Former President Donald Trump on Saturday demanded a forensic audit of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s injection of hundreds of millions of dollars into election offices as he repeated his unfounded claims that the 2020 vote was rigged against him.
Addressing conservative activists at their annual gathering in Orlando, Florida, Trump hinted that he will run in 2024.
And, despite some senior voices at the Conservative Political Action Conference suggesting Republicans needed to move on from 2020 and develop a more positive message for voters, Trump bulldozered ahead with his favorite grievances.
After repeating claims that he was spied on in 2016, he turned to questioning Joe Biden’s victory
‘And let’s do a full forensic audit of the $417 million given by Mark Zuckerberg – who used to come to the White House and kiss my ass – they spent to take over local election offices in key Democrat counties,’ he said.
‘And I believe you’re going to be hearing a lot of it.
‘You know if you’re a person that wants to make a contribution you’re allowed to give less than $6,000 otherwise they put you in jail.
‘He gave $417 million. What the hell is going on?’
President Donald Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday night in Orlando, Florida, delivering the key note speech
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave more than $400 million to election offices
Trump teased a 2024 run, reheated his claims that the 2020 election was rigged and said Russia would never have invaded Ukraine on his watch
Trump hats and T-shirts were popular with attendees at the CPAC conference
The money was used to support the work of people running the elections.
But conservatives say it was channeled to Democratic counties, where turnout increased.
Supporters at the conference cheered his claims, but advisers have suggested to Trump that his taste for conspiracy theories is off-putting to independent voters.
‘Do you remember what I said years ago? I think they spied on my campaign,’ he said, ‘and everybody said …. How dare he say that? How dare he? Well, it turned out to be true.
‘And I want to thank John Durham for figuring that out.’
Court filings from special counsel Durham recently triggered excitement among conservatives that he had uncovered Internet snooping that proved Trump right, although Durham quickly distanced himself from those conclusions.
And he repeated his complaints about the 2020 election, even after some speakers at CPAC suggested it was time for Republicans to move on.
He claimed ‘explosive’ new evidence would soon come out proving there was rigging.
‘These people – they call them mules – ballots in Georgia and other swing states were trafficked and sold on an unprecedented scale and the brutality … it was just incredible what took place that we have it on tape,’ he said.
Trump spent Saturday morning playing golf in West Palm Beach, near his Mar-a-Lago home.
Trump closed Saturday night in the key note address. And his image was everywhere through the first three days of the conference.
While attendees sported Trump T-shirts and red MAGA hats, many of the top speakers avoided references to the former president or urged the party to move on from his complaints that the 2020 election was rigged.
Trump was the main draw at the annual gathering of American conservatives in Orlando
Nigel Farage closed CPAC’s Friday night with a barrage of jokes and some difficult advice for conservatives. ‘This message of a stolen election, if you think about it is actually a negative, backward looking message,’ he told the annual gathering in Florida
Farage was the final speaker on the main stage on Friday afternoon, and delivered a rapid fire series of jokes and bombast that brought laughter and cheers from the crowd
Sen. Marco Rubio offered a positive message that celebrated the way ordinary people – from truckers to parents on school boards – were standing up for freedom.
‘There are people that perhaps have never voted the same way any of you have in a presidential race and they’re really angry,’ he said.
‘And that’s why I believe that for all the negative we’ve heard, the pendulum is swinging.’
It was Britain’s Mr Brexit, Nigel Farage who went furthest in urging the audience to drop its backwards-looking focus on the 2020 for a forward looking agenda.
He said: ‘But does it make sense for the Republican policy to go on talking about the stolen election?
‘Well, you may say yes in this whole because your political activists and you understand what happened.
‘Remember, most voters are busy with their lives, busy with their mortgages, busy with their kids worried about their jobs, worried about the price of gas, the cost of living and all of those things.’
His words echo the private words of aides, who have been trying to persuade Trump to drop the grievances.
It made little difference.
Early on, Trump gave a shout-out to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s facing criticism after speaking before a white nationalist conference Friday.
‘A person who’s very shy, doesn’t like speaking her mind but she does it anyway,’ Trump remarked of Greene.
Before his speech, Trump appeared at a VIP reception for his Save America PAC, where McDonald’s and Diet Cokes – a Trump favorite – were served, according to Insider.
There, he told attendees that they would be very happy when asked when he might announce his 2024 intentions.
He’s made a similar tease before.
Trump was also asked about a potential VP pick.
‘I know who you don’t want as your VP,’ he said, according to The New York Times.
The former president looks in the direction of DailyMail.com’s camera as he plays golf Friday in West Palm Beach, Florida, near his Mar-a-Lago resort
On Friday, DailyMail.com captured Trump golfing at his West Palm Beach, Florida club in advance of his CPAC appearance.
The ex-president sported his trademark ‘Make America Great Again’ ballcap, a white polo shirt and dark slacks – and golfed with several partners, also clad in Trump-branded attire.
Trump’s speech comes as he’s taken heat for laudatory comments he made this week about Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as the leader mounted a deadly assault on Ukraine.
The ex-president called Putin ‘pretty smart’ on Wednesday as the invasion was imminent, following similar comments Trump made after Putin declared two regions of Ukraine ‘independent’ earlier this week.
‘If I were in Office, this deadly Ukraine situation would never have happened!’ Trump claimed in a statement Thursday night.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki hit back at Trump on Tuesday and then on Saturday President Joe Biden chimed in.
‘I put as much stock in Trump saying that Putin’s a genius as I do when he called himself a stable genius,’ Biden said in an interview with political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen.
