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Stumbles, Clashes, and Egos: Behind the Scenes with Trump’s Legal Team

Last Wednesday afternoon, when former President Donald J. Trump’s legal team met in a conference room in a special suite at the Trump Hotel in Washington, a longtime advisor to Mr. Trump , Justin Clark, had an announcement to make.

Mr Clark told one of the attorneys, Bruce L. Castor Jr., that after his widely criticized performance the day before, Mr Trump no longer wanted him to appear on television during the impeachment trial.

Mr. Castor got up from his chair and began to yell at Mr. Clark angrily, arguing that Mr. Trump was wrong to demote him. The comings and goings got so hot that Mr. Castor left the conference room under his breath.

He later apologized to Mr. Clark. But the tense exchange was just one example of how Mr. Trump’s legal team hastily assembled – a mix of political hands, a personal injury attorney, a former prosecutor, and an attorney. longtime defense, most of whom didn’t like or particularly trusted. each other – clashed, stumbled, and regrouped throughout the impeachment process under the watchful and sometimes wrathful eye of his client.

The result was a plane held together with duct tape as it attempted to land.

This article is based on interviews with half a dozen members of the legal team and others involved in the process, which ultimately resulted in Mr. Trump’s acquittal.

“You have to remember that we had literally a week and a day to prepare for the defense and we were all people who had never met before,” said one of the attorneys, David I. Schoen, in a statement. communicated after being approached. for this article.

In the days following Mr. Trump’s impeachment for his role in inciting the January 6 riot, Mr. Trump and his aides attempted to put together a legal team. Several lawyers who had represented him during his previous indictment made it clear that they would not be involved this time. Other high-end defense attorneys were afraid to work for him due to the political backlash and fears that Mr. Trump would refuse to pay his legal bills.

Two weeks before the start of the Senate trial, Mr. Trump announced that he had hired a team led by Butch Bowers, a South Carolina lawyer who had defended many of the state’s prominent politicians. Soon after, Mr. Schoen, who is based in Atlanta, was named, as Mr. Schoen put it, “co-quarterbacks” with Mr. Bowers.

But Mr Bowers and four other lawyers working for Mr Trump abruptly separated from him about 10 days before the trial. Mr Bowers and Mr Trump had no chemistry, and some people familiar with the events said Mr Trump wanted the team to argue their bogus allegations of stolen elections, which Mr Bowers did not want. to do. Mr Schoen took issue with this account, saying Mr Trump had never pressured him on the issue.

However, the team suddenly needed more lawyers. Stephen R. Castor, the senior Congressional Republican lawyer who faced Democrats in Mr. Trump’s first impeachment, recommended his cousin, Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former Pennsylvania prosecutor.

Mr. Schoen believed he was still going to be responsible for the legal team. But, according to Mr. Schoen’s account, when Mr. Castor and several other attorneys he worked with in Philadelphia – including an injury lawyer by the name of Michael T. van der Veen – showed up, they have resumed the defense.

“Once again, the president made it clear that I had to take the lead and do most of the presentation,” said Schoen. “However, when Bruce arrived he brought his partner Mike and several other lawyers to help them. He immediately started setting an agenda and assigning roles. My role has been marginalized.

Mr Schoen said he mistakenly refused to push back on Mr Castor’s plan.

“My personality is such that I just wasn’t comfortable asserting myself and just accepted the agenda and thought I would do the best job I could at anything. would be assigned to me, ”Schoen said. “It was my mistake and my fault.”

Mr Schoen, who said he was in regular contact with Mr Trump, added that he had made another mistake: he did not tell Mr Trump that Mr Castor was going to play such an important role in the arguments public.

Mr. Schoen still had to present his argument on the first day of the trial. The directors of the house began the proceedings with a compelling presentation which included a chilling compilation of video clips from the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol.

Mr. Castor then told Mr. Schoen that he wanted to address the jurors.

