WASHINGTON — Mike Pence said Sunday he and Donald Trump will abide by "the will of the American people" on Election Day, and suggested that Trump's claim of a 'rigged" election stems from his belief the media is ganging up on him.
"We will absolutely accept the results of the election," Pence said in television interviews. He said Trump's complaint, articulated from the campaign stage and across Twitter but without evidence, reflects fatigue with "the obvious bias in the national media. That's where the sense of a rigged election goes here."
Not long after Pence said that, Trump partly undermined his comments.
"The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary - but also at many polling places," Trump tweeted. "SAD."
Pence's words were the latest attempt by Trump's surrogates to attempt to explain that some things the GOP presidential nominee has said and tweeted are not what he meant.
Much of that cleanup duty has fallen to Pence little more than three weeks before the Nov. 8 vote. Trump is struggling to change the focus away from mounting accusations that he sexually assaulted women in ways similar to what he is recorded describing on recently released video. Trump says all of the accusations are fabricated.
Several of Trump's unfounded claims — such as the one Saturday that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was on drugs at the most recent debate and his call for drug testing before the next — also overshadowed the release over the weekend of more emails hacked from accounts of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Some showed the campaign worrying whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., might endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders in the party's primary, and wrestling with how to respond to revelations about Clinton's private email use. Another subject: lining up materials to respond to fresh accusations from a woman accused Bill Clinton of raping her decades ago. The former president denied the accusation, which was never adjudicated by a criminal court.
Amid the intensity, Trump reiterated this weekend that a conspiracy is responsible for the FBI declining to prosecute Clinton for mingling private and official business on a homebrew email server so that she might compete in a fraudulent election.
"Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and should be in jail. Instead she is running for president in what looks like a rigged election," Trump tweeted to his 12 million followers on Saturday.
Threatening to jail a political opponent and fueling public distrust of a popular election — to explain his loss, should that happen — was a striking breach of faith in American democracy. He has repeatedly claimed, without offering evidence, that election fraud is a serious problem and encouraged his mostly white supporters to "go and watch" polling places in certain areas to make sure things are "on the up and up."
It was left to Pence and another Trump surrogate, former New York City Rudy Giuliani, to explain on national television what their own candidate meant.
"When he talks about a rigged election, he's not talking about the fact that it's going to be rigged at the polls," Giuliani said. ""What he's talking about is that 80 percent to 85 percent of the media is against him."
Pence, at a campaign event last Tuesday, waved away a woman's call for a revolution if Clinton wins. By Sunday he was saying explicitly: "We'll accept the will of the American people."
The Indiana governor also distanced himself from Trump on a pair of other issues.
Pence acknowledged that evidence points to Russia being behind the hacking of Democratic emails. "I think there's more and more evidence that implicates Russia and there should be serious consequences," he said.
He also refused to join Trump's call for Clinton to be drug tested before Wednesday's third and final presidential debate.
He vice presidential nominee was asked whether he, like Trump, wants Clinton drug tested.
"All I know for sure is that Donald Trump is going to be ready for the debate on Wednesday night," Pence replied.
Pence appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and "Fox News Sunday." Giuliani was on CNN's "State of the Union."
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.