Friday, December 4, 2020

‘Purely outlandish stuff’: Trump’s legal machine grinds to a halt

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Barry Richard, a veteran election law attorney who also handled George W. Bush’s recount case in 2000, said the Trump campaign’s legal strategy looks amateurish and disjointed.

“This is just purely outlandish stuff,” Richard said. “But we have an outlandish president. So I guess this makes sense.”

He said Trump’s campaign faces a huge challenge. To succeed, he said, the president would have to show that fraud or irregularities not only existed, but in such a large amount that the election needed to be invalidated in the select state.

In an earlier Pennsylvania case where Trump’s team tried to stop ballot-counting, the president’s lawyers were forced to admit that a “nonzero number of” Republican observers were allowed to witness ballot counting, contrary to false claims made outside the courtroom that no Republican observers were present. The judge reminded Trump’s lawyers they have a “duty of candor” in court.

Another recently filed Pennsylvania case argues that it will provide data-based “analytical evidence of illegal voting” at a future date. A newly filed Wisconsin case references “fraud” 31 times, but only to point out fraud in other places and races and provides no evidence of it happening in the state for this election.

In Montana, federal Judge Dana Christensen had harsher words for yet another team of Trump lawyers who were trying to stop mail-in voting in October when he called the claims widespread voter fraud “fiction.” And two days after the election in Michigan, federal Judge Cynthia Stephens rejected yet another lawsuit.

“Come on, now!” she admonished the lawyers at one point during a hearing. In her opinion, she referred to the campaign’s argument as “inadmissible hearsay within hearsay.”

The courts have been unsympathetic to the conspiracy theories and lack of evidence presented in Nevada, where judges all the way to the state Supreme Court have swiftly rejected Trump campaign arguments. A GOP-produced list of allegedly illegal voters in the state turned out to be legal voters who were soldiers, sailors and their spouses stationed elsewhere. A Nevada woman’s claim of voter fraud also proved so meritless that a federal judge rejected another Trump lawsuit.

On Friday, the Trump campaign dropped its ballot-counting lawsuit in Nevada.

In Georgia’s Chatham County, a lack of documentation of wrongdoing led a state court judge to say last week there was “no evidence” to support a Trump lawsuit challenging the counting and handling of mail-in ballots.

Yet for all of this, Trump’s campaign and his supporters are continuing to push on with more lawsuits, leading veteran election law lawyers like Kenneth Gross to speculate that he’s using the lawsuits to raise money or process the grief of his loss.

“There are all these stages of grief — anger, denial, bargaining etc. — and it seems to me he’s experiencing all of them simultaneously instead of linearly, except for acceptance,” Gross said. “Keeping multiple balls in the air that we know are not going to land in a good place could be partially to assuage his psychological issues of getting over the loss of this and giving his fans some thin reed of hope. But they’re being misled.”

Gross said the lawsuits are so groundless that the lawyers are more likely to be sanctioned for pursuing them than to succeed in court.

J.C. Planas, a former Republican lawyer and lawmaker from Florida who used to represent GOP candidates in election-law cases, said he can only speculate that Trump is holding out hope that he can pressure Republican legislators in other states to appoint their own electors and ignore the will of voters.

“The strategy is to pull a Jedi mind trick on legislators in these states to appoint their own pro-Trump electors,” Planas said. “In one respect, he’s succeeded because something like 70 percent of Trumpers say the election wasn’t fair.”

Outside the court, where the rules of evidence don’t apply and there is no threat of judicial sanction, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani last week alleged wrongdoing and fraud and promised multiple lawsuits. Biden’s chief legal counsel, Bob Bauer, ribbed the Trump legal team for their spurious claims and even for Giuliani’s widely mocked press conference at a landscaping company in an industrial park on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

“It’s one thing for Rudy Giuliani to go out into the parking lot, sandwiched between a sex shop and a crematorium, and make the claims he made,” Bauer said. “It’s another thing to be a lawyer in a courtroom and have your claims tested.”

Despite the numerous setbacks in battleground states, Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh insisted the campaign had a “methodical” approach that will result in victory.

“Over 72 million people now have voted for President Trump and those Americans deserve to know that this election was free, fair, safe and secure, and they deserve to know that every legal vote is counted and that every illegal vote is not counted,” Murtaugh said in a conference call about the lawsuits Thursday night. “You simply cannot ignore the very real evidence of irregularities.”

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