“I admired his courage to take the plunge,” Mr. Schoen said. “Unfortunately, he was criticized quite strongly by the media and a number of people thought maybe the agenda should be reconsidered.”

Mr van der Veen said in an interview that Mr Castor spoke because he believed it would be a way to reduce the emotion in the room.

But Mr. Trump became enraged by Mr. Castor’s curvy, low-power performance. The former president called Mr. Clark, among others, to evacuate this afternoon.

“Bruce is no longer on television,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the televised presentations by the Senate floor. Mr. Trump also wanted Mr. Clark to join the legal team and present arguments to the chamber. Other advisers told the former president that shaking up the defense in the middle of the trial was a bad idea.

But Mr. Clark told Mr. van der Veen he was to inform Mr. Castor that he would not be showing up again.

But on Wednesday afternoon, when Mr. Clark arrived at the Trump International Hotel and joined the group in the conference room of a private first-floor suite called the “Townhouse,” it was clear that Mr. van der Veen hadn’t relayed the message.

So Mr. Clark did, and Mr. Castor blew up.

Mr. Castor did not respond to an email requesting comment. But both Mr. van der Veen and Mr. Schoen said they believed Mr. Castor was being unfairly pilloried.

What happened next is up for debate.

Two people involved in the effort said Mr. Clark, along with Alex Cannon, another lawyer who had worked on the Trump campaign and for the Trump organization, took over writing scripts that lawyers would use to present. and told them not to. move away from them. Jason Miller, a political adviser to Mr. Trump, reviewed the completed scripts, the people said. And Ory Rinat, a former White House aide, helped develop the visual presentations.

Mr. Schoen and Mr. van der Veen have denied that Trump’s aides scripted the presentations.

“I don’t take credit for someone else’s work and neither should they take it for mine,” van der Veen said.

On Thursday night there was another catch: Mr. Schoen had a dispute with Mr. Miller over which music videos were going to be broadcast and when. He briefly resigned, but then said he would not be making a presentation the next day and would sit at the Senate table with the other lawyers. Trump’s advisers scrambled to figure out how to get Mr. Castor, who the client didn’t want to see, to take over more of the presentation on Friday.

Mr. Trump contacted Mr. Schoen directly and, after their intervention, Mr. Schoen said he would be making his presentation after all. While the former president had developed a rapport with Mr Schoen, he also praised Mr van der Veen’s performance on Friday to other team members.

Mr Schoen, whose mother had died weeks earlier from the coronavirus and who kissed the sky after his last presentation, said Mr Trump was far from a micromanager.

“He literally called me a few times a day on certain days to tell me how much he appreciated and trusted me and that I should have more confidence in myself,” said Mr Schoen, who did not attend. to the work of the Senate. Saturday because of the Jewish Sabbath.

But Mr Schoen added that he should have kept Mr Trump more aware of who was going to speak at the trial.

“I think I let him down,” he says.

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While Trump has raised money by denying his loss, few have engaged in a real legal fight

Most of the money seems to come from the internet and small contributors, with relatively few five- and six-figure checks, especially once the calendar rolls over to December. A check for $ 100,000 in early December came from Elaine J. Wold, a major Republican donor from Florida.

Although his run is over, Mr. Trump’s voracious online fundraiser from Nov. 24 to year-end even surpassed that of the two Republican Senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who were in the run-off election. in Georgia that would determine control of the chamber.

In those 39 days, Mr. Trump and his committees shared with the RNC raised $ 80 million online; Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue have combined for almost $ 75 million. Both lost.

Mr. Trump has incurred legal fees from more than a dozen law firms.

He paid Kasowitz Benson Torres $ 1.6 million, over $ 500,000 to Jones Day, and around $ 600,000 to Dechert. Law firm Kurt Hilbert, which was on Mr. Trump’s phone pressuring Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes to overturn the election result, received more of $ 480,000. A payment of $ 3 million went to the Wisconsin Election Commission to pay for a recount.

