By Mark Leibovich
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump, who said there would be so many victories in his White House that Americans would get sick of it, disagrees these days. He’s apparently not tired of losing.
And that is exactly what he and his allies are doing in their desperate efforts to overthrow an election that Trump did not win.
The President’s record in legal proceedings for electoral fraud or other irregularities now amounts to two wins and 32 losses, according to a record of the democratic electoral lawyer Marc Elias. Elias updated his score Friday afternoon after a Nevada court denied a Republican attempt to move for a new election. Nevada chose Joe Biden.
On Thursday, the president claimed on Twitter that he had “a very clear and sustainable path to victory” and that “parts of it go very well together” for his re-election.
Nobody who looked at the evidence believed this.
“I’ve worked as an engineer my whole life and I live by the motto that numbers don’t lie,” Georgian Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, told a news conference on Friday. He repeated this while confirming Biden’s victory in the state from a hand count.
It was only the most recent setback for Trump, whose helter-skelter attempt to reverse Biden’s victory keeps bumping against the brick walls of electoral math and suffrage.
“Trump’s legal strategy appears to be the product of the same spirit that gave us hydroxychloroquine as a COVID cure,” said Ben Ginsberg, the Republican attorney who represented George W. Bush in the Florida recount in 2000.
Beyond the hard numbers is the scope of the president’s legal debacle and the daily outrage that has been inflicted on his lawyers – or, more precisely, that they have attended themselves. On Friday, the conservative Power Line website reported that the president’s attorneys had filed documents alleging fraud in Michigan, citing Minnesota townships.
Trump’s campaign is passed on on a case-by-case basis. Challenges are turned down by disgruntled judges. Legal teams have given notice en masse. Claims that are better suited to random Twitter feeds have been redeemed out of court.
A Michigan judge, Cynthia Stephens of the Court of Claims, derided the entire Trump campaign argument by saying, “I heard someone say something,” and added, “Tell me this is not hearsay.”
In a Pennsylvania courtroom, the President’s senior attorney Rudy Giuliani appeared on Tuesday for the first time in nearly three decades as an attorney before a federal judge. The free time showed.
Giuliani called on the judge to invalidate nearly 7 million votes in the state for calling it “widespread national election fraud”. Giuliani was pushed for evidence and turned around rather dramatically: “This is not a case of fraud,” he said.
Giuliani took over Trump’s legal team in part because almost every other lawyer in the case had either been fired or ignored by the client. It was the latest evidence that Giuliani is ready to do and say pretty much anything, if not cheaply, on behalf of his client. He is seeking $ 20,000 a day for the president’s campaign, several people said. (Giuliani said whoever said they made the $ 20,000-a-day request was “a liar, a complete liar”.)
In both cases, the lawsuits kept Giuliani as the central actor in some of the more bizarre episodes of the Trump years.
At a press conference on Thursday at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, Giuliani released a fire hose containing conspiracy theories, false claims and unfounded allegations of fraud. As he spoke, a dark liquid (what appeared to be hair dye) streamed down his face – a strangely mesmerizing sight that revealed a diminished figure melting in view.
In a federal courtroom Tuesday in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Giuliani claimed the president won Pennsylvania’s 20 votes, except that they were stolen by a “mafia” Democratic leader across the state. “The ballots could be Mickey Mouse’s,” he added.
“I have to say it was strange,” said Mark Aronchick, a veteran Philadelphia attorney who represents four counties in Pennsylvania against the Trump campaign challenge. “We have a robust legal system in which we are trained to focus on evidence and precedents. And then you go to court and suddenly Rudy Giuliani is talking like he’s in the driveway of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. (In Four Seasons, a Giuliani press conference was held in Philadelphia on November 7th between a crematorium and an adult bookstore where the former mayor announced that Trump would not admit.)
Like Aronchick, a bipartisan group of lawyers, judges and constitutional scholars watched this spectacle with a mixture of horror and some pleasure. “It’s embarrassing for attendees to watch the clown car be incompetent,” said Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He went on to describe the Trump legal team as “keystone kops” whose arguments were “slapstick stupid”.
His tone was more sad than angry.
“I’ve had law students who got a D on constitutional law that would do a better job in court than Rudy Giuliani,” Levitt said. “It would all be very funny if it wasn’t so serious.”
Still, maybe that’s just a little funny. Ginsberg compared Trump’s behavior with that of a third-party candidate whose conspiracy theories have no chance of prevailing in court. “That Donald Trump would audition at the end as Jill Stein of the 2020 cycle,” said Ginsberg, “with Rudy Giuliani as an apprentice, I find it quite amusing.”
The gallery of critics was not limited to legal scholars or opponents of the president. Mick Mulvaney, one of three former Trump White House chiefs of staff, said in an interview with Fox Business that he was “a little concerned about Rudy Giuliani’s use” in the election case. He noted that this was a trial, not entertainment.
“It strikes me that this is the most important lawsuit in the history of the country and they are not using the best-known election lawyers,” Mulvaney said. “This is not a TV show.”
In some ways, however, at least it is in the customer’s worldview. As has been said many times, Trump has treated his entire life – his presidency certainly – as one chaotic and unfolding reality show, and this post-election period was no different.
He does not seem concerned about the solemn legal, civic, and political leaders who have complained about his behavior. “The point is that not only the president but many other elected officials treat democracy so carelessly,” said Benjamin Geffen, an attorney for the Public Interest Law Center, who is also involved in the ongoing Pennsylvania case against the Trump campaign is.
As much as Trump has a great strategy, Levitt said, it appears to be less litigation oriented than public relations. The president’s overarching goal seems to be simply to discard as many claims as possible, no matter how unusual or unfounded, in order to sow public doubts about Biden’s victory.
Even if that failed to convince the judges or an unlikely interaction of Republican officials, lawmakers, and voters to take extraordinary action on behalf of the president, it would at least fuel a narrative that Trump was denied a legitimate victory.
One of Trump’s lawyers, Sidney Powell, even claimed this week that the president actually won the election, “not just with hundreds of thousands of votes, but with millions of votes.” She added, however, that votes cast for Trump had been shamefully moved to Biden by a software program “specifically designed for that purpose”.
Powell also said the CIA had previously ignored complaints about the software. She asked the president to fire Gina Haspel, the CIA director.
As the past four years have shown, Trump’s style of speaking has been mimicked by his servants like Powell and can prove brutally effective in certain political and media situations. But it has limits in more strict and rule-based places like the court.
“They claim that the two individual plaintiffs were denied the right to vote,” said Judge Matthew W. Brann of the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday in Williamsport before Giuliani. “But basically you are asking this court to invalidate more than 6.8 million votes, thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the Commonwealth. Can you tell me how this result can possibly be justified? ”
Giuliani did not answer immediately. The judge seemed to be losing patience.