Trump’s attempts to challenge the election results suffer further setbacks

In court, Republicans on Friday faced losses in Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania, while another major law firm withdrew from its representation of the president.

Meanwhile, Edison Research projected that Biden won in Georgia, while Trump was victorious in North Carolina, the last states to be called in the race.

Together, the latest developments underscore what the president’s advisers have been privately acknowledging throughout the week: that heading off Biden’s victory is essentially impossible. To do so, Trump would have to somehow overturn his rival’s wins in three separate states.

Biden is now projected to have won the same number of electoral college votes as Trump did in 2016, while also defeating the president in the popular vote by more than 5 million votes.

On Twitter, Trump remained defiant about his unfounded claims that results around the country were tainted by massive ballot fraud, even after federal and state government officials issued a joint statement Thursday saying that this year’s election “was the most secure in American history.”

The president countered in a tweet Friday: “This Election was Rigged.”

But he appeared subdued at a late-afternoon news conference to discuss progress in the quest for a vaccine for the coronavirus, and at one point he appeared to nearly slip and make reference to a future Biden administration.

“This administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully the — the, uh — whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell,” he said.

Throughout the day, Trump and his allies suffered a string of legal defeats.

In Pennsylvania, the president’s campaign lost six separate efforts to block the counting of almost 9,000 mail ballots in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.

Trump’s team had asked the courts to toss out the ballots because voters had not written requested information such as their addresses or the date on the outer envelopes.

In his orders rejecting five Trump challenges in Philadelphia, Judge James C. Crumlish III noted that the campaign was “not contending that there has been fraud, that there is evidence of fraud or that the ballots in question were not filled out by the elector in whose name the ballot was issued.”

In Michigan, meanwhile, a state judge rejected a request by two Republican poll watchers to delay the certification of the vote count in Detroit, saying he saw no convincing evidence of election fraud at the center where workers tallied absentee ballots.

Judge Timothy M. Kenny said the allegations of misconduct, made by the GOP poll watchers and one Detroit election official, were “not credible.” He said the plaintiffs’ demand for an outside audit of the election in Michigan could delay the process so long that the state’s electors might not be selected in time to vote in the electoral college in mid-December, when the president is formally elected. Biden now leads in Michigan by about 148,000 votes.

To grant the plaintiffs’ request, Kenny said, “would undermine faith in the Electoral System.”

A similar suit filed by the Trump campaign in federal court Tuesday is still pending. But state judges have rejected several efforts to delay certification of the vote count.

In a statement, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel praised the latest ruling.

“Every one of these attempts is a blatant effort to undermine the voices of a majority of Michigan voters,” she said. “No party or politician can steal this election.”

Republican leaders in Lansing have said they will honor the popular will of voters in Michigan. But they are continuing to solicit complaints about the vote-counting process, and several legislators have called for more scrutiny before the state’s vote is certified. Two Republican state senators wrote a letter to Nessel late Thursday requesting that the results first be audited.

Stu Sandler, a Michigan lawyer and Republican political consultant, said Friday’s court decision would not deter that effort. “There are some real credible allegations about flaws in the way the process worked,” he said.

For their part, election officials in Georgia on Friday began the laborious process of recounting by hand every one of the nearly 5 million ballots cast in the state’s presidential election. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has said that the election was fair and transparent and that he expects the recount to confirm the results, which have Biden ahead by more than 14,000 votes.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, a judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit from the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and the state Republican Party after lawyers for the plaintiffs acknowledged in a court filing that the suit would make no difference to the result of the presidential election.

The plaintiffs initially claimed that “up to thousands” of allegedly mishandled ballots in the state’s most populous county, Maricopa, would “prove determinative” in the presidential election, and they sought to delay certification of Arizona’s results until there could be a hand recount of affected votes.

But the scope of the campaign’s legal action was steadily whittled down this week in court, particularly after county officials said fewer than 200 votes for president were at stake. Biden leads by 11,000 votes in Arizona.

In its latest filing Friday, Trump’s team acknowledged that its suit would have no bearing on the outcome of the presidential election in the state, writing that “the tabulation of votes statewide has rendered unnecessary a judicial ruling as to the presidential electors.”

The new filing came a day after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge held a day-long hearing in the matter, in which the judge refused to admit some of the evidence gathered by the campaign, indicating that he found it untrustworthy.

During the hearing, an attorney for the president’s campaign, Kory Langhofer, emphasized that the campaign was not alleging that any fraud took place in the state, a sharp contrast with the “stop the steal” protests that outraged Trump supporters have held in Arizona.

“We’re not alleging that anyone was stealing the election,” Langhofer said, adding later, “The allegation here is that, in what appears to be a limited number of cases, there were good-faith errors in operating machines that should result in further review of certain ballots.”

The Trump campaign’s lawsuit had alleged that poll workers pressed or told voters to press a button on a tabulating machine to cast their ballots, even after those tabulators flagged an apparent “overvote,” in which the machine believed a voter marked two candidates in the same race. If the machine reads two votes in the same race, it will not count a vote for any candidate in that contest.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said in a statement, “We continue to explore President Trump’s options in Arizona.”

“Every state has different laws and therefore different legal approaches,” he added regarding the campaign’s broader legal setbacks. “We are still determined to ensure that every legal vote is counted and every illegal vote is not.”

The courtroom losses came as some prominent law firms have backed away from Trump’s legal efforts.

This week, the Phoenix-based law firm Snell & Wilmer withdrew from representing the Republican National Committee in Arizona. With more than 450 lawyers in 15 cities, the firm is one of the largest in the western United States.

Jones Day, a prominent Washington-based firm that has represented the Trump campaign since the 2016 election, put out a statement this week emphasizing that it is not representing the campaign in its post-Election Day challenges.

And two lawyers from Porter Wright Morris & Arthur — a large firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, that had been leading the Trump campaign’s efforts in Pennsylvania — filed a motion late Thursday to withdraw from a federal suit challenging the results, just days after the action was initiated.

“Plaintiffs and Porter Wright have reached a mutual agreement that Plaintiffs will be best served if Porter Wright withdraws,” attorneys Ronald L. Hicks Jr. and Carolyn B. McGee said in their motion.

In response, Murtaugh, of the Trump campaign, said in a statement, “Cancel culture has finally reached the courtroom.”

“Leftist mobs descended upon some of the lawyers representing the President’s campaign and they buckled,” he said, adding, “The President’s team is undeterred and will move forward with rock-solid attorneys to ensure free and fair elections for all Americans.”

Despite defeats in state court Friday, Trump’s federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania is still pending and seeks an emergency injunction preventing state authorities from certifying the election results. It alleges that hundreds of thousands of votes cast in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are invalid because Trump’s campaign was unable to observe them being counted, a claim election officials deny.

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar on Thursday asked the court to dismiss the case, describing it as a “desperate and unfounded attempt to interfere” with the election process.

Boockvar said also said Friday that she will not order a recount in Pennsylvania because Biden’s margin of victory — more than 59,500 votes — exceeds 0.5 percent, the threshold set in state law that would require a recount.

Tom Hamburger, Kayla Ruble, Jon Swaine, Alice Crites, Reis Thebault, Emma Brown, Anna Brugmann, Aaron Schaffer, Tobi Raji and Maya Smith contributed to this report.

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