With legal challenges to his loss in the U.S. presidential election flailing, President Donald Trump’s campaign is trying to persuade Republican state legislators to intervene in battleground states won by Democratic rival Joe Biden.
The new strategy, confirmed by three people familiar with it, is being pursued as Georgia was expected on Thursday to affirm Biden’s victory there after a painstaking recount, and as Trump’s re-election campaign said it was withdrawing a lawsuit in Michigan.
President-elect Biden has captured 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner of the election, well above of the 270 needed for victory.
The winner in each state is awarded that state’s electoral votes, the number of which are roughly proportional to the population.
Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits alleging electoral fraud in a number of states since the Nov. 3 election, with scant success so far. As those efforts falter, Trump’s lawyers are seeking to take the power of appointing electors away from voters and give it to friendly state lawmakers from his party.
A person familiar with the campaign’s legal strategy said it has become a “more targeted approach towards getting the legislators engaged.”
In the battleground state of Georgia, the official in charge of implementing the state’s voting systems, Gabriel Sterling, told Fox News the state’s audit and recount were nearly complete and on track to verify Biden’s advantage. He called accusations of voter irregularities “wild mischaracterizations.”
“The good part was: the audit did its job” in finding a few small batches of uncounted votes that were being tallied that morning, he said. “The recount is going great.”
The Trump campaign has so far filed at least nine lawsuits challenging the election and its results, scoring only two minor victories — extended poll hours at some Clark County, Nevada, voting sites on Nov. 3 and setting aside some mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, which Biden won by more than 82,000 votes, according to Edison Research.
Biden said on Thursday that Trump’s challenge of the election results was “totally irresponsible” behavior that “sends a horrible message about who we are as a country.”
Several prominent law firms have pulled out of the campaign’s legal challenges, leaving Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to spearhead the continuing efforts.
At a news conference on Thursday, Giuliani said he planned to file more lawsuits and that Democrats had engaged in a “national conspiracy” to manipulate vote totals, though he admitted he did not have any evidence of such activity. He did not answer a question about trying to sway state lawmakers.
Other members of the legal team floated a theory involving Venezuela and George Soros, a bogeyman of conservatives, though they said they would probably not pursue it in court.
Giuliani said accounts of suspicious activity would ultimately overturn the election, which Biden won nationwide by 5.9 million votes. Some of those accounts have already been thrown out of court.
“We cannot allow these crooks – because that’s what they are – to steal this election. They elected Donald Trump. They didn’t elect Joe Biden,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani’s agitated performance, featuring rivulets of hair dye running down his face, was widely mocked by Democrats. Others expressed alarm.
“That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history,” tweeted Christopher Krebs, who headed up the U.S. government’s efforts to combat election disinformation until he was fired by Trump earlier this week.
Critics say Trump’s refusal to concede has serious implications for national security and the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 250,000 Americans.
Among other concerns, the administration has held up funding and security clearances in the transition period before Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Part of the new Trump campaign effort involves trying to delay certification, the normally routine process by which election results are finalized, either through recounts or by stalling at the local level, a senior campaign official said.
That happened on Tuesday in Detroit, where Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers at first refused to certify the results, then reversed themselves, then signed affidavits that they wanted to rescind their certification.
One of the members told us that Trump called her after she agreed to certify the results.
Trump’s campaign dropped a federal lawsuit on Thursday challenging the election results in Michigan, citing the Wayne County officials’ affidavits. Officials say it is too late, however.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Thursday said Michigan would be conducting a planned, voluntary audit after the results were certified, which she called routine.
“Audits are neither designed to address nor performed in response to false or mythical allegations of ‘irregularities’ that have no basis in fact,” Benson, who oversees the state’s election process, said in a statement.
The campaign has already asked a judge in Pennsylvania, where Biden won by 82,000 votes, to declare Trump the winner and said its Republican-controlled legislature should choose the state’s 20 Electoral College voters.
The latest effort reflects the reality that Trump has a dwindling number of options to overturn the results.
State and federal election officials agree with outside experts that there is no evidence for Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.
In the court of public opinion, however, the allegations appear to be having their intended effect. A NYK Daily opinion poll released on Wednesday found about half of Republicans believe Trump “rightfully won” the election.
Lawyer David Boies, who aided former Democratic Vice President Al Gore’s legal efforts after the 2000 election, said Trump’s efforts to “stir up” his political base wouldn’t change the ultimate outcome.
“From a legal standpoint, this election is over,” Boies told CNBC on Thursday. “There isn’t anything that’s going to be done to turn it around.”