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

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A Michigan lawyer for Donald Trump’s campaign filed a case in the wrong court. Lawsuits in Arizona and Nevada were dropped. A Georgia challenge was quickly rejected for lack of evidence. His Pennsylvania legal team just threw in the towel.

The president’s legal machine — the one papering swing states with lawsuits and affidavits in support of Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud — is slowly grinding to a halt after suffering a slew of legal defeats and setbacks.

In the effort to stop Joe Biden’s victory from being certified, so many lawsuits have been filed in so many state and federal courts that no one has an exact number. But one thing is certain: the Trump campaign has an almost perfect record, having won only one case and lost at least a dozen.

Along the way, Trump lawyers have abruptly dropped core claims, been admonished in court for lack of candor and even been forced to admit they had no evidence of fraud, while their client inaccurately rails to the contrary on Twitter.

The sole Trump campaign victory came Thursday night: a Pennsylvania ruling that the secretary of state overstepped her authority by giving citizens extra days to fix signature mismatches on their mail in ballots. The ruling concerns a relatively small number of voters that are not even included in the election results for the state, where Biden leads by 62,000 votes with more than 98 percent of estimated votes reported.

On Friday, in another Pennsylvania case, the Trump cause was torpedoed yet again: an appeals court upheld the state’s method of handling post-Election Day absentee ballots, which could add more votes to Biden’s total.

“They’re throwing the kitchen sink against the wall to see what sticks — a mixed metaphor that’s deserving of this legal strategy. And ‘legal strategy’ should be in quotes,” said Ben Ginsberg, a veteran Republican election law attorney who headed the famed Florida recount team that ultimately led to George W. Bush becoming president.


Ginsberg chuckled at one hapless Michigan lawyer who filed an election challenge Thursday evening in a federal claims court in Washington, D.C., the wrong venue, and bizarrely titled it, “Donald Trump v. USA,” as if the president was suing the nation.

“Why would anyone ever use that title?” Ginsberg wondered, speculating that Trump’s lawyers are trying to “appease their client” by filing the suits that have little prayer of succeeding because, “they don’t have instances of fraud or irregularities that are relevant.”

Another lawsuit in Michigan, filed by the conservative Great Lakes Justice Center on behalf of two Republican poll watchers, was rejected Friday by a state judge who found that the plaintiffs’ allegations of fraud were really an exercise in speculation fueled by unfamiliarity with the vote-counting process.

“Sinister, fraudulent motives were ascribed to the process and to the City of Detroit. Plaintiffs’ interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible,” wrote Chief Judge Timothy Kenny. "It would be an unprecedented exercise of judicial activism for this Court to stop the certification process of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers."

Hours before, another Trump attorney dropped his star-crossed case in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where the campaign was pushing the so-called SharpieGate conspiracy theory, a bogus claim that ballots were spoiled because voters used a marker to bubble in their choice of candidates. During the hearing, Trump’s team abandoned mentioning the issue after elections officials made the case that it was an invalid argument.

Trump’s lawyer, Kory Langhofer, also admitted in court that some of the questionable affidavits in support of the suit were collected as part of an online evidence-gathering process that invited “spam.” He also used his business partner as a witness, called other witnesses who were unable to say they were disenfranchised and undercut Trump’s public messaging about fraud.

“This is not a fraud case,” Langhofer said in court. “It is not a stealing-the-election case.”

Similarly, in a Pennsylvania case, another Trump lawyer, Bob Goldstein, made it clear he was also not bringing a fraud claim because “accusing people of fraud is a pretty big step” that he wasn’t prepared to take.

Then, just before midnight Friday, Goldstein’s firm of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur dropped Trump’s campaign as a client, a rare move that underscores how fraught the quixotic case was for the firm’s reputation.

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 spokesman 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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