(CNN)President Donald Trump is trying to steal a free and fair election that he lost by a wide margin to President-elect Joe Biden by tearing at the most basic principle of American democracy: He’s trying to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes.
Trump’s latest escalation of his attempt to subvert the result of the election followed a string of knock-backs in the courts and after a statewide audit in Georgia confirmed Biden’s victory in the crucial swing state.
He asked state Republican leaders in Michigan to visit him Friday, hinting at a possible attempt to convince them to ignore Biden’s big win in the state and send a slate of electors to the Electoral College that backs him and not the President-elect. Both Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey will meet with Trump at the White House at 4 p.m. ET, according to a source familiar with the plans.
This follows the President’s calls to two Wayne County GOP officials, who are now seeking to take back their votes to certify Biden’s victory.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who rampaged through an unhinged news conference Thursday, is in effect baselessly arguing that troves of Democratic mail-in ballots, many of them cast by Black voters, are illegal and that Trump has therefore won the election with room to spare.
“It changes the result of the election in Michigan if you take out Wayne County,” Giuliani said at a crowded, mask-free and delusional news conference featuring Trump’s crew of TV lawyers in Washington.
Giuliani’s team is also making absurd claims of a massive, centralized, Democratic conspiracy involving long-dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, Cuba, China, the Clinton Foundation and George Soros to throw the election.
Many of Trump and Giuliani’s maneuvers seem so desperate and outlandish that they are hard to take seriously. But constitutional experts are warning that the President is already doing irreparable harm to the nation.
“The problem is, he’s speaking for the President of the United States,” veteran Republican elections lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“It is a sweeping, totally unsubstantiated attack on one of the basic foundations of the country — our free elections.”
Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said Michigan lawmakers visiting the White House on Friday could be walking into an illegal meeting.
“I am worried that any lawmakers who attend this ridiculous meet and greet are really attending a conspiratorial meeting to steal the election,” Tribe told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “There’s no question that the meeting that is being held is illegal. There is no question that it really is designed quite corruptly to take away people’s right to vote.”
Tribe says the Trump campaign has lost more than two dozen lawsuits.
“It’s quite clear that Republican, as well as Democratic judges, are going to follow the law when there is no ambiguity,” Tribe said. “The only guy who seems to be uninterested in the law is Rudy Giuliani, and God knows what he is auditioning for.”
A long-shot strategy
It still seems unlikely that Republican state legislators would simply ignore hundreds of thousands of votes cast for Biden and nominate electors loyal to Trump. It’s not clear it would be legal, for one thing. And Trump would need to cancel out Biden’s victories in multiple states to come anywhere near the 270 electoral votes to clinch the presidency.
Many of Giuliani’s arguments, meanwhile, belong on the furthest fringes of conspiratorial right-wing media, while Trump, stung by his loss, may simply be seeking to cause as much chaos and mess as possible without any reasonable expectation he can win. CNN’s Dana Bash and Gloria Borger, for instance, quoted sources as saying that the President, who believes that the Russia investigation dented his own legitimacy, is now trying to ruin Biden’s presidency. And in the end, the courts — and the institutional system that Trump has relentlessly pummeled over the last four years — still seem likely to hold firm against his power-hungry schemes.
But the President’s refusal to concede two weeks after the election and his attempts to undermine democracy are no less pernicious even if they fail. Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have given the President latitude to challenge the result without mounting a credible case, now begin to look as though they are facilitating his most extreme assault yet on US democracy.
And the Trump effort is laying down political poison that will linger long after he has left the White House. A Monmouth University poll this week showed 70% of Republicans believe Biden only won because he cheated, even though there is no evidence of fraud.
After watching Giuliani’s performance, Chris Krebs, the top cybersecurity official fired by Trump this week for declaring the US election the most secure ever, issued a chilling warning on Twitter.
“That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky,” Krebs wrote.
Biden bemoans Giuliani’s ‘irresponsibility’
President-elect Biden, watching from Wilmington, Delaware, as he builds out his Cabinet, said that Trump was sending “incredibly damaging messages” to the rest of the world about how democracy works.
“It’s going to be another incident where he will go down in history as being one of the most irresponsible presidents in American history. … It’s just outrageous what he’s doing.”