A major Republican donor, C. Boyden Gray, who contributed more than $ 2 million to Republicans in the 2020 cycle, also provided legal advice to Mr. Trump, earning $ 114,000.

The man who has made so many public appearances on behalf of Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has not reported any payments from the former president’s campaign. His company was reimbursed $ 63,423 in travel expenses in mid-December.

An associate of Mr. Giuliani had demanded that he be paid $ 20,000 a day for his work for Mr. Trump, which Mr. Giuliani initially denied. He later acknowledged the request to the New York Times, but continued to publicly deny making any money for his work, including in a radio appearance on Sunday.

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Deborah Rhode, who transformed the field of legal ethics, dies at 68

She is survived by her husband and sister, Christine Rhode.

Ms Rhode attended New Trier East High School, where she was a champion of the debate, often confronting fellow future law star Merrick Garland, the federal judge appointed attorney general of the Biden administration, who attended Niles West High School nearby.

Arriving at Yale in 1970 as part of what was only the school’s second coeducational class, Ms. Rhode found herself with almost no professors or organizations dedicated to women’s issues. Undergraduates, she later wrote, were meant to be seen and not heard.

But Ms. Rhode made sure to be heard. She was the first woman elected President of the Yale Debate Association, following in the footsteps of John Kerry and William F. Buckley Jr. and defeating her future husband, Mr. Cavanagh, by a resounding 23-3 vote.

“I followed her with keen interest afterwards,” Cavanagh said in an interview.

Despite her academic success, Ms. Rhode continued to face barriers due to her gender. Although Yale is a student, the Yale Club in New York City was not. When she insisted on entering anyway, she was escorted. She also struggled to get internships; many judges have more or less refused to hire women.

Two who were not were Judge Murray I. Surfein, of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, for whom she worked after graduating, and Judge Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court, where Ms Rhode took a desk down the hall from his old debate. adversary, Mr. Garland, clerk of Judge William Brennan.

Justice Marshall encouraged her interest in becoming a law professor, though he teased her about teaching about sex discrimination. “In most countries,” he joked, “it seems to come naturally.”

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Does Trump face legal danger for his inflammatory speech before the riot?

Mr Trump used a lot of violent imagery and innuendo to anger his supporters, order them to “fight much harder” and send them to march on Capitol Hill, but he never specifically ordered them to commit crimes. And he also said, “I know everyone here is going to be walking towards the Capitol building soon to have your voice heard peacefully and patriotically.”

Yet, there was an agreement across ideological lines that Mr. Trump incited a riot.

“There is no doubt that the president formed the crowd,” Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, told Fox News. “The president prompted the crowd. The President addressed the crowd. He lit the flame.

Even former Attorney General William P. Barr, who was one of Mr. Trump’s most important enablers and allies before stepping down last month, interpreted his conduct as “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress.” , calling Mr. Trump’s actions “inexcusable” and “a betrayal of his office and supporters.”

Jack Goldsmith, a law professor at Harvard, pointed out another potential hurdle for prosecutors: The Department of Justice’s Office of the Legal Advisor – including Mr Barr, when he headed it in 1989 – wrote several notes Legal policy stating that laws sometimes do not apply to a president engaged in official acts unless Congress has made a “clear statement” that he intends to.

This legal policy raises difficult questions for DOJ prosecutors – and, potentially, the courts – especially whether Mr. Trump’s speech to supporters on a political issue counts as an official act.

“The whole thing is, in truth, clouded by uncertainty,” said Mr. Goldsmith.

Yes, in theory – if he were to be found guilty in a Senate trial after being indicted by the House, or if he were to be found guilty of inciting not only a riot but an “insurrection”, ie a violent uprising against the federal government.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution after the Civil War excludes future civil servants who “engaged” in an insurrection or rebellion, even if they have already taken an oath to uphold the Constitution as a legislator or federal officer. However, this principle in itself lacks a mechanism to determine what matters or to enforce it.

