WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump falsely claimed early Wednesday that he had won the presidential election, even though millions of legitimate votes had yet to be counted and a half-dozen battleground states were still not called.
"A very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise [people who voted for me] and we won't stand for this," Trump told supporters in the White House shortly before 2:30 a.m.
More than an hour earlier, Democrat Joe Biden told supporters he's confident about winning the presidential election and urged Americans to be patient.
In his East Wing comments, Trump said: "We were getting ready for a big celebration. We were winning everything, and all of a sudden it was just called off."
"We'll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court, we want all voting to stop," Trump continued more than an hour after the final U.S. polls closed in Alaska. "We don't want them to find any ballots at 4 o'clock in the morning and add them to the list."
It was unclear what Trump meant by "going to the Supreme Court," given that the nation's highest court is rarely the first judicial venue for a case, but rather, it reviews lower court rulings.
The White House referred CNBC to the Trump campaign when asked about Trump's suggestion that he would involve the Supreme Court in the election. The campaign didn't immediately respond to the query.
"This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election," Trump falsely claimed.
"It's a very sad moment to me, a very sad moment, and we are going to win this," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, we already have won this, so I want to thank all of our supporters and I want to thank everybody that worked with us."
Trump's election night claim of victory was not a spontaneous response to favorable results in key states, however, as he would have people believe.
Instead, it has been months in the making. As Trump has trailed Biden in polls, he has sought to undermine faith in the multiday process of vote tallying, and to lay the groundwork for insisting that the only valid election results were those tallied on election night.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic necessitated that millions of Americans vote by mail this year, Trump has also worked to sow doubts in the integrity of mail-in voting, baselessly claiming that votes cast by mail are rife with "fraud."
He has shared outlandish conspiracies about mail-in ballots being altered somewhere on the path from the voter to the local election board.
He has also amplified isolated reports of misplaced or discarded ballots, claiming that these anecdotal events were symptomatic of something much bigger than a few votes.
In September, Trump seized upon a report of nine ballots found discarded along a highway in Pennsylvania, claiming they were evidence of Democrats trying to "steal" the election from him.
"They throw them out if they have the name Trump on it, I guess," Trump said of the ballots, some of which were blank and some of which were filled out for Trump.
In reality, voters in Pennsylvania this year are on track to cast more than 5 million votes, making the fate of just nine ballots statistically insignificant.
But it's not just Trump alone, making wild claims with no follow through.
Trump's reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee have spent millions of dollars this year challenging individual states' efforts to expand mail-in voting in response to the pandemic.
Pennsylvania, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey and Montana are just some of the states where Trump's lawyers have gone to court to try to prevent the expansion of mail-in voting.
Their arguments often boiled down to the same baseless claims of fraud that Trump himself has pushed, and as a result, they've seen their lawsuits tossed out by judges at the state and federal levels.
The president's willingness to undermine a cornerstone of democracy — the integrity of the individual vote — stretches back much farther than this year.
During his first campaign for president, Trump amplified and spread false claims that the election would be "rigged" in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Back then, it wasn't mail-in ballots that Trump claimed would be the culprits. Instead, it was undocumented immigrants somehow casting millions of illegal ballots for Clinton.
Even after Trump won the Electoral College tally in November 2016, he continued to insist that the election had been marred by fraud.
"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," Trump tweeted in late November 2016.
For the past four years, professional fact checkers have regularly disproved Trump's claims of rigged elections.
But so far, that hasn't stopped Trump.