Trump’s attempts to cling to power come as he ignores the fast-rising toll of the pandemic’s fall spike, with a quarter of a million Americans now dead. The US on Thursday hit another one-day record for new cases — more than 182,000, according to tallies from Johns Hopkins University.
Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, did show up for the task force’s first briefing since July. He celebrated what he saw as the achievements of an administration that has disastrously mismanaged the situation. And while the optimism of officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx over a coming vaccine were genuine, their warnings that Americans should not gather this Thanksgiving as the virus rages comprehensively debunked Trump’s claims the pandemic is already over.
Pence, incredibly given the gravity of issues bound up in America’s post-election political purgatory, ignored shouted questions from reporters.
Trump interferes in Michigan
In an extraordinary example of the lengths that Trump is going to try to overturn the election results, he called two Republican canvass board members from Wayne County to check in and express his support after they tried to block the certification of results.
After hundreds of voters called into the canvass board Zoom meeting to express outrage about the potential effort to disenfranchise Detroit-area voters, the two GOP board members relented and voted to certify the results Tuesday night, but they then filed affidavits Wednesday asking to “rescind” their action — which is not expected to have any practical effect on the certification.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse — two of the few lawmakers in their party who are willing to criticize Trump — released statements late on Thursday night, taking the President to task for his attempts to overturn his loss in Michigan.
CNN election law expert Rick Hasen wrote on his website that the President’s meddling with the Wayne County election officials “is very dangerous for our democracy, as it is an attempt to thwart the will of the voters through political pressure from the President.”
“Even though it is extremely unlikely to work, it is profoundly antidemocratic and a violation of the rule of law. It’s inexcusable,” Hasen wrote.
In his wild news conference laced with lies, Giuliani argued there was an overarching plot to tip the election to Biden perpetrated by Democrat-run big cities. He made a racist argument that election results should be overturned by tossing out hundreds of thousands of votes in large cities dominated by Black voters, including Detroit and Philadelphia, where he claimed the number of voter fraud cases “could fill a library.”
“The only surprise I would have found in this is that Philadelphia hadn’t cheated in this election, because for the last 60 years, they’ve cheated in just about every single election. You could say the same thing about Detroit,” Giuliani said at one point. “Each one of these cities are cities that are controlled by Democrats, which means they can get away with anything they want to do.”
Underscoring the absurdity of his arguments, Giuliani at one point did an impression from the movie “My Cousin Vinny” and told an unsubstantiated story about a food truck full of ballots showing up at a canvassing location.
Both he and Trump attorney Jenna Ellis lectured reporters for dismissing affidavits from voters claiming fraud, which have been collected by the Trump campaign as fact. One affidavit Giuliani highlighted has already been rejected by a judge, and many have been vague, contradictory and devoid of evidence, showing isolated incidents or suspicions of illegal behavior not rooted in facts.
It was another disastrous day in the courts for Trump’s team, perhaps prompting his apparent decision to move on to meddle with the Electoral College.
In Pennsylvania, Judge Robert Baldi of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas rejected the Trump campaign’s request to invalidate more than 2,000 absentee ballots that were submitted in an unsealed privacy envelope or lacked details such as handwritten dates, names or addresses on the outer envelope. Highlighting the Trump campaign’s naked effort to disenfranchise voters, the judge explicitly noted that there was no evidence of fraud related to the ballots the Trump campaign was seeking to throw out: “There exists no evidence of any fraud, misconduct, or any impropriety with respect to the challenged ballots,” Baldi wrote in his opinion. “There is nothing in the record and nothing alleged that would lead to the conclusion that any of the challenged ballots were submitted by someone not qualified or entitled to vote in this election.”
An Arizona state judge threw out the state Republican Party’s lawsuit seeking a broader audit of votes cast on Election Day.
A federal judge in Georgia rejected an election lawsuit brought by a Republican elector, who had alleged in court constitutional violations, perceived fraud in the presidential election and sought to block the certification of election results.
While most of the GOP continues to say Trump should have his day in court, Romney’s statement encapsulated a different, more realistic take on the floundering legal challenges.
“Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the President has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election,” Romney said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President.”