As they frantically searched for ways to salvage President Donald Trump’s failed reelection bid, his campaign pursued a dizzying game of legal hopscotch across six states that centered on the biggest prize of all: Pennsylvania.
The strategy may have played well in front of television cameras and on talk radio. But it has proved a disaster in court, where judges uniformly rejected their claims of vote fraud and found the campaign’s legal work amateurish, reports AP.
In a ruling late Saturday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann — a Republican and Federalist Society member in central Pennsylvania — compared the campaign’s legal arguments to “Frankenstein’s Monster,” concluding that Trump’s team offered only “speculative accusations,” not proof of rampant corruption.
Now, as the legal doors close on Trump’s attempts to have courts do what voters would not do on Election Day and deliver him a second term, his efforts in Pennsylvania show how far he is willing to push baseless theories of widespread voter fraud.
It was led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who descended on the state the Saturday after the Nov. 3 election as the count dragged on and the president played golf. Summoning reporters to a scruffy, far-flung corner of Philadelphia on Nov. 7, he held forth at a site that would soon become legendary: Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
The 11:30 am. news conference was doomed from the start.
At 11:26 a.m., news outlets had started calling the presidential contest for Democrat Joe Biden. The race was over.
Just heating up was Trump’s plan to subvert the election through litigation and howls of fraud — the same tactic he had used to stave off losses in the business world. And it would soon spread far beyond Pennsylvania.
“Some of the ballots looked suspicious,” Giuliani, 76, said of the vote count in Philadelphia as he stood behind a chain link fence, next to a sex shop. He maligned the city as being run by a “decrepit Democratic machine.”
“Those mail-in ballots could have been written the day before, by the Democratic Party hacks that were all over the convention center,” Giuliani said. He promised to file a new round of lawsuits. He rambled.
“This is a very, very strong case,” he asserted.
Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in election law, called the Trump lawsuits dangerous.
Full Coverage: Election 2020
“It is a sideshow, but it’s a harmful sideshow,” Levitt said. “It’s a toxic sideshow. The continuing baseless, evidence-free claims of alternative facts are actually having an effect on a substantial number of Americans. They are creating the conditions for elections not to work in the future.”
Not a single court has agreed with the strength of the case, but that did not stop Trump’s team from firing off nearly two dozen legal challenges to Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, including an early morning suit on Election Day filed by a once-imprisoned lawyer.
The president’s lawyers fought the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots to arrive. They complained they weren’t being let in to observe the vote count. They said Democratic counties unfairly let voters fix mistakes on their ballot envelopes. Everywhere they turned, they said, they sniffed fraud.
“I felt insidious fraud going on,” Philadelphia poll watcher Lisette Tarragano said when Giuliani called her to the microphone at the landscaping company.
In fact, a Republican runs the city’s election board, and has said his office got death threats as Trump’s rants about the election intensified. No judges ever found any evidence of election fraud in Pennsylvania or any other state where the campaign sued — not in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada or Georgia.
Instead, Trump lawyers found themselves backpedaling when pressed in court for admissible evidence, or dropping out when they were accused of helping derail the democratic process.
“I am asking you as a member of the bar of this court, are people representing the Donald J. Trump for president (campaign) … in that room?” U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond asked at an after-hours hearing on Nov. 5, when Republicans asked him to stop the vote count in Philadelphia over their alleged banishment.
“There’s a nonzero number of people in the room,” lawyer Jerome Marcus replied.
The count continued in Philadelphia. The Trump losses kept coming. By Friday, Nov. 6, when a state appeals court rejected a Republican complaint over provisional ballots and a Philadelphia judge refused to throw out 8,300 mail-in ballots they challenged, Biden was up by about 27,000 votes.
Nationally, the race had not yet been called. But it was becoming clear that a Biden win in Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, was imminent.
When it came, Trump quickly pivoted to litigation. It did not go well.
A U.S. appeals court found Pennsylvania’s three-day extension for mail-in ballots laudatory, given the disruption and mail delays cause by the pandemic. Judges in Michigan and Arizona, finding no evidence of fraud, refused to block the certification of county vote tallies. Law firms representing the campaign started to come under fire and withdrew.
