On Jan. 6, 2017, two weeks before Trump was inaugurated, Congress met in joint session to certify the results of the Electoral College. It had historically been a ceremonial, pro-forma event. But several House Democrats tried to block certification of various state results. Rep. Barbara Lee objected to certification “on behalf of the millions of Americans, including members of the Intelligence Community, who are horrified by evidence that the Russians interfered in our election.” The objectors lacked any support in the Senate, so the presiding officer — it was then-Vice President Joe Biden — struck them down.

On March 20, 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey made huge news when he announced that the bureau was investigating “whether there was any coordination” between the Trump campaign and Russians seeking to interfere with the election.

On May 17, 2017, the cheating allegation was weaponized with the appointment of Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller, who was assigned to search for coordination between Trump and Russia. The question of whether Trump conspired or coordinated with Russia to gain an unfair advantage in the election was at the heart of the investigation.

By the end of 2017, it was clear inside the Mueller investigation that the special counsel had been unable to establish that conspiracy or coordination even took place, much less who might have taken part in it. But Mueller allowed his investigation to drag on as his prosecutors searched for alleged obstruction of justice. In the meantime, the cheating allegation hung in the air and regularly found its way into news reporting.