NOVEMBER 19, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Trump has broadened his push to overturn the election outcome and threatened Republicans who challenge his refusal to concede, as looming deadlines for key states to certify their results are set to narrow the path for his legal challenges.
Mr. Trump’s post election campaign to reverse his loss to President-elect Joe Biden—one without precedent in modern U.S. history—is increasingly showing signs of strain among some Republican lawmakers and governors, while many of the president’s own advisers say they are ready for the campaign to turn the page.
For more than two weeks, prominent Republicans have supported the president’s right to litigate the results. But some are now expressing frustration over an effort they believe has no chance of success and over Mr. Trump’s firing of a cybersecurity official who defended the election’s integrity. Some Trump advisers say they are concerned the continued push risks giving false hope to millions of Mr. Trump’s supporters.
The president this week has ramped up his efforts to put personal pressure on lawmakers in key states where his campaign is contesting the results. On Thursday, he invited two Republican legislative leaders from Michigan, where the campaign is trying to stop the state from certifying the vote, to a Friday afternoon meeting at the White House, according to a person familiar with the matter. The legislators, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, plan to make the trip, the person said.
The Trump legal team has said it is aiming in some states to have Republican-controlled state legislatures appoint pro-Trump electors who would swing the Electoral College in his favor.
Four of the states where the Trump campaign is contesting the results are required to certify their votes in the coming days, a step states take before winners can be officially confirmed. The Electoral College holds its vote Dec. 14. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) indicated earlier this week that he believed a resolution to the president’s challenge was nearing, saying the states’ certification of results would be final.
Mr. Trump’s legal campaign—now led by the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—is still pursuing court challenges in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada, in some cases asking that results from entire counties or states be thrown out. On Wednesday the campaign transferred $3 million to Wisconsin for a partial recount. On Thursday, the campaign withdrew its lawsuit in Michigan, claiming it had already succeeded in its effort to stop certification in the state’s most populous county. A spokeswoman for the Michigan secretary of state has said the county’s vote is certified and the state’s certification process would proceed as planned.
Georgia was expected to release the results of its recount Thursday. Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump in the state by more than 12,700 votes in the latest count. Michigan must certify the results by Monday, as must Pennsylvania, where Mr. Giuliani appeared in court earlier this week to ask a judge to block certification of the vote count. Nevada must certify results by Tuesday.
Mr. Giuliani on Thursday led a press conference where the Trump campaign’s legal team laid out its strategies for lawsuits.
No evidence has emerged of widespread fraud, and several of Mr. Trump’s lawyers have told judges across the country that they don’t believe such fraud occurred.
Advisers to the president say that even though he understands he won’t win the fight, he remains intent on pushing the legal battle as far as it will go because “he believes he was robbed,” one adviser told associates.
Some also see the fight as important to keeping the Republican base fired up ahead of two coming Senate contests in Georgia, which will determine which party controls the chamber. Democrats already hold the House.
Jeffrey Engel, a presidential historian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said there is no precedent for the president’s refusal to concede.
While candidates have challenged close elections before, there were clear and legitimate arguments made in those instances, he said—and ultimately, “all of them recognized that the unity of the country was more important.”
“We operate on the premise as historians that by and large there is nothing new, the details change, but the fundamental story is traditionally the same and it rhymes and sways,” Mr. Engel said. “Words fail us in this situation.”
While Mr. Trump focuses on the legal fight, he has spent little time on his official duties or planning his agenda for the remaining 62 days of his term, administration officials say. In the 16 days since the election, his public schedule has featured only the occasional lunch and a trip to the Arlington National Cemetery, and he has spoken publicly only twice, using one of those appearances to complain about the vote-counting process.
His schedule for Thursday for the third day in a row shows no public events.
As of Thursday afternoon, the White House hadn’t yet advised organizers of the Group of 20 summit—scheduled to be held this weekend in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—whether Mr. Trump would take part, according to a diplomatic official.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The legal campaign has exacerbated tensions among the president’s advisers, people familiar with the discussions said. Early last week, top campaign aides on a conference call laid out a path for how the legal effort could conceivably reverse calls in some states, according to people familiar with the call.
Since then, some aides feel the strategy has lost what little focus it had.
“There was this period of hope that there’s fraud. And then it was, ‘Is there really enough fraud?’ ” said a campaign aide. “It’s starting to get a little embarrassing.”
The president put Mr. Giuliani in charge of the legal effort after a tense Oval Office meeting last week in which the former New York mayor accused other lawyers of lying to the president about his slim odds of overturning the election, according to a person familiar with the meeting. That prompted deputy campaign manager Justin Clark to call Mr. Giuliani a “f—ing asshole.” Mr. Trump elevated Mr. Giuliani, the person said, because “he was the only person telling the president he could win.”
Echoing concerns from other Trump advisers, Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s former acting chief of staff, said in an interview with Fox Business Network Wednesday that Mr. Giuliani wasn’t the best choice. “This is the most important lawsuit in the history of the country, and they’re not using the most well-noted election lawyers,” he said.
Asked to comment on the criticism against Mr. Giuliani, senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller responded that there was “nobody in the country better suited” to uncover election fraud than Mr. Giuliani, whom he called the “Eliot Ness of his generation,” referring to the Prohibition-era crime fighter. Mr. Giuliani, who served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1983 to 1989, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has turned his ire on those in the GOP and the government who haven’t supported his claims. This week, he broached on Twitter the prospect of a Republican primary challenge for Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, who had called for the president to allow the transition to the Biden administration to begin. Mr. Trump, in private phone calls and on Twitter, has sought to pressure Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia to support claims of voter fraud.
Mr. DeWine’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Kemp, Cody Hall, said the office has been in contact with the administration and “we continue to support their efforts to ensure that every legal vote is counted.” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has defended the election process as secure and transparent.
On Tuesday evening, Mr. Trump fired via Twitter a top cybersecurity official, Chris Krebs, who oversaw efforts to safeguard the election from foreign interference and had in recent weeks disputed Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud.
Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) said of Mr. Krebs’s dismissal: “It just adds to the confusion and chaos. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like some return to a little bit more of a—I don’t even know what’s normal anymore.”
Mr. Trump’s decision not to concede has delayed significant portions of the transition process as parts of the government, including the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, withhold resources and briefings from the president-elect’s advisers.
Mike DuHaime, a longtime GOP strategist, said it was time for reality to set in for the Trump campaign.
“Donald Trump lost,” he said in an interview. “We shouldn’t be telling people it was fraud when it wasn’t.” He added that many Republicans “who do know better are sitting silent right now out of fear that Donald Trump may or may not support them in 2022 or 2024.”
With top campaign officials now largely cut out of the legal effort, aides instead have focused on winding down the operation. A dwindling number show up at the Virginia headquarters every day, where Mr. Giuliani and his team often huddle in a conference room.
And at the White House, many officials have begun preparing for life after January’s inauguration, submitting resumes to Fox News or seeking work on Capitol Hill.