Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trump Strikes Out in Efforts to Overturn Election

            President Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, were hard at work on Friday afternoon [Nov. 20] pursuing different strategies for overturning Joe Biden’s decisive victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

            Pence declared at an open press conference that the Trump-Pence campaign would “keep on fighting to make sure that every legal vote is counted.” Pence made the assurance even though the campaign’s legal team had yet to bring forth any substantial evidence of voter fraud or ballot-counting irregularities in the three battleground states where they had filed suits: Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

            The scatter-shot litigation served primarily to show that Trump’s legal team was in total disarray and had found no legal basis for contesting Biden’s victory. Frustrated by the results, Trump himself turned to a political strategy that amounted to an attempted anti-democratic coup instead of pursuing all legal options available under state election laws.

            Trump summoned Michigan legislators to the White House for what his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, disingenuously described as a “routine meeting.” Trump used the meeting to try to persuade the lawmakers to take the extraordinary step of awarding him the state’s sixteen electoral votes despite Biden’s 150,000-plus popular vote margin.

            Encouragingly, the four Michigan lawmakers who attended the meeting, including the leaders of the GOP majorities in the state’s two legislative chambers, all spurned Trump’s pleas to nullify the will of the state’s voters. In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said they had seen no evidence to refute Biden’s victory in their state. “We will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors,” the two leaders said, “just as we have said throughout this election.”

            The Trump lawyers had already struck out in Michigan a week earlier [Nov. 13] when a state court judge, Timothy Kenny, rejected a request by two Republican poll watchers to delay the certification of the vote in Detroit because of claimed interference with their monitoring of the vote tabulations. Kenny rejected the poll watchers’ allegations of misconduct as “not credible.”

            A state court judge in Pennsylvania had similarly rejected five Trump challenges to counting about 9,000 mail ballots cast in Philadelphia and adjoining Montgomery County aimed at preventing Biden from claiming the state’s 20 electoral votes. The lawsuits cited voters’ failures to supply all the information requested for the ballots. In rejecting the challenges, Judge James C. Crumlish III emphasized that the Trump campaign “was not contending that there has been fraud or that there is evidence of fraud.”

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s Democratic secretary of state Kathy Boockvar rejected any suggestion of a recount in the Keystone State on the ground that Biden’s 59,500-vote margin exceeds the threshold set in state law to require a recount. A federal court judge dealt Trump another setback on Friday [Nov. 20] by rejecting the campaign's suit to block certification of the state’s results on the ground that counties were using different procedures for vote-counting. In a strongly worded 37-page opinion, Judge Matthew Brann said the campaign was effectively trying to disenfranchise all of the state's 7 million voters and to impose an impossible requirement on all counties to use identical procedures in tabulating votes.

In Arizona, the Trump campaign says it is continuing to explore options to try to delay or prevent the certification of Biden’s victory in the Grand Canyon state after a state court judge had rejected a suit seeking to block certification of the vote in populous Maricopa County. The judge found that the alleged irregularities would not affect Biden’s 11,000-vote margin in the overall state popular vote.

The Trump campaign needed to prevail in all three states – with a total of 47 electoral votes – to reduce what appears to be Biden’s 306 electoral votes below the magic number (270) needed to claim the presidency.

Trump’s pull-out-all-the-stops strategy attracted free-lance assistance from an unlikely source over the past week: specifically, South Carolina’s re-elected Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham acknowledged having called officials in three battleground states – Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona – for information on ballot-certification procedures in the three states.

One veteran political observer, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, said he could recall no previous instance of a U.S. senator’s intervening in election results in another state. The watchdog ethics group, Citizens for Re and and Ethics in Washington (CREW), went so far as to suggest that Graham’s calls amounted to illegal interference with the elections and to call on him to step down from his Judiciary Committee post.

Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, claimed in his account of the phone conversation with Graham that the senator had urged him to discard all absentee ballots from counties with high rates of disqualified ballots. In a Senate corridor interview with CNN’s Manu Raju, Graham disputed Raffensperger’s account as “ridiculous” and batted away any concern about an investigation of his calls.

Biden carried the Peach State by more than 14,000 votes. Raffensperger pronounced the election to have been fair and transparent and shut the door on any Trump challenges by formally certifying the results last week [Nov. 20]. Biden’s upset victory to gain Georgia’s 16 electoral votes a week after the Nov. 3 election provided a cushion after major networks had called the election for Biden on Saturday, Nov. 7, with 279 electoral votes in all to 214 for Trump.

All told, Trump’s “all-out assault on the election” adds up to much ado about nothing, but just enough to give the Republican head of the General Services Administration (GSA), Emily  Murphy, grounds for delaying the ministerial step needed to ascertain Biden’s apparent election to allow the formal transition process to begin.

