Former President Donald Trump and his allies are pushing to replace the chair of the Republican National Committee with North Carolina’s party leader who promoted 2020 presidential election lies and supported using the courts to overturn the results.
Michael Whatley, the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, shared false claims that Republican observers were prevented from accessing polling locations and repeatedly said Democratic cities in swing states were engaged in “massive fraud,” a CNN KFile review of Whatley’s comments following the election found.
Whatley, who has since acknowledged Joe Biden is the country’s legitimate president, currently serves as general counsel at the RNC overseeing litigation and what the organization calls its “election integrity” efforts.
His elevation to RNC chair could give Trump a loyalist more willing to devote resources to pursue future voter fraud claims in court should they arise. One reason why Trump soured on Ronna McDaniel, the current chair, was his perception she should have done more to fight for his candidacy in 2020, CNN reported.
Like many Republicans, Whatley publicly backed Trump’s voter fraud claims on multiple occasions following the 2020 election.
“Regardless of how these lawsuits come out around the country with the presidential race we do know that there was massive fraud that took place,” Whatley said in one late November 2020 interview on local North Carolina radio. “We know that it took place in places like Milwaukee and Detroit and Philadelphia.”
There is no evidence of massive fraud in any of those cities or around the country as Republican election officials and Trump-appointed former Attorney General William Barr have acknowledged. Trump and his supporters filed more than 60 cases in six key battleground states following the election and lost every one.
Whatley, a former Senate staffer and one-time lobbyist focused on energy-related issues, said in a statement to CNN he believed pandemic related changes to voting laws weakened safeguards against voter fraud.
“There is no question that changes to the 2020 election process which weakened safeguards on absentee and mail-in votes in some states led to distrust by many across the Country. I firmly believe in having proper safeguards in place to ensure that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat.“
Whatley is one of two candidates Trump and his allies are supporting to take over the RNC. The other is Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Trump turned on McDaniel over the poor finances and management of the RNC at a time when the organization is facing one of its worst fundraising years in a decade.
CNN reported Tuesday that McDaniel is planning to step down at the end of the month. Despite Trump’s preferred picks, only RNC members can choose to elect the new chairman.
False claims about the 2020 election
In his capacity as chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party in the days following the 2020 election, Whatley parroted much of Trump’s false election claims.
One day before the election was called for Biden, Whatley echoed false claims about Republican poll watchers being barred from observation.
“There’s also issues [in] surrounding states like Michigan and Pennsylvania where they’re not allowing Republican observers into the polling location to watch the voting,” Whatley said. “When we have instances of voter fraud, then obviously if those are widespread enough to be able to, you know, affect the outcome, you’re gonna have litigation that’s gonna deal with those.”
One week following the 2020 election, Whatley called it alarming that the results would be determined in court but said it was the strategy needed for Trump to secure victory. At the time, there were recounts occurring in major swing states – all of which would affirm Biden’s victory.
“I think that what we’re seeing in Georgia, especially with the hand recount,” he said on local North Carolina radio. “What we’re seeing in Arizona where we’re gonna have a recount out there as well – And then it’s gonna basically put states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin into court. It really is kind of scary proposition to think that you’re gonna have a court overturn some of those results. But that’s really the plan.”
“And I get asked every single day by a reporter, why do you keep alleging that there’s fraud out there?” he continued. “And it’s like, all you have to do is look at the stories that we’re seeing out of Philadelphia, the Detroit area, we’re seeing out of Milwaukee, egregious violations of election law. And there’s no question why it puts these elections at risk.”
At the time, Trump and his allies were inundating the public with unfounded allegations of fraud in Democratic cities. They made baseless claims of excluded poll watchers, fake reports of suitcases filled with fraudulent ballots, bogus allegations of bussed-in ballots from New York to swing states and false assertions that Philadelphia had more ballots than voters.
Whatley pointed to the contested 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, where he served on the Bush recount team during the legal disputes between George W. Bush and Al Gore, to argue the election was far from over. Ultimately, the Supreme Court intervened and stopped the recount, effectively deciding the election in Bush’s favor.
“We’re not done in the presidential. We’re not done at all,” he added, referring to the 2020 election, in the interview.
Condemned January 6th - but suggested not done by “Republican voters”
In an interview on January 2, 2021, Whatley resigned himself to Biden being President – but said objections to the election were important to discuss the claims of fraud.
“I think the fact that we’re likely to have the outcome be that Joe Biden is going to get certified and sworn in, does not mean that these protests are irrelevant,” he said. “It is absolutely critical that we have a national dialogue on election integrity. What we saw in places like Milwaukee and Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Phoenix is really very, very troubling.”
Following the riot on January 6, 2021, Whatley condemned those who broke into the Capitol building in interviews.
“The actions of these violent protestors is completely unjustified and unacceptable. There is no rationale to excuse this assault on the foundations of our Democracy,” he said in a tweet since deleted.
In an interview, Whatley described himself as “appalled” by January 6th riot, but said the Republican Party as “a whole” was not “complicit” in what happened.
“Most of the people that have been arrested were not necessarily Republican voters,” Whatley said in February 2021. “There’s certainly Trump supporters in there, but we’ve also seen others and we’re gonna unequivocally condemn those actions.
In the aftermath of the January 6th some have sought to deflect blame for the riot by alleging Republican partisans weren’t the primarily force behind it, though subsequent investigations have shown that those arrested were mostly Trump supporters.
In another interview in February 2021, Whatley acknowledged Biden as “legitimately” elected President of the United States.
“I was a member of the Electoral College, and I proudly cast my vote for President Trump. But the Electoral college voted. And a majority was for Joe Biden and he is the President of the United.”