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Justice Department calls on judge to take legal action against Pence

The Justice Department on Thursday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results, pitting the department against President Trump’s allies in Congress who refused to accept President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr the victory.

The department, acting on behalf of Mr Pence, said Republican lawmakers, led by Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, could not strike down the more than century-old law that governs the Electoral College process to expand an otherwise ceremonial role to a role that has the power to reject electoral votes cast for Mr. Biden.

In a final attempt to overturn the election result, Mr Gohmert, along with other Congressional Republicans and Arizona voters, filed a lawsuit on Sunday against Mr Pence in an attempt to force him to assume this expanded role. . As President of the Senate, Mr. Pence has the constitutionally appointed responsibility for opening and counting the envelopes sent by the 50 states and announcing their election results when Congress meets next week to certify the count. But changing his role would allow Mr. Trump to pressure his vice president to invalidate the results.

The Justice Department has also made it clear in its filing that it welcomes any comments from the federal judge in charge of the case, Jeremy D. Kernodle of the Eastern District of Texas, which would clarify that Mr. Pence’s role in the election was purely procedural.

White House attorney Pat A. Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows knew the Department of Justice was testifying on Mr. Pence’s behalf before this happened, according to two people briefed on the discussions.

If a judge made it clear that Mr Pence does not have the power to reject votes or decide the results, it could ease the pressure on him. Since the November election, Mr. Trump has focused particularly on the work of the Electoral College. He’s cut short his vacation at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to return to Washington early, at least in part to push Republican lawmakers to reject the results when they meet on Jan.6 to count the votes.

If Judge Kernodle confirms that Mr. Pence has no influence on the electoral college votes, the prosecution of Mr. Gohmert could have the opposite effect of the intended effect.

In its response, the ministry also stated that Mr. Gohmert did not have standing to prosecute Mr. Pence for having performed the functions defined by law; rather, he and the other plaintiffs should sue Congress, which passed the original law.

The Justice Department’s decision to crush an 11-hour attempt to undo Mr. Biden’s victory could put it further at odds with Mr. Trump.

The President is furious that former Attorney General William P. Barr refused to support Mr. Trump’s false allegations of widespread electoral fraud and instead asserted Mr. Biden’s victory.

Mr. Trump’s relationship with Mr. Barr, whom he once considered the greatest ally he had in his cabinet, deteriorated further after the president learned he had held an investigation into the tax affairs of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, secret. during the election. Although the department has a policy of not discussing investigations that could affect the outcome of an election, Mr. Trump has accused his attorney general of disloyalty for not publicly disclosing the case during the campaign.

And at his latest press conference, Mr Barr said he “saw no reason to appoint a special advocate” to oversee a tax investigation into young Mr Biden or to dig into unsubstantiated allegations that Mr Trump had lost due to electoral fraud.

Some within the ministry believed that Mr. Barr’s statements could have helped Jeffrey A. Rosen, the acting attorney general. Mr Rosen is likely to face enormous pressure from the president to appoint additional special advisers and use the department’s other powers to help him overturn Mr Biden’s victory.

But now the department under Mr. Rosen has taken a step that Mr. Trump could see as an overt act intended to thwart one of his allies, opening him up to possible retaliation.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment.

Michael S. Schmidt contribution to reports.

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Is the legal system an effective solution to domestic violence?

Since then, cases of domestic violence against women have fallen by about 63%, from nearly 1.7 million in 1993 to about 628,000 in 2019, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Violence against women by other family members also fell, to almost 390,000 cases in 2019, from 529,000 in 1993.

But those numbers – largely based on self-reported cases – paint an incomplete picture, said Leigh Goodmark, director of the gender violence clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law. The downward trajectory of domestic violence corresponds to the overall reduction in violent crime, which fell 65% between 1993 and 2019.

“We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the criminal response to intimate partner violence, and for that investment it still went down less than what was happening to other crime rates that weren’t receiving investment. specific, ”Ms. Goodmark said. “It is a problem.”

