WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s campaign on Thursday dropped a legal fight challenging election results in Michigan, and his lawyers falsely told the court and the public that it was because they had stopped vote tallies from being certified in Wayne County, which covers Detroit.
Several hours later, Rudy Giuliani and other campaign lawyers held a press conference where he repeated the falsehood about Wayne County, alleged a far-reaching coordinated conspiracy among Democratic officials in numerous US cities to rig the election in favor of President-elect Joe Biden, and recited other baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud that judges who have reviewed the evidence so far have rejected.
Thursday’s events underscored the complete disconnect between the sweeping allegations of widespread, nationwide voter fraud that Trump’s campaign has made to the public and how they’ve pursued election-related challenges in court. Giuliani spoke about allegations of fraudulent activity in Michigan, and, speaking more generally, campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis said they wanted to go to court to “prove our case” — just hours after the campaign dropped one of the few legal vehicles it had left to do that.
Giuliani cited affidavits from another lawsuit in Michigan that he said showed that voter fraud in the state was real, but didn’t mention that a judge last week found they didn’t present credible proof of fraud in Detroit. Giuliani on Thursday talked about allegations that hundreds of thousands of votes in Pennsylvania were counted without lawful oversight by poll watchers, days after he acknowledged under questioning from a judge that the campaign was not pursuing a fraud claim.
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Giuliani used the press conference to broadly attack Philadelphia, Detroit, and other Democrat-leaning cities, making vague references to local political corruption scandals over the decades. He painted a picture of a shadowy backroom deal to throw the election to Biden — of which there is no evidence — and he called Democrats “crooks” and judges who ruled against the Trump campaign “hacks.”
Sidney Powell, another lawyer for Trump’s campaign who spoke at Thursday’s press conference, echoed Giuliani’s unsubstantiated theory of a vast, well-funded conspiracy to throw the election to Biden. Powell, who is also representing former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn in his criminal case, attempted to draw connections among the companies that produced electronic voting and ballot counting systems used in the United States and the Clinton Foundation, investor and philanthropist George Soros, "antifa," and the Venezuelan government.
Trump, meanwhile, invited Republican leaders of Michigan’s legislature to the White House for a meeting on Friday, several news outlets reported, as the campaign tries to convince the state not to certify its election results. The leaders of both chambers have said, however, that they would not try to overturn Biden’s win in the state; the president-elect has a 150,000-vote lead in Michigan.
As for next steps in the campaign’s legal efforts, Giuliani said it was preparing to file a lawsuit in Georgia, and might file a case in Arizona; he didn’t share details about what those cases would allege, however. The campaign previously sued in Maricopa County, Arizona, claiming there were problems with ballot tabulating machines, but dropped the part of the case that related to the presidential election after acknowledging the number of ballots at issue weren’t enough to flip the state from Biden.
With state election officials preparing to officially certify votes in the coming days and the Electoral College set to meet less than a month out on Dec. 14, the window for Trump to find legal pathways that would undo Biden’s win despite a multistate lead is quickly closing.
In Michigan, the campaign filed a lawsuit in federal court on Nov. 11 claiming ballot counting in Wayne County was tainted by problems with tabulating software, poll observers being shut out, and ineligible votes being processed. The campaign asked a judge to stop the entire state from certifying election results until there was an audit of Wayne County. The Wayne County Board of Canvassers voted Nov. 17 to certify the election results.
The Trump campaign’s decision to drop the case came as the two Republican members of the county canvassing board claimed that they had been duped into voting to certify the results earlier this week — the campaign filed affidavits in court from both members who declared they were rescinding their earlier votes, though the state has said that trying to undo her vote after the fact would not do anything.
A lawyer for Trump’s campaign, Mark “Thor” Hearne, filed a notice in court on Thursday morning falsely stating that the Wayne County canvassing board had “met and declined to certify the results of the presidential election.” Before his press conference in the afternoon, Giuliani released a statement saying the campaign was dropping the Michigan case “as a direct result of achieving the relief we sought: to stop the election in Wayne County from being prematurely certified.”
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But the Michigan secretary of state’s office knocked down the idea that it was possible to undo the certification now; the state canvassing board is scheduled to meet on Nov. 23.
“There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote,” Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, wrote in an email. “Their job is done and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify.”
Benson, meanwhile, tweeted midday Thursday that a photo of the fictional superheroes in the Justice League was her “current mood” with the hashtag #DemocracyIsATeamSport.
Lawyers for Detroit asked the judge to strike the GOP canvassing board members’ affidavits from the record, along with the “immaterial, impertinent and false language” in the campaign’s notice of dismissal. They argued that court rules did not allow the campaign to use a dismissal notice “to spread disinformation.”
“The affidavits and the impertinent text in the Notice were submitted for an improper purpose: to make a gratuitous, public statement about their purported reason for voluntary dismissal, before the Court could reject their baseless claims of election fraud,” the city’s lawyers wrote.
The Wayne County canvassing board initially deadlocked 2–2 when it met on Nov. 17. The board’s two Republican members wrote in the affidavits filed by Trump’s campaign in court on Thursday that they had concerns about unexplained discrepancies between the number of votes recorded as being cast and the number of ballots actually counted in Detroit precincts. They said they faced intense public pressure to change their votes, and ultimately agreed to certify the results based on guidance from a county lawyer that they couldn’t deny certification based on the discrepancies issue, and on the promise that there would be an independent audit.
The Detroit Free Press and the Associated Press reported that the two Republican board members, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, spoke with Trump by phone after the board meeting earlier this week.
“He was checking to make sure I was safe after seeing/hearing about the threats and doxxing,” Palmer told the Free Press.
The board members wrote that they were coming forward now because Benson indicated that she didn’t consider a resolution the county canvassing board passed asking for an audit to be binding. The Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday that Benson planned to do a “performance audit” of Wayne County along with a preplanned statewide postelection audit, but also said that those were “neither designed to address nor performed in response to false or mythical allegations of 'irregularities' that have no basis in fact."