That left Giuliani, who had not argued a case in court for three decades, in charge of the effort to overturn the election.
“You can say a lot at a driveway (news conference). ... When you go to court, you can’t,” said lawyer Mark Aronchick, who represented election officials in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and elsewhere in several of the Pennsylvania suits. “I don’t really pay attention to the chatter until I see a legal brief.”
On Tuesday, Giuliani stepped into the court room. He was a late addition to the docket after election lawyers from Porter Wright Morris & Arthur had bowed out over the previous weekend. He had an entourage in tow, a show of force that had everything but a compelling legal argument.
Giuliani asked Brann to hold up the certification of the state’s 6.8 million ballots over two Republican voters whose mail-in ballots were tossed over technical errors.
“I sat dumbfounded listening,” said Aronchick, a seasoned trial lawyer.
“We were ready to argue the one count. Instead, he treated us to an even more expanded version of his Total Landscaping press conference,” Aronchick said. “It didn’t bear any relationship to the actual case.”
Giuliani, admired by some for his tough talk as Manhattan’s top prosecutor and his leadership as New York City’s mayor during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, struggled to answer even basic legal questions.
But he waxed on about a supposed conspiracy to rig the state election.
“The best description of this situation is widespread, nationwide voter fraud,” Giuliani argued. Under questioning, though, he acknowledged their complaint no longer included a fraud claim.
And then, just as it had at Four Seasons, reality came crashing down on him, when news broke in the courtroom that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had rejected the campaign’s appeal over observer access in Philadelphia. It was one of the campaign’s last remaining claims.
Even the dissent was crushing.
“The notion that presumptively valid ballots cast by the Pennsylvania electorate would be disregarded based on isolated procedural irregularities that have been redressed ... is misguided,” Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor wrote for the minority in the 5-2 decision.
Brann, who sits in Williamsport, let the federal court hearing drag on past the dinner hour, and gave both sides time to file additional motions. The campaign filings were replete with typos, spelling mistakes and even an errant reference to a “Second Amendment Complaint” instead of a second amended complaint.
The campaign took the opportunity to answer one of the more puzzling questions that its election challenge raised: It only wanted the presidential election results set aside, not votes on the same ballots for other offices. The briefs were filed by Giuliani and co-counsel Marc Scaringi, a local conservative talk radio host who, before he was hired, had questioned the point of the Trump litigation, saying “it will not reverse this election.”
Aronchick balked at the campaign’s core premise that local election workers — perhaps working for the Mafia, as Giuliani suggested — had plotted to spoil Trump’s win.
“You’re going to suggest part of them are in a conspiracy? How does that work?” Aronchick asked. “Who? Where? When? How?”
Brann, in his ruling, said he expected the campaign to present formidable evidence of rampant corruption as it sought to nullify millions of votes. Instead, he said, the campaign presented “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations.”
Trump could appeal the ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, but that court may have tipped its hand. In its Nov. 13 ruling, the court called it “indisputable in our democratic process: that the lawfully cast vote of every citizen must count.”
Biden’s lead in the state has expanded to more than 80,000 votes.
“Our system depends on the possibility that you might lose a fair contest. If that possibility doesn’t exist, you don’t have a democracy,” said Levitt, the law school professor. “There are countries that run like that. It just doesn’t describe America.”
President-elect Joe Biden's first Cabinet picks are coming Tuesday and planning is underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration in January as his team moves forward despite road blocks from the Trump administration.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, offered no details Sundays about which department heads Biden would first announce. The Associated Press has reported that Biden could name his nominee for secretary of state or treasury secretary this coming week.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the first African American at the top the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Biden said last week he had settled on his pick for treasury secretary.
Klain said the Trump administration's refusal to clear the way for Biden's team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump's General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC's “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to accept the results of the election.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said there was a “very good chance” Biden would be president and that Biden and his team should have access to relevant information for the transition. After a federal judge's ruling against the Trump campaign in an election challenge in Pennsylvania on Saturday, GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said the president had “exhausted all plausible legal options” and Toomey congratulated Biden on his win.
