Phony Trump Letter to Biden Circulating Online

By Saranac Hale Spencer

Posted on January 22, 2021

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Quick Take

A fake letter purported to be the one left by former President Donald Trump for President Joe Biden has been circulating online. The phony letterhead template — which has been used to satirize Trump before — gives it away.


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A fake version of the letter that former President Donald Trump left for President Joe Biden has been circulating on social media.

It says, in typed text on what looks like White House stationery, “Joe, you know I won.”

The text is a reference to Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen from him.

But it’s written on a template that’s been used to satirize Trump since he took office in 2017.

Dennis Brekke, who periodically tweets about politics, created the mock stationery to draw attention to the then-president’s tone on social media by presenting his tweets on presidential letterhead. Brekke confirmed to us through Twitter messages that he had created the digital stationery, but had nothing to do with the fake letter that’s currently circulating.

One version that Brekke made and shared on Twitter in 2017 showed the text from a tweet Trump had aimed at a morning television show, making it look like an official presidential statement. Another showed the text from a tweet Trump had aimed at Biden.

Now, that template has been used to fabricate this viral fake letter as well another, less popular, version of a fake transition letter.

The stationery shown in the template appears at first glance to look legitimate but, notably, Trump’s signature is different from the one shown on his official correspondence.

Also, the presidential seal at the top is different. The fake stationery uses a colored seal ringed with the words “Seal of the President of the United States,” while the real stationery uses a gold seal without the words.

The biggest indication that the letter is fake, though, is the inclusion of the address at the bottom, Shirley Anne Warshaw, a presidential scholar at Gettysburg College, told us in a phone interview.

Warshaw has never seen a presidential letter with the address of the White House included at the bottom, she said. “Everyone knows where the White House is,” she said.

The official letters from Trump that we noted above show no address at the bottom.

The tradition of one president leaving a letter for another started with Ronald Reagan, who left a note for George H.W. Bush in 1989 on stationery that said, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”

Since then, outgoing presidents have opted for official White House letterhead when leaving messages for incoming presidents. Warshaw described their tone, generally, as gracious.

We don’t know exactly what Trump’s letter said since it hasn’t yet been released, but Biden has described it as “very generous.”

“Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office on Jan. 20.

CNN also reported that a senior Trump aide had described the letter as a “‘personal note’ that prays for the success of the country and the new administration to care for the country.”

Some of the earliest examples of the phony letter came from African accounts on the morning of Inauguration Day. Then Lin Wood, a lawyer who peddled election-fraud conspiracy theories, posted a copy to his account on Telegram, a social media platform to which many conspiracy theorists flocked when they were kicked off mainstream sites. That post has been viewed nearly a million times.

This isn’t the only falsehood circulating about the transition letter. We addressed another popular post falsely claiming that Trump had left no letter at all.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Kalman, Alex. “The Letters That Outgoing Presidents Wrote to Their Successors.” The Atlantic. 14 Nov 2020.

Brekke, Dennis. Creator of digital stationEry. Twitter responses. 21 Jan 2021.

Brekke, Dennis (@dbrekke). “Presidential Press Release June 29, 2017 @realDonaldTrump FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE…” Twitter. 29 Jun 2017.

Warshaw, Shirley Anne. Presidential scholar, Gettysburg College. Telephone interview. 20 Jan 2021.

AFP News Agency. “Biden says Trump left him ‘very generous letter.’” YouTube. 20 Jan 2021.

Sullivan, Kate, Kevin Liptak and Pamela Brown. “Biden says Trump left him a ‘very generous letter’ before departing White House.” CNN. 21 Jan 2021.

Trump, Donald. Letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov. 28 Jan 2019.

Fichera, Angelo. “Trump Left Biden a ‘Generous’ Note.” 21 Jan 2021.

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