In fact, since 2012, the number of domestic violence cases has stagnated instead of continuing on its downward trajectory, hovering between one million and 1.2 million cases. In 2018, cases topped 1.3 million, or about 20% of all violent crime in the United States that year, and cases of rape and sexual assault nearly doubled from more than 430,000 in 2015 to over 730,000 in 2018, making it one of the most violent years on record in the past decade.

Ms Barnett, in her lawsuit, also lists the many ways Mr LaBeouf abused her emotionally and verbally – by yelling at her, isolating her from friends and family, and berating her for disagreements on issues. inconsequential – by specifying that physical violence is only one dimension of violence.

Emotional abuse – when abusers exert crippling levels of control over victims – is a much more prevalent form of abuse, said Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. About half of all women have experienced at least one act of psychological aggression, such as monitoring their location or receiving threats, by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

“I would like to be able to educate about the tactics that attackers are using to control you and take away your agency,” Ms. Barnett told The New York Times. She also acknowledged that despite the economic means to escape, it was still difficult to extricate itself due to the psychological torment.

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“The ballots could be from Mickey Mouse,” the president’s lawyer said. Likewise, its legal strategy.

In some ways, however, at least in the client’s worldview. As has been said on numerous occasions, Mr. Trump has treated his entire public life – certainly his presidency – like a chaotic and evolving reality show, and this post-election period was no different.

He does not appear to care about the solemn legal, civic and political leaders who have lamented his conduct. “It is disturbing to see not only the president but many other elected officials treating democracy with such cavalry,” said Benjamin Geffen, an attorney at the Public Interest Law Center, who is also involved in the Pennsylvania case against the Trump campaign.

As long as Mr. Trump has a grand strategy, Mr. Levitt said, it seems less about litigation than public relations. The president’s overarching goal appears to be simply to dismiss as many claims as possible, no matter how far-fetched or unfounded, in an attempt to cast doubt on Mr. Biden’s victory.

While that might fail to convince the judges or persuade an unlikely amalgam of Republican officials, legislatures and voters to take extraordinary action on behalf of the president, it would propel at least a narrative that Mr. Trump is seen denied a legitimate victory.

One of Mr. Trump’s attorneys, Sidney Powell, went so far as to say this week that the president actually won the election “not just by hundreds of thousands of votes, but by millions of votes.” However, she added, the votes cast for Mr. Trump had been negatively transferred to Mr. Biden by software “designed expressly for this purpose.”

Ms Powell also said that the CIA previously ignored complaints about the software. She urged the president to fire Gina Haspel, the director of the CIA.

As the past four years have shown, Mr. Trump’s say-anything style has been emulated by his henchmen, like Ms. Powell, and can prove brutally effective in certain political and media contexts. But it has limits in more rigorous, rule-based places, like the court.

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Giuliani expected to demand payment of $ 20,000 a day for Trump’s legal work

Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has helped oversee a series of unsuccessful court challenges against President Trump’s election defeat, has asked the president’s campaign to pay him $ 20,000 a day for his legal work, several people briefed on the question.

The request has met opposition from some of Mr. Trump’s aides and advisers, who appear to have ruled out paying so much, and it is unclear how much Mr. Giuliani will ultimately be compensated.

Since Mr Giuliani took over the management of the legal effort, Mr Trump has suffered a series of court defeats and lawyers handling some of the remaining cases have dropped out.

A rate of $ 20,000 a day would have made Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, who has been Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer for several years, among the highest paid lawyers in the world.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Giuliani vigorously denied asking for this.

“I never asked for $ 20,000,” Giuliani said, saying the president volunteered to make sure he was paid after the deals were concluded. “The arrangement is, we’ll settle it at the end.”

He added that anyone who said he made the request for $ 20,000 a day “is a liar, a complete liar”.

There is little or no chance that any of the remaining legal cases will be overseen by Mr Giuliani altering the outcome in one of the states where Mr Trump is still fighting in court, let alone toppling the president-elect. Joseph R. Biden Jr. Electoral College and Popular Vote Victory. Some Trump allies fear that Mr. Giuliani is encouraging the president to continue a bogus legal fight because he sees a financial benefit.