And on Sunday, former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, said on ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome. Christie said Trump's his legal team was a “national embarrassment.”
Looking ahead to the Jan. 20 inauguration, Klain said it is “definitely have to be changed” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that the Biden team is consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.
Inaugurations typically include a traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, remarks by the president and vice president from the Capitol, a lunch with lawmakers in the Capitol rotunda and numerous balls across Washington. All are events attended by hundreds and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people who travel to the nation's capital.
It’s unclear how public health concerns will affect those traditions.
During the campaign, Biden drew a contrast with Trump on the coronavirus by paring down his own events in response to the pandemic. Biden held smaller gatherings where people were asked to wear masks and adhere to social distancing recommendations from public health experts. Since he won the presidency, Biden has emphasized the importance of mask-wearing.
US health officials Saturday agreed to allow emergency use of a second antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19, an experimental medicine that President Donald Trump was given when he was sickened last month.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. drug to try to prevent hospitalization and worsening disease from developing in patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.
The drug is given as a one-time treatment through an IV. The FDA allowed its use in adults and children 12 and over who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms) and who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of age or certain other medical conditions.
Emergency authorization allows use of the drug to start while studies are continuing to establish safety and effectiveness. Early results suggest the drug may reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression, the FDA said.
Regeneron said that initial doses will be made available to roughly 300,000 patients through a federal government allocation program. Those patients will not be charged for the drug but may have to pay part of the cost of giving the IV.
Initial supplies will likely be vastly outstripped by demand as the U.S. has surged past 12 million reported cases, with the country facing what health experts say will be a dark winter due to uncontrolled spread of the virus.
Antibodies are proteins the body makes to target and help eliminate viruses, but it can take weeks for the best ones to form after an infection occurs. The drugs are concentrated versions of ones that proved best able to do this in lab and animal tests, and in theory help the body start to fight the virus right away.
The Regeneron drug is a combo of two antibodies to enhance the chances it will prove effective. Earlier this month, the FDA gave emergency authorization to a single-antibody drug from Eli Lilly that also is still being studied.
There's no way to know whether the Regeneron drug helped Trump recover; he received a host of treatments and most COVID-19 patients recover on their own.
FDA regulators authorized the Regeneron drug using their emergency powers to quickly speed the availability of experimental drugs and other medical products during public health crises.
In normal times the FDA requires “substantial evidence” to show that a drug is safe and effective, usually through one or more large, rigorously controlled patient studies. But during public health emergencies the agency can lower those standards and require only that an experimental treatment’s potential benefits outweigh its risks.
The emergency authorization functions like a temporary approval for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. To win full approval, Regeneron will have to submit additional research to fully define the drug’s safety and benefit for patients.
The White House cast the decision as a victory for Trump's efforts “to deliver cutting-edge treatments with highly promising results to protect the health and safety of the most vulnerable Americans,” according to a statement from spokesman Michael Bars.
A federal judge issued a scathing order Saturday dismissing the Trump campaign’s futile effort to block the certification of votes in Pennsylvania, shooting down claims of widespread irregularities with mail-in ballots.
The case was always a long shot to stop President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, but it was President Donald Trump’s best hope to affect the election results through the courts, mostly because of the number of electoral votes, 20, at stake in Pennsylvania. His personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, stepped into a courtroom for the first time in decades to argue the case this past week.
U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann wrote in his order that Trump had asked the court to disenfranchise almost 7 million voters.
“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Brann wrote, so much that the court would have no option but to stop the certification even though it would impact so many people. “That has not happened.”
Even if he’d won the Pennsylvania case, Trump would have needed to win other lawsuits in other states where he’d also asked to delay certification. The campaign peppered battlegrounds states with litigation in the days after the election alleging widespread election fraud without proof, but the majority of those cases have already been dismissed.
The president has taken his effort to subvert the results of the 2020 election beyond the courtroom in recent days, straight to local lawmakers. Some Trump allies have expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors.