 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Barr's Partisan Move on Vote Fraud Hunt

         With a little over two months left in office, Attorney General Bill Barr decided to strengthen his legacy as perhaps the most partisan attorney general in U.S. history – worse even than John Mitchell, who went to jail for his role in the Watergate coverup. With Trump obviously defeated in the Nov. 3 election, Barr ordered U.S. attorneys around the country less than a week later to look for evidence of voting irregularities to support President Trump’s bogus accusations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

            Barr’s overt intervention in the 2020 election contradicted testimony that he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2019 before his confirmation that the Justice Department was obliged to stay out of pending election-related investigations. Barr gave that answer to Texas’s Republican senator John Cornyn as Cornyn was pressing him to criticize the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s links to Russian agents before the 2016 election.

Taking the cue, Barr agreed that the Justice Department has policies against any intervention in pending campaigns and, in a follow-up answer to Cornyn, explained the rationale. It would be improper, Barr explained, for the incumbent administration to use “the levers of power” for its own benefit to the disadvantage of the opposing party.

.Producers for MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes found that clip in the video archive and aired it last week as evidence of Barr’s blatant hypocrisy in reversing prior DOJ policy. Barr disclosed the reversal in a memo acknowledging that he had already directed federal prosecutors in some “specific instances” to investigate “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions in certain cases.”

Barr’s memo apparently hit Justice Department email boxes on Monday [Nov. 9] and produced what the Washington Post characterized in a headline as “shock and frustration” among DOJ careerists. Barr had proposed the new stance weeks earlier, the Post reported, but DOJ lawyers “pushed back vigorously” and “thought they had dissuaded him . . . .”

In fact, Barr’s memo resulted the very next day in the resignation of the Justice Department’s veteran election-crimes chief. Richard Pilger, head of the department’s election-crimes branch, announced the resignation in a letter to colleagues explaining that he was leaving after “having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications.” Justice Department policy dating from 40 years earlier restricted any investigations of election issues until after officials had certified election results.

Barr, it must be remembered, was appointed for a second term as attorney general after President Trump fired his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for refusing to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Barr, a Republican partisan in his previous tenure at Main Justice, has exhibited no signs of discomfort in his Faustian bargain to do whatever Trump wanted in order to keep the job and stay in the president’s good graces.

Before this most recent homage to his boss, Barr’s two major sops to Trump included his attempt to scuttle the federal prosecution of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to Congress and his intervention to reduce the prison sentence for Trump’s longtime political confidant, Roger Stone.

In the current election, Barr had been amplifying Trump’s warnings about likely voter fraud by warning, with scant evidence, that widespread mail balloting is inevitably “open to fraud and coercion.” He aired that view in an appearance on CNN in early September that included an exaggerated account of suspected fraud in a city council election in Texas three years ago. Barr was so far off base in the telling that the local prosecutor felt obliged to describe Barr’s summary of the case as consisting of “half-truths and alternative facts.”

Barr’s new policy on investigating possible irregularities disturbed lawyers at Main Justice and, eventually, prompted more than a dozen local U.S. attorneys to push back in a letter sent to Barr on Friday [Nov. 13]. The local prosecutors, sixteen in all, complained that Barr’s memo had been “developed and announced without consulting nonpartisan career professionals” and that it “thrust[ ]  career prosecutors into partisan politics.”

 Responding to the second round of bad PR for the department, a DOJ spokeswoman emphasized that Barr included a number of caveats in the memo. The memo, the spokeswoman noted, specified that prosecutors should “exercise appropriate caution and restraint and maintain the department’s absolute commitment to fairness, neutrality, and nonpartisanship.” Barr also cautioned against opening investigations based on “[s]pecious, speculative, fanciful, or far-fetched claims.”

That characterization well describes the Trump campaign’s claims of voting irregularities  in state and federal courts to date. One newspaper headline noted that Trump’s claims had “fizzled” in court. More tellingly, the interagency election monitoring council within the administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report last week [Nov. 12] that characterized the 2020 election as “the most secure in American history” and found “no evidence” that any voting systems had been compromised.

The report was issued by the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, which includes officials from the DHS agency, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and state election directors from around the country. Benjamin Hovland, chair of the Election Assistance Commission, buttressed the report’s findings by warning that “baseless accusations” of voting irregularities, including those from Trump, are “playing into the hands of our foreign adversaries who want to see us lose faith in our democracy.”