The Trump campaign has set up a legal defense fund and is said to be raising significant sums to pursue legal challenges in countries like Pennsylvania and Georgia.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr Giuliani had demanded compensation for his work dating back to the day after polling day, when Mr Trump began to publicly claim he won despite the results, according to people familiar with the demand, who requested anonymity to talk about sensitive discussions.

At $ 20,000 a day, Mr. Giuliani’s rate would be higher than high-end lawyers in Washington and New York who can charge up to $ 15,000 a day if they spend all of their time working for a customer.

Mr Trump’s insistence that widespread voter fraud cost him the election has no basis in fact, but has fueled skepticism about the outcome of his base, including some who have violently protested last weekend in Washington.

Mr Giuliani encouraged Mr Trump to believe in a number of conspiracy theories about voting machine irregularities, according to several people close to the president who were not authorized to discuss the conversations publicly. Late last week, Mr Giuliani repeatedly insisted to the president that his other advisers had not told him the truth about his chances of success in his legal battles to overturn the election results. .

Last Friday, as Mr. Trump’s Arizona legal fight appeared to be running out of steam when the campaign dropped a doomed Maricopa County, Ariz., Lawsuit, the president told Giuliani responsibility for all election disputes and communications. for that.

On Monday, on the eve of a key hearing in a trial in Pennsylvania federal court, Mr. Giuliani expelled a lawyer who had led the case, two people briefed on the events said. This left Mr. Trump’s team scrambling for a replacement. The local lawyer currently handling the case has called Mr Biden the election winner and said the lawsuits would not change that outcome.

The judge in the case refused Monday night to postpone the hearing despite a request from the Trump team. And on Tuesday morning, Mr. Giuliani told the Pennsylvania court that he would appear personally on behalf of the president in the case.

Beginning in April 2018, in the midst of the Mueller investigation, Mr. Giuliani began representing Mr. Trump free of charge as personal counsel. Although Mr. Giuliani said he did nothing about Mr. Trump, it gave him direct access to the president and his administration – access that Mr. Giuliani used to help his other clients, including managers of foreign companies under investigation by the Ministry of Justice.

After the Mueller investigation ended in April 2019, Mr. Giuliani continued his work for Mr. Trump, focusing on attempting to develop damaging information in Ukraine about Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter – an effort that has ultimately led the House to impeach Mr. Trump.

Last year, the intelligence community warned the White House that Mr. Giuliani had become the target of a foreign influence operation by the Russian government, which sought to provide him with disinformation in hopes of undermining the campaign. presidential election of Mr. Biden.

The president refused to allow a formal transition from one administration to another to begin, barring Mr. Biden’s team from accessing the agencies they would support and receiving information about the pandemic and threats to national security in the country. National security experts have said this could put the Biden administration at a disadvantage when it takes power in January, and Mr Biden said the delay could prove costly in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. .

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Video: Pompeo echoes Trump, insisting that ‘every legal vote’ be counted

new video loaded: Pompeo echoes Trump, insisting that ‘every legal vote’ be counted



Pompeo echoes Trump, insisting that ‘every legal vote’ be counted

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said with a smile on Tuesday that there would be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration”, echoing President Trump’s demands to postpone until “every legal vote” is account.

