PHILADELPHIA — As they frantically searched for ways to salvage President Donald Trump’s failed reelection bid, his campaign pursued a dizzying game of legal hopscotch across six states that centered on the biggest prize of all: Pennsylvania.
The strategy may have played well in front of television cameras and on talk radio to Trump’s supporters. But it has proved a disaster in court, where judges uniformly rejected their claims of vote fraud and found the campaign’s legal work amateurish.
In a scathing ruling late Saturday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann — a Republican and Federalist Society member in central Pennsylvania — compared the campaign’s legal arguments to “Frankenstein’s Monster,” concluding that Trump’s team offered only “speculative accusations,” not proof of rampant corruption.
The campaign on Sunday filed notice it would appeal the decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a day before the state’s 67 counties are set to certify their results and send them to state officials. And they asked Sunday night for an expedited hearing Wednesday as they seek to amend the Pennsylvania lawsuit that Brann dismissed.
Trump’s efforts in Pennsylvania show how far he is willing to push baseless theories of widespread voter fraud, even as the legal doors close on his attempts to have courts do what voters would not do on Election Day and deliver him a second term.
The effort is being led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who descended on the state the Saturday after the Nov. 3 election as the count dragged on and the president played golf. Summoning reporters to a scruffy, far-flung corner of Philadelphia on Nov. 7, he held forth at a site that would soon become legendary: Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
The 11:30 a.m. news conference was doomed from the start.
Only minutes earlier, news outlets had started calling the presidential contest for Democrat Joe Biden. The race was over.
Just heating up was Trump’s plan to subvert the election through litigation and howls of fraud — the same tactic he had used to stave off losses in the business world. And it would soon spread far beyond Pennsylvania.
“Some of the ballots looked suspicious,” Giuliani, 76, said of the vote count in Philadelphia as he stood behind a chain link fence, next to a sex shop. He maligned the city as being run by a “decrepit Democratic machine.”
“This is a very, very strong case,” he asserted.
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Not a single court has found merit in the core legal claims, but that did not stop Trump’s team from firing off nearly two dozen legal challenges to Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, including an early morning suit on Election Day filed by a once-imprisoned lawyer.
The president’s lawyers fought the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots to arrive. They complained they weren’t being let in to observe the vote count. They said Democratic counties unfairly let voters fix mistakes on their ballot envelopes. “I felt insidious fraud going on,” Philadelphia poll watcher Lisette Tarragano said when Giuliani called her to the microphone at the landscaping company.
In fact, a Republican runs the city’s election board. No judges ever found any evidence of election fraud in Pennsylvania or any