US president Donald Trump has made unsubstantiated claims about election fraud – even as he reached out to Democratic rivals, business leaders and union chiefs in a bid to sell his policies.
During a bipartisan reception at the White House on Monday evening, Mr Trump is understood to have claimed that he lost the popular vote to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because three to five million illegal immigrants had voted in the November election.
There is no evidence to support Mr Trump’s claim, which was reported by a Democratic aide.
The assertion appears to be part of a developing pattern for Mr Trump and his new administration in which falsehoods or otherwise unverifiable claims overshadow his efforts to build bridges.
Mr Trump began his first full week as president playing host to business, union and Congressional leaders at the White House. Again and again, he ordered aides to summon journalists from their West Wing workplace at a moment’s notice for unscheduled statements and photo opportunities.
Among those meetings was a reception at the White House for congressional leaders of both parties.
Mr Trump will continue his outreach efforts as he meets with executives from the car industry, tweeting that his focus will be on creating and keeping jobs.
“I want new plants to be built here for cars sold here,” he wrote.
Mr Trump is also expected to speak by phone with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and meet with his newly sworn-in CIA director Mike Pompeo.
Mr Trump’s comments on the popular vote were similar to claims he made on Twitter in late November that he had won the electoral college in a “landslide” and also “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”.
Mrs Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes, despite losing the electoral college. There is no evidence that voter fraud significantly affected the vote.
Earlier, the US Senate approved the appointment of Mr Trump’s nominee Mike Pompeo to run the CIA, despite claims that he has been less than transparent about his positions on torture, surveillance and Russia’s election meddling.
Mr Pompeo, whose appointment was approved by 66 votes to 32, takes the helm of America’s top spy agency at a crucial time for US national security as intelligence, traditionally a non-partisan issue, has been thrust into the political arena.
President Trump has been critical of intelligence agencies after their assessment of Russian involvement to help him win the election, but has also has said he is fully behind them.
Senate Republicans hoped to vote on Mr Pompeo’s nomination on Friday, after Mr Trump’s inauguration, but Democrats succeeded in stalling action until they could hold a debate.
Senator Ron Wyden said Mr Pompeo was the “wrong man for the job”.
“He has endorsed extreme policies that would fundamentally erode liberties and freedoms of our people without making us safer,” the Oregon Democrat said.
He said Mr Pompeo’s answers to questions from some senators had been “vague” and “contradictory”, making it impossible to know what he believed.
“I see no real commitment to transparency and his views on the most fundamental analysis of the day – the involvement of Russia in our election – seemed to shift with those of the president,” Mr Wyden said.
In written responses to questions from the Senate on January 3, Mr Pompeo said only that intelligence agency assessments in general should be taken seriously. After Mr Trump conceded Russia was behind the campaign hacks, Mr Pompeo told the Senate intelligence committee that particular assessment was “solid”.
“We need a CIA director who is direct about his beliefs and his assessments,” Mr Wyden said.
But Republican senator Richard Burr, chairman of the intelligence committee, said Democrats were playing politics in its efforts to delay and derail Mr Trump’s choice to run the CIA.