Journalist: “Is the State Department currently preparing to engage with Biden’s transition team? And if not, when does a delay impede a smooth transition or pose a risk to national security? “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration. Alright, we’re ready. The world is watching what is happening. We will count all the votes. Once the process is complete, they will be chosen from the voters. There is a process – the Constitution spells it out quite clearly. The world must be confident that the transition necessary to ensure that the State Department is operational today, succeeds today, and succeeds with the President in office on January 20, one minute after noon, will also be successful. I went through a transition on the front, and I was on the other side. I am confident that we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the government, the government of the United States, will continue to fulfill its national security function as we move forward. Journalist: “Do you think there is widespread electoral fraud? The reports we’re getting from Pennsylvania, Michigan, showing the total votes of massive prospects or big prospects with 99% reporting are going to be quashed, and that the United States has not held an election without fraud? “” Rich, I’m the Secretary of State. I get calls from all over the world. These people are watching our elections. They understand that we have a legal process. They understand that it takes time. That’s right – it took us over 37 days in an election in 2000. A successful transition so, I have no doubts that we will count, and we must count, every legal vote. We need to make sure that any illegal votes are not counted. It dilutes your vote if it is not done correctly. You have to do it right. When we get there, we’ll get it right – we’re in good shape.

Recent episodes of United States and politics


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Without evidence of fraud, Trump fails to make progress in legal affairs

President Trump’s belligerent promise to fight the election outcome in court on Friday crashed into skeptical judges, disheartening mathematics from the Electoral College and a lack of evidence for his fraud claims.

On a day that began with a vote count in Georgia and Pennsylvania that shifted in favor of Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s campaign said, “This election is not over,” as the Republican National Committee announced that it had sparked a “teams court challenge” in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And Trump’s forces have appointed a new general to lead the effort, hardened conservative political fighter David Bossie.

But none of the dozens of lawsuits they had filed in battlefield states seemed to be gaining ground in court. And in any case, none seemed likely to give Mr. Trump the edge he would need in the vote count in the states that will determine the outcome.

In seeking to sow widespread doubt over the legitimacy of the election, Mr Trump and his surrogates appeared less focused on substantive legal arguments that might hold in court than on strengthening the president’s political narrative, unsupported by the facts. , that he was somehow stolen from a second term.

The most high-profile milestone of the day came when Republicans in Pennsylvania asked the United States Supreme Court to step in and require state election officials to separate ballots that arrived after the day. of the ballot to prevent them from being counted in the total of critical swing states.

But the decision was almost entirely for the show: Pennsylvania is already separating those ballots, count them separately and do not include them in the announced vote totals. The secretary of state, despite objections from Republicans and Mr Trump, said they could be counted if they arrived at 5 p.m. on Friday, according to a state court ruling. A state official said these ballots numbered in the thousands but not in the tens of thousands.

Their lack of progress in stopping the count or arguing for large-scale electoral fraud has left Mr. Trump and his team increasingly dependent on the political salvation of recounts – which seemed likely to take place in Georgia, in Nevada, Arizona and Wisconsin, but which rarely result in large variations in the number of votes.

Trump’s effort could be boosted by the state legislatures of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, both of which are controlled by Republicans. In Wisconsin, Robin Vos, the speaker of the State Assembly, ordered a legislative committee “to use its investigative powers” to conduct an election review, again raising the specter of fraud election without offering specific evidence.

In Pennsylvania, the two main Republicans in the legislature called on Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, to conduct “an immediate audit” of the election.

At the same time, allies President openly suggested an extreme measure: use baseless allegations of Democratic wrongdoing to pressure Republican-controlled state legislatures in key states to send pro-Trump voters to the Electoral College, regardless the results of the popular vote.

Biden campaign officials have said they will respond to any legal challenges Mr. Trump has brought but said they are confident none of the cases they have seen so far look likely to loosen Mr. Biden’s grip on the presidency.

“The Republican legal claims are absolutely baseless and have failed and will continue to fail in court,” said Bob Bauer, senior advisor to the Biden campaign. “They serve no purpose other than to echo Donald Trump’s discredited and shameful attack on the democratic process.”

In a statement, Republican Party chief counsel Justin Riemer said, “We are focused on protecting the integrity of the vote and making sure all legally cast ballots are counted,” but he didn’t was not made available for further comment on the details of the party’s legal strategy.

Trump’s intensive effort was the end of a long-planned emergency in which the president planned to challenge any possible loss by claiming the voting system was “rigged” against him. The campaign was backed by a strong pro-Trump media ecosystem, with Mr. Trump’s own social media accounts at its center, amplifying his misrepresentation.