The Republicans considered prospects for 2024 handled Trump’s comments in different ways.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, didn’t mention the Ukraine crisis at all during his Thursday night CPAC address.
Earlier this week, Cruz had commended Biden’s decision to allow sanctions to go forward on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline operators – releasing a hold on Biden’s State Department nominees to they could get Senate-confirmed.
Cruz later turned around and said Biden’s previous decision to put in place sanction waivers on the Nord Stream project likely amounted to a ‘surrender to Putin,’ he told CBS Thursday.
During the same interview, he declined to criticize Trump.
‘His rhetoric I – with some regularity – disagree with,’ Cruz said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also didn’t broach foreign policy when he opened up the conference on Thursday.
In his speech Friday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged that there were differing opinions on the conflict with the modern Republican Party.
‘No matter where you stand on this Ukraine-Russia situation – what we should have done beforehand, what we should do now – the one thing I think everyone can agree upon, is that the people of Ukraine are inspiring to the world,’ the Florida senator told the crowd.
Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who has also been criticized for recent complimentary comments about Putin – wouldn’t play take-backsies with his previous statements, but toughened up his rhetoric on Putin onstage in Orlando.
‘We’ve seen a Russian dictator now terrorize the Ukrainian people because America didn’t demonstrate the resolve that we did for the four years prior,’ Pompeo said Friday morning.
Cruz, DeSantis, Rubio and Pompeo are among those being talked about for 2024, though the GOP field will be defined by whether Trump decides to again pursue the White House.
The strongest rebuttal to Trump’s comments came Saturday at CPAC from his former national security adviser Robert O’Brien.
‘Make no mistake, Putin is a killer who wants to rebuild the Russian Empire,’ he said. ‘He is not a person to be admired no matter how charming or clever he is portrayed to be.’
And GOP Rep. Byron Donalds scoffed that some in his party had a favorable view of the Russian leader in an interview with DailyMail.com at CPAC.
‘The reality is that nobody’s a fan of Putin,’ he said. ‘But the fact of the matter is that Joe Biden has exhibited weak leadership, he was late to the game.’
But a number of speakers also embraced Trump’s ‘America First.’
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz questioned, ‘Why should Americans have to pay the cost of freedom elsewhere when our own leader wont’ stand up for our own freedom here?’
‘That’s why we have higher costs and fewer choices today,’ the Florida Republican said.
‘Now we’ve got to foot the bill for Ukraine? Endure more pain? We’re still feeling the pain from Afghanistan misadventures,’ he stated.
At CPAC in Orlando this week, MAGA swag was everywhere
He said the U.S. didn’t have to give money to other countries to hate us. ‘They will probably do it for free,’ he said.
‘I’m not for sending Americans ot Ukraine – except maybe one. If the Russians want to destabilize Ukraine, they didn’t need to send tanks – they could have sent Dr. Fauci,’ Gaetz said. ‘My constituents fear Dr. Fauci far more than a moder-day incarnation of Dr. Strangelove.’
Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, who is running as a Republican for Senate in Ohio, doubled down on comments he previously made arguing the U.S. should focus more on the Mexican border crisis and the Canadian trucker protests than Ukraine.
‘I’ve gotten a lot of flack in the last week because I have the audacity to suggest before our leaders obsess over a Ukrainian-Russian border 6000 miles away, maybe they better guarantee the sovereignty of their own country and their own border force,’ Vance said at CPAC Saturday.
He blasted U.S. leadership for being ‘constantly focused on stuff that has nothing to do’ with the ‘middle class citizens of our state of Ohio.’
‘And ladies and gentlemen, it’s just time to stop, I’m sick of it,’ Vance said. ‘I’m sick of being told that we have to care more about people 6,000 miles away than we do people like my mom, and my grandparents, and all the kids who are affected by this crisis.’
Vance – whose mother is a recovered addict – talked largely about the opioid crisis, being fueled by Fentanyl coming over the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sharing Vance’s comments on Ukraine, Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume tweeted Saturday, ‘I have rarely lost as much respect for a person in a short a time as I have for J.D. Vance.’
Overall, CPAC was a Trumpworld reunion, with a number of ex-White House officials and political allies roaming the halls.
DailyMail.com spotted former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and deputies Hogan Gidley and Judd Deere.
Trump’s original National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was in attendance.
My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell was on-site.
And some of Trump’s chosen candidates were there as well – including Max Miller of Ohio, who is vying to replace the retiring GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an impeachment backer, and Kelly Tshibaka, taking on Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said Trump should be convicted for inciting an insurrection.
Murkowski, a sitting Republican senator, got booed by the crowd when Tshibaka name-dropped her.
MAGA swag was everywhere.
And candidates trying to get Trump’s endorsement propped up the so-called ‘big lie.’
Josh Mandel, running for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat GOP Sen. Rob Portman is leaving, said onstage Friday that ‘the liberal media gets up in arms, and the squishy Rino Republicans get up in arms, but I want to say it very clearly and very directly: I believe this election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.’
‘You know the Liz Cheneys the Adam Kinzingers, these are traitors,’ he continued.
Parroting what Trump has previously said Mandel added, ‘We should should abolish the January 6 Commission and replace it with a November 3 Commission.’
Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, an ex-news anchor herself, had the crowd turn around to face and boo the media section, asking reporters directly: ‘Why won’t you tell us the truth about the 2020 election?’
‘You owe it to the people of this country to be honest about what happened! We know what happened!’ Lake said.