Trump's new campaign: Flurry of election lawsuits in search of strategy, as Biden claims victory
AP Debrief on Trump election lawsuits AP Domestic
As President-elect Joe Biden was projected to win the election Saturday, President Donald Trump and his legal team promised that the legal effort to contest it would roll on.
"Obviously he’s not going to concede when at least 600,000 ballots are in question," Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said without evidence at an appearance in Philadelphia.
Giuliani provided no evidence to back his claim about the alleged questionable ballots while continuing to push a legal crusade that increasingly appeared in search of a viable strategy.
Since early Wednesday, the president’s lawyers have threatened or filed a flurry of legal actions — from Philadelphia to the Nevada desert — remarkable if only for the smorgasbord of claims.
In Michigan, a bid to stop the count of mail-in ballots because a poll watcher was excluded from observing the count was thrown out almost as soon as it was filed. A Georgia challenge met a similarly swift fate when lawyers claimed a cache of ballots near Savannah had arrived late and were improperly stored.
And in Nevada, the Trump campaign and the state Republican Party promised a suit claiming thousands of nonresidents had voted. When the lawsuit was filed, it focused on the claim of a single voter who claimed she hadn't voted by mail, as elections officials said she had.
“It’s throwing a lot of stuff at the wall to see if anything sticks,” said Rachael Cobb, chair of Suffolk University’s Department of Government. “There is no clear indication of an egregious failure of election administrations. And why would we stop counting votes? We live in a democracy.”
Barry Burden, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Elections Research Center, cast Trump’s effort as lacking any coherent theme.
“In one place they are asking for the count to be stopped; in another they are asking for the counting to continue,” he said. “But the burden is on the plaintiff (Trump) to prove that they have been harmed in some way. Now that all of the voting is done, I don’t know what the harm is. Maybe they can find an argument, but right now it’s still nebulous.”
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Unsubstantiated claims sow distrust
Indeed, some analysts suggested the lack of a discernible master plan may represent a strategy of its own — to sow more confusion and discord in a deeply divided country.
“This (legal offensive) would serve to undermine the credibility of the election result,” said Jimmy Gurulé, a University of Notre Dame law professor. “It effectively undermines the legitimacy of a Biden administration. That is unfortunate, and could be very damaging.”
Trump, in rambling remarks at the White House late Thursday, only appeared to underscore the absence of evidence for a litany of grievances linked to his sagging re-election bid.
"If you count the legal votes, I easily win," Trump said, later blaming unsubstantiated "corruption" for Biden's surges in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Trump's allegations were met with strong rebukes, including from some in his own party who characterized the president's claims as untethered to reality or worse.
"A sitting president undermining our political process (and) questioning the legality of the voices of countless Americans without evidence is not only dangerous (and) wrong, it undermines the very foundation this nation was built upon, " Rep Will Hurd, R-Texas tweeted.
Early Friday, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said Trump's angry rant delivered from a White House podium was "hard to watch."
"The president's charges of large-scale fraud — there is no evidence here," Toomey told NBC's "Today" show.
As Trump's legal offensive continued Friday, Rick Hasen, an election law expert from the University of California in Irvine, said the purpose appeared to be sowing doubt in the vote-counting process or delaying it.
Absent evidence of significant failures by state officials to accurately count votes, Hasen said it’s highly unlikely that the flurry of litigation would affect the outcome even in states with narrow margins.
New mission, same Trump legal team
The Trump legal offensive is led by a core group of familiar players who have helped the president navigate the most serious threats to his administration.
Rudy Giuliani, the omnipresent former mayor of New York, and Washington attorney Jay Sekulow, have been at Trump's side since the early days of the Russia investigation and through last year's impeachment proceedings that ended with the president's acquittal in the Senate.
Both were back on the offensive this week, along with Trump's children, advocating for a barrage of election challenges.
In Philadelphia, Giuliani and Eric Trump, the president's son, viciously attacked the credibility of local election administrators, described a local judge as a "political hack" and vowed to investigate whether dead people were among those who had cast ballots.
