudulent voting by mail, he would be committing a crime.
None of that stopped the White House from attacking Wray for his assertion.
"With all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding emails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there's any kind of voter fraud," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Friday morning on CBS. That echoed attacks Trump himself has made against Wray for the way in which the FBI has responded to a probe into the origins of the counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"So Christopher Wray was put there," Trump said last month in an interview with Fox Business Network. "We have an election coming up. I wish he was more forthcoming, he certainly hasn't been. There are documents that they want to get, and we have said we want to get. We're going to find out if he's going to give those documents. But certainly he's been very, very protective."
Wray was not just "put there," of course. He was appointed to his current job by -- wait for it -- Trump. In announcing his nomination of Wray to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, Trump called him a "man of impeccable credentials."
Consider, for a minute, what you have to believe in order to side with Trump and Meadows in this back-and-forth:
1) That the FBI director lied, under oath, about voter fraud because, uh, well, I don't know.
3) That longtime Republicans -- including former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and longtime GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg -- are somehow also in on this conspiracy to cover up past fraud via mail-in ballots.
Conspiracy theorists are able to incorporate contradictory facts into their schemata under the aegis of "Well, everyone is in on it!" -- and if that's where you want to stake your claim, well, I can't stop you. I give you Trump's own response to questions about voter fraud on Thursday:
"So we have to be very careful with the ballots. The ballots -- that's a whole big scam. You know, they found, I understand, eight ballots in a waste paper basket in some location. And they found -- it was reported in one of the newspapers that they found a lot of ballots in a river. They throw them out if they have the name 'Trump' on it, I guess. But they had ballots."
What Trump is referring to are nine -- yes, nine -- military ballots that, according to the Justice Department, were found "discarded" in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. US Attorney David Freed said seven of the nine ballots were marked for Trump, which raises all sorts of questions -- mainly how he knew that. Freed said the DOJ was beginning an investigation into the ballots although there appears to be no evidence that the ballots were purposely thrown out. Also worth noting: More than 6 million people cast votes for president in Pennsylvania in 2016. Nine votes of 6 million is a miniscule portion of the overall vote.
It's important to note here the difference between occasional mistakes made with a handful (or even more) ballots and the sort of widespread voter fraud that Trump is alleging. The discarding of nine ballots is NOT evidence of much of anything other than that nine ballots somehow got either misplaced or thrown out. It's certainly not proof of a broad-scale mail-in voting conspiracy aimed to eliminate Trump votes. Anecdotes may be alluring, but they aren't statistically significant.
That won't stop Trump. Every incident of a ballot not making it where it should go will be seized on as evidence that he's right about Democrats trying to steal the election from him.
But the thing I just keep coming back to is this: Why, exactly, would Wray take that risk? Because he hates Trump that much? But if that was true, how did he win Trump's trust to be appointed to the job in the first place? He's just that cunning?
There's no good answer. Wray is a lifetime law enforcement professional who has never shown the least bit of ill will (or any will) toward Trump. He said he had never seen "any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election" because there has never been "any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election."