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Trump's 'Litigation Barrage' Unlikely to Change Result

             The Supreme Court could yet try to have the last word on the 2020 presidential election even in the face of decisive vote margins favorable to Joe Biden in two critical states unlikely to be tipped in Trump’s favor in any eventual recounts.

            The Court’s necessarily slow-motion intervention in the one post-election case to reach the justices so far would do the country no good, but would serve President Trump’s purposes of sowing doubts about Biden’s victory and preserving Trump’s influence over a political base likely to adopt a “Lost Cause” resistance to the Biden presidency.

            Biden was “declared” to be the next president of the United States on Saturday [Nov. 7] after the unofficial election desks at CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News awarded Pennsylvania to Biden to push him up to 273 ostensibly confirmed electoral votes. Fox added Arizona and Nevada to raise the total to 290. The apparent results must be treated as tentative for now, pending potential shenanigans in Congress if Republican legislatures in Democratic-voting states try to present competing slates of electors.

            Trump’s legal team was busy all week after Election Night (Nov. 3) looking for evidence of vote fraud with nothing much to show for their efforts . Trump and his lawyers could do the country a great service by calling the litigation barrage off now rather than dragging it out further with disorder in the streets and the inevitable risk of violence between at-war political tribes.

            At week’s end, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. signaled that the Court may want to issue the final word on the results in the Keystone State from One First Street instead of allowing Pennsylvania’s elected officials to make the decision in Harrisburg. Alito appeared to be reflecting the same mindset that Justice Antonin Scalia adopted two decades ago in opining that the Supreme Court had to have the final say on the disputed Bush v. Gore election.

The Court’s potential jurisdiction in the Trump-Biden race stems from suits by the state’s Republican legislators among others challenging the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend by three days the deadline for receiving ballots mailed by Election Day. The state court viewed the extension as a needed accommodation in the midst of a pandemic that made in-person voting hazardous to health.

            Alito issued an order directing county election boards to comply with guidance already issued by the state’s secretary of state to segregate the late-arrived ballots and to “take no action” in regard to those ballots pending further developments. The justices are still considering the Pennsylvania Republicans’ petition for certiorari to review the Pennsylvania court’s decision on the basis of full briefing and oral arguments. That process would inevitably entail at least another week’s delay or perhaps much longer.

            The networks called Pennsylvania for Biden after his lead over Trump reached 34,000. That margin is too large to be overturned in any recount, according to Richard Hasen, the nationally prominent election law expert at the University of California-Irvine. The suit “would only matter if the election were close enough that late counting ballots would make a difference,” Hasen wrote in a blog entry posted on Saturday. “They won’t, based on everything we know.”

            Hasen was one of three election law experts who were scoffing at the Trump legal team’s lawsuits as the week ended. In comments on NPR’s All Things Considered [Nov. 6], Northwestern law professor Michael Kang dismissed the litigation as “political theater.” Two days earlier, New York University law professor Richard Pildes wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that the suits filed thus far “are highly unlikely to affect the overall outcome of the election.” In his blog entry, Hasen dismissed the Trump suits as “tinkering around the edges.”

            In the meantime, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, confirmed that the state would follow the law in directing a recount in the Trump-Biden balloting because Biden's 7,000-vote lead was within the margin to trigger a mandatory recount. With 16 electoral votes, Georgia is not essential to Biden’s apparent supermajority of 306 electoral votes.

            With the decisions from the networks, Biden spoke to the nation from Wilmington late Friday night to make a very tentative claim of victory. Based on the results so far, Biden declared, “We’re going to win this race with a clear majority.” In his first tweet as president-elect the next day, Biden struck a much different note than the outgoing president in his tweets. Biden declared himself “ready to build back better for all Americans.”

           Trump, fuming inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, was nowhere ready to concede the election, but seemingly determined to wage a fight to the bitter end in state and federal courts around the country up to and including the Supreme Court. Harmeet Dhillon, one of the lawyers, went so far on Fox News as to put the monkey right on the Supreme Court’s back. "We're waiting for the United States Supreme Courtof which the President has nominated three justicesto step in and do something,” Dhillon, a former vice chair of the California Republican Party, said. “And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through."

            Early in the week, Republicans with reputations to protect were voicing doubts about Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, delivered from the White House press room on Tuesday [Nov. 3]. Appearing on CNN, the GOP’s most experienced election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg said on Thursday [Nov. 5] that he had yet to see any evidence of fraud. By week’s end, however, GOP politicians with electoral prospects to protect—including Texas’s GOP senator Ted Cruz and South Carolina’s re-elected Republican Lindsey Graham—were starting to second Trump’s doubts, rather than face scornful tweets from Trump’s adult sons: Don Jr. and Eric.