The performance, which offered no evidence for the myriad claims, took on the appearance of yet another stop on a campaign that had ended 48 hours before.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says a lawsuit filed by President Trump's campaign to stop counting of ballots in the state is "simply wrong." (Nov. 4) AP Domestic
Trump's team did claim a minor victory Thursday when a Pennsylvania appeals court allowed Republican observers to monitor the ongoing vote count from a distance of 6 feet, after the campaign complained that watchers were being kept at a distance of 15 feet or more.
"It guarantees we're gonna be able to watch the ballots being counted," said Trump deputy campaign manager Justin Clark.
Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer has largely dismissed Trump's legal effort as political theater designed to “create an opportunity for them to message falsely what is happening in the election process.”
Trump, meanwhile, has openly mused that the Supreme Court may come to his rescue, but that path, too, is clouded at best.
Pennsylvania is the only state with an election case pending at the Supreme Court. The president's lawyers, led by Sekulow, sought Wednesday to intervene in that case, which challenges the state's three-day extension of the deadline to receive legally cast, mail-in ballots.
There are legitimate arguments over the state court's authority to overrule the state Legislature's Election Day deadline. Three justices wrote last week that the high court could revisit its ruling that left the later deadline in place.
For now, those ballots are being segregated to allow for court challenges, though it is not clear whether the final number of questioned ballots would be enough to change the election result.
If a Trump-related challenge did find its way to the Supreme Court, Bauer has vowed that the president "will be in for one of the most embarrassing defeats a president has ever suffered by the highest court in the land.”
Republicans sought to open a separate front in the legal fight in Nevada, where state party officials have asked Attorney General William Barr, one of the president's most reliable allies, to enter the fray.
Late Thursday, officials requested that the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into allegations of fraud, suggesting that more than 3,000 voters had cast ballots after moving out of the state.
But Clark County Registrar of Voters Joseph Gloria said it is common for out-of-state voters to cast ballots, including those serving in the military, university students and elected officials serving in Washington, D.C.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat, called threats of lawsuits from Republicans over alleged voting improprieties "a Hail Mary." Ford said there has been no evidence of any election fraud in the state. (Nov. 5) AP Domestic
He said his office would look at the list provided by the campaign. "However, their (complaint) is based on something that happens regularly. You don't have to live here to be eligible to vote here."
A Justice official confirmed that the referral had been received and was being reviewed. There was no timetable for when the review would be completed.
'No recount would alter' result
Georgia's secretary of state announced Friday that there would be a recount due to Biden's narrow lead. In Wisconsin, the likelihood of a recount loomed with another thin margin favoring Biden.
In each of those states, Trump has made unsubstantiated claims of fraud, but election experts said recounts have rarely changed the final result.
“I can’t imagine a recount modifying the result in any substantial way,” said Burden.
In 2016, Wisconsin election officials conducted a statewide recount following Trump’s slim victory over Hillary Clinton. After a two-week review of the more than 3 million votes cast, just 131 ballots were reassigned or disqualified, Burden said.
In Wisconsin, Biden held a lead of about 20,000 votes as of Friday. “I just think the margin is large enough that no recount would alter it,” he said.
Perhaps the most consequential recent recount occurred in 2008, when Democrat Al Franken overtook Republican Norm Coleman to win a Minnesota U.S. Senate seat. That case turned on a margin of just a few hundred votes.
Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University, said he could not foresee a recount flipping thousands of ballots, calling the Minnesota case "as large a swing I've seen."
Cobb, chair of Suffolk University's Department of Government, said Trump's legal challenges were obscuring an equally remarkable aspect of the 2020 vote.
"The real story of this election is a tale of record turnout in the midst of a deadly pandemic," Cobb said. “So much work went in to recruit new poll workers, given the pandemic. But state after state stepped up. I am delighted."
Contributing: Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, Anjeanette Damon, Reno Gazette-Journal