As the legal push failed to make any substantial progress this week, it took on an urgent, sometimes desperate tone.

Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, said on Twitter on Thursday, “I really hope the @ FBI / @ DOJ gets on board immediately.”

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich echoed the president’s son on Fox News, calling for the jail of poll workers and greater involvement of Attorney General William P. Barr.

But in the days following the election, Mr Barr and the Justice Department remained largely silent. After initially echoing Mr. Trump’s warnings about electoral fraud, Mr. Barr hushed up his statements and Mr. Trump complained to aides about the ministry’s lack of action.

But an outside support group, True the Vote – one of the most prominent proponents of the false rhetoric that “voter fraud” is rampant in the United States – has sought to help Mr. Trump build his case. On Friday, he announced that he had formed a $ 1 million “Whistleblower Defense Fund” to “urge” witnesses to move forward with charges of embezzlement.

No state saw more legal activity than Pennsylvania, where the Trump campaign and local Republicans filed at least half a dozen lawsuits just before and after polling day.

The case that had the potential to affect the most votes was the one filed Friday in the Supreme Court seeking an order that would require Pennsylvania election officials to separate ballots arriving after election day from other ballots. In its emergency request, the party acknowledged that the secretary of state’s office had already ordered election officials to do so, but said it had no way of knowing if they had complied.

Republicans fought unsuccessfully against the Secretary of State’s decision to allow Pennsylvania election officials to count the mail-in ballots that arrived at their offices on Friday provided they had postmarks from the polling day or before. The Supreme Court has twice missed opportunities to rule on the dispute, although the case is still technically pending, giving judges a chance to weigh in if they saw reasons to do so.

But even if the court took the case and ruled in favor of the Republicans to erase all the ballots in question – the votes on the mail-in ballots went overwhelmingly to Mr Biden – that would not affect the current vote totals. , which does not include ballots received after polling day. As of Friday night, Mr. Biden had a lead of about 17,000 votes in Pennsylvania.

Other lawsuits in Pennsylvania sought to eliminate votes resulting from a decision by Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to allow county officials to give voters a chance to correct errors in their rejected ballots or to vote. in place.

A federal judge dismissed one of those cases on Friday in Montgomery County, near Philadelphia, two days after hinting in a hearing that he saw the effort as a step to deprive voters who were following the instructions of the state.

But even if this case had been successful, it would only have affected 93 votes. Likewise, in Michigan, a judge dismissed a Republican lawsuit challenging the state’s vote count, noting that the count had already effectively been completed and dismissing some of the evidence as based on hearsay.

Frustrated supporters of the president like radio host Mark Levin have called on Republican legislatures in states, including Pennsylvania, to use their constitutional authority to send a delegation of pro-Trump voters to the Electoral College, regardless of the popular vote .

Asked at a press briefing on Friday whether the state’s Republicans would do so, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman replied: “We want to stay in the tradition that the winner of the popular vote wins. the election. ”

Even though the state’s Republicans could legally make such a decision – lawmakers “just can’t ignore the popular vote,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said – it was an extreme example of the efforts some supporters were making. of Trump seem ready to go.

In several states, Mr. Trump was challenging state voting rules, effectively seeking to overturn votes cast in accordance with official guidelines.

Nevada Republicans on Thursday night called on the Justice Department to open an investigation into electoral fraud involving 3,000 ballots, a move Democrats said was based on “completely fabricated” claims.

The Justice Department has refused to address the issue publicly, but its guidelines generally prevent criminal investigations into election-related matters until the results are completed.

Local Republicans have included the allegation in a lawsuit they have filed in federal court asking for a change in how Clark County, Nevada conducts its tally. A judge dismissed the case on Friday night, when the vote count showed a 22,000 vote lead for Mr Biden.

Michael S. Schmidt, Katie Benner and Adam Liptak contributed reporting.