US President-elect Donald Trump ridiculed Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign for joining a recount effort in Wisconsin, ending his day on Twitter by parroting a widely debunked conspiracy theory that her campaign benefited from massive voter fraud.
As his senior advisers engaged in an escalating feud over who the next Secretary of State should be, Trump focused publicly on Clinton's tally of 64 million votes - more than 2 million more than he garnered - by suggesting without evidence that millions of people illegally voted in the election.
"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, one of more than 10 tweets on the recount issue. That accusation - spread by conspiracy sites such as Infowars.com and discredited by fact-checking organisations - gained traction among some far-right conservatives disappointed that Trump lost the popular vote.
Trump's embrace of the claim created even more instability around the election results from both ends of the spectrum, with Green Party candidate Jill Stein leading calls among liberal activists for recounts in key battleground states to make sure vote fraud did not give the election to Trump.
The charges and countercharges could present a highly toxic issue for the Justice Department, including Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee to be Attorney-General, whose tenure, if confirmed, comes amid a long-running battle over renewal of the Voting Rights Act. The two parties are already locked in fights over ballot access, with Republicans advocating ID requirements and other limitations that Democrats say are aimed at suppressing the votes of minorities and others more likely to vote Democratic.
Trump spent the Thanksgiving weekend out of the public spotlight, holed up inside his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and continuing his private deliberations about building the next administration. Kellyanne Conway, his former campaign manager and now senior adviser to the transition team, said on NBC that Trump and President Barack Obama spoke by phone for about 45 minutes at the weekend, the latest in a series of conversations the two men have had since the bitter campaign concluded.
Conway also led a remarkable rear-guard attack on 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney as a possible Secretary of State, arguing that the former Massachusetts Governor was disloyal to Trump and should not be considered for the post. The remarks highlighted a fierce behind-the-scenes battle within the Trump camp over whether Romney should be offered the job as a healing gesture with the establishment or instead whether a loyalist such as former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani should get the nod.
Rather than referee that dispute, Trump's only public proclamations came over Twitter when he lambasted the Clinton campaign for agreeing to take part in a recount of votes in Wisconsin spearheaded by Stein.
"Hillary Clinton conceded the election when she called me just prior to the victory speech and after the results were in. Nothing will change," Trump tweeted. Trump then spent five tweets quoting parts of Clinton's responses at the third presidential debate, during which she blasted Trump for telling moderator Chris Wallace that he would "keep you in suspense" rather than outright promise to accept the election results. Clinton had called Trump's answer "horrifying" and "a direct threat to our democracy".
Further recounts could be held in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The total margin in those states plus Wisconsin was 107,00 votes out of nearly 13.8 million cast, with a combined 46 electoral votes - enough to give the race to Clinton had she won those three battlegrounds.
Clearly irritated by losing the popular vote, Trump tweeted: "It would have been much easier for me to win the so-called popular vote than the Electoral College in that I would only campaign in 3 or 4 states instead of the 15 states that I visited."