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White House backs Donald Trump's claim millions voted illegally in November election, but provides no evidence

White House press secretary Sean Spicer calls on

White House press secretary Sean Spicer calls on a reporter during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON - The White House on Tuesday stuck firmly to President Donald Trump's claim that millions of people voted illegally in the November election, but provided no evidence to back up his assertion.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the president "does believe" that he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton only because of widespread illegal ballots.

"He believes what he believes, based on the information he was provided," Spicer said. But he would not detail what information he was referring to, citing only a 2008 study that called for updating voter rolls but did not conclude there has been pervasive election fraud.

Spicer, who spent several years at the Republican National Committee before joining the White House, would not say whether he shared the president's belief. He also sidestepped questions about whether the White House would investigate the voter fraud allegations, saying only, "Anything is possible."

Trump first raised the prospect of illegal voting during the transition. Then, during a reception with lawmakers at the White House Monday evening, he again claimed that he'd lost the popular vote because 3 million to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally had voted. That's according to a Democratic aide familiar with the exchange who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

Trump's assertion appears to be part of a continuing pattern for him and his new administration in which falsehoods overshadow his outreach efforts. Both Trump and Spicer made false comments over the weekend about the crowds who gathered for the inauguration.

Aides and associates of the president say that he is dogged by insecurity over his loss of the popular vote and believes Democrats and the media are questioning the legitimacy of his presidency. On Tuesday, the president tweeted a photograph from the inauguration taken from an angle that accentuated the crowd and said he planned to hang the image in the press area of the White House.

Trump has packed his first days in office with meetings with business leaders and lawmakers. He's also moved to unravel former President Barack Obama's legacy, including signing orders Tuesday to advance construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Both projects had been blocked by the Obama administration.

Besides taking steps to advance construction of the oil pipelines, subject to renegotiation of the agreements, Trump also signed a notice Tuesday requiring the materials for the pipelines be constructed in the United States, though it was unclear how he planned to enforce the measure.

"From now we are going to start making pipelines in the United States," he said.

Trump has sought to focus his first full week in office on jobs and the economy. Republicans, as well as some unions, have cited the pipeline projects as prime opportunities for job growth.

Obama stopped the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in late 2015, declaring it would have undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal that was a centerpiece of his environmental legacy. The pipeline would run from Canada to Nebraska where it would connect to existing lines running to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. The U.S. government needs to approve the pipeline because it would cross the nation's northern border.

Separately, late last year, the Army Corps of Engineers declined to allow construction of the Dakota Access pipeline under Lake Oahe, saying alternative routes needed to be considered. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters say the project threatens drinking water and Native American sites, though Energy Transfer Partners, the company that wants to build the pipeline, disputes that and says the pipeline will be safe.

The pipeline is to carry North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.

Even as Trump moves to implement his agenda, he is still making false claims.

On Tuesday, Trump summoned the heads of the big three American automakers, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler, for a breakfast meeting. He pledged to scrap regulations and reduce taxes on corporations that keep jobs in the U.S., though he did not specify his plans for either.

His administration, he said, will "go down as one of the most friendly countries" for business.

The president also said it will announce candidate next week to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the February 2016 death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.

"We will pick a truly great Supreme Court justice," Trump told reporters. "Probably making my decision this week, we'll be announcing next week."

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