With that in mind Trump invited Michigan legislators to the White House on Friday, hoping that an Oval Office meeting would persuade them to set aside the popular vote favoring Biden by more than 154,000. But the lawmakers issued a statement after the meeting that they would follow the law and “normal process” on electors. Trump was said to be considering extending a similar invitation to lawmakers from Pennsylvania.
Time is running out for Trump and his campaign, as states certify their results one after another showing that Biden won the requisite 270 Electoral College votes to take office.
Brann ruled that Pennsylvania officials can certify election results that currently show Biden winning the state by more than 80,000 votes. He said the Trump campaign presented “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations ... unsupported by evidence.”
“In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state,” the opinion said. “Our people, laws, and institutions demand more.”
Trump tweeted after the ruling that he couldn’t understand why Biden was forming a Cabinet when the president’s investigators had found “hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes,” a baseless claim for which Trump has supplied no evidence.
Giuliani and a Trump campaign lawyer said in a statement that they welcomed the dismissal because it would allow them to appeal up to the U.S. Supreme Court faster, where Trump has repeatedly said he feels he has sympathetic justices. But, the justices heard a case from the state before the election, over a three-day extension on mail-in ballots, and allowed the extension over the objections of the GOP.
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who had a hand in placing Brann on the bench during the Obama administration, said the ruling showed Trump had exhausted all possible legal avenues in the state and went on to congratulate Biden on his victory. He called Brann “a longtime conservative Republican whom I know to be a fair and unbiased jurist.”
Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and New York mayor, showed his rustiness during the hearing this week by tripping himself up over the meaning of “opacity,” mistaking the judge for a federal judge in a separate district and provoking an opposing lawyer.
Giuliani repeatedly contended in court that it was illegal for counties to help people vote. Opposing lawyer Mark Aronchick suggested Giuliani must not know the Pennsylvania election code.
The Trump-aligned attorneys had argued that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law was violated when Pennsylvania counties took different approaches to notifying voters before the election about technical problems with their submitted mail-in ballots.
The judge dismissed the argument entirely.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and the seven Biden-majority counties that the campaign sued had argued throwing out the popular vote over isolated allegations of mail-in fraud was far too extreme, particularly after most of them have been tallied.
“There is no justification on any level for the radical disenfranchisement they seek,” Boockvar’s lawyers wrote in a brief filed Thursday.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, tweeted shortly after Brann’s ruling that “another one bites the dust.”
“These claims were meritless from the start and for an audience of one,” Shapiro said in a statement. “The will of the people will prevail. These baseless lawsuits need to end.”
Counties must certify their results to Boockvar by Monday, after which she will make her own certification. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will notify the winning candidate’s electors they should appear to vote in the Capitol on Dec. 14.
While President Donald Trump vows to press ahead with efforts to overturn the election, judges across the country have consistently swatted down his legal challenges.
Trump’s campaign has failed to make any real headway in court without proof of widespread fraud, which experts widely agree doesn’t exist. Over the course of a single day this week, Trump and his Republican allies dropped or lost cases seeking to block the certification of election results in four different states.
Experts say Trump won’t succeed in stopping President-elect Joe Biden from taking office in January. But his repetition of baseless claims that the race was rigged is undermining public confidence in the election system while instilling in his supporters the idea that Biden will be an illegitimate president.
Where Republican election challenges stand in six states:
THE CASE: The Arizona Republican Party had tried to block the certification of the election results in the state’s most populous county, Maricopa, until a court ruled on the party’s lawsuit asking for a new hand count of a sampling of ballots. An audit already completed by the county found no discrepancies, officials said.
WHAT HAPPENED: A judge on Thursday rejected Republicans’ bid to postpone the certification of election results and dismissed the party’s legal challenge that sought a new audit of a sampling of ballots. Judge John Hanna provided no explanation, except to say that the GOP’s request to amend its lawsuit was futile, and barred the party from refiling the case. The judge promised a full explanation in the future.
In a separate case, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee also had sought to delay the certification of election results in Maricopa County. In that case, they asked for the manual inspection of ballots in metro Phoenix, alleging that some votes were improperly rejected. A judge dismissed the case on Nov. 13 after the campaign’s lawyers acknowledged the small number of ballots at issue wouldn’t change the outcome of how Arizona voted for president. Maricopa County leaders certified election results Friday.
THE CASE: A high-profile conservative attorney, L Lin Wood Jr, sued in an attempt to block the certification of election results in Georgia. Wood alleges Georgia illegally changed the process for handling absentee ballots. Wood’s lawsuit takes aim at a legal settlement signed earlier this year that addresses accusations about a lack of statewide standards for judging signatures on absentee ballot envelopes. Georgia’s deputy secretary of state has called Wood’s case a “silly, baseless claim.”
WHAT HAPPENED: A judge on Thursday denied Wood’s request for a temporary restraining order to halt certification. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp certified the state’s slate of electors Friday. Trump has until the end of the day Tuesday to request a recount.
THE CASE: Trump’s campaign sued in an attempt to block the certification of election results in the state, alleging that election officials “allowed fraud and incompetence to corrupt the conduct of the 2020 general election.” Trump’s legal team alleged that its observers were prevented from being able to properly watch the vote counting, that ineligible ballots were counted and that Republican challenges to ballots were ignored.
Another lawsuit filed this week on behalf of two poll challengers asked a court to halt the certification of election results until an independent audit is completed to “ensure the accuracy and integrity of the election.”
WHAT HAPPENED: The Trump campaign dropped its case Thursday, citing statements from Republican Wayne County canvassers who initially blocked certification of election results in Michigan’s largest county before approving them on Tuesday. The two canvassers now say they want to change their position again, but officials say there’s no way for them to rescind their vote.
Lawyers for the two poll challengers also abruptly withdrew their lawsuit this week with no explanation.
THE CASE: Trump’s campaign is asking a judge to nullify Nevada’s election results or set them aside and declare him the winner, arguing that illegal or improper votes were cast and the use of optical scanning to process signatures on mail-in ballots violated state law. The Trump lawsuit, filed Tuesday, rehashes arguments that judges in Nevada and elsewhere have already rejected. It claims that votes were cast on behalf of dead people, that election observers weren’t allowed to witness “key points” of processing and that people on American Indian territories were illegally given incentives to vote.
In a separate court filing, a voting watchdog group led by a conservative former state lawmaker wanted a judge to block statewide certification of the election.
WHAT HAPPENED: A judge on Friday rejected the voting watchdog group’s bid to block statewide certification. A hearing in the Trump campaign challenge is scheduled Dec 1.
THE CASE: A Trump campaign case aims to stop the state from certifying the election, alleging Philadelphia and six counties wrongly allowed voters to correct problems with mail-in ballots that were otherwise going to be disqualified for a technicality, like lacking a secrecy envelope or a signature. The total number of affected ballots was not expected to come anywhere close to Biden’s margin of more than 80,000 votes.
WHAT HAPPENED: Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, signed onto the case this week after others abruptly withdrew, and the former New York mayor argued in court on Tuesday for the first time since the 1990s. Giuliani made wild, unsupported allegations of a nationwide conspiracy by Democrats to steal the election. On Saturday, the judge issued a scathing ruling, dismissing the case and barring them from filing it again, though the campaign has said it would appeal. In his ruling, US District Court Judge Matthew Brann said the plaintiffs had asked the court to disenfranchise almost 7 million voters. “One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens,” he wrote. “That has not happened.”
THE CASE: Trump’s campaign on Wednesday filed for a recount in the counties that cover Milwaukee and Madison, both Democratic strongholds. It alleged — again without evidence — that absentee ballots were illegally altered or issued and that government officials violated state law.
WHAT HAPPENED: Biden won Wisconsin by 20,600 votes. The recount of the presidential election in the state’s two most heavily Democratic counties began Friday with Trump’s campaign seeking to discard tens of thousands of absentee ballots that it alleged should not have been counted. Trump’s three objections attempting to discard the ballots were denied by the three-member Dane County Board of Canvassers. Trump was expected to make the same objections in Milwaukee County ahead of a court challenge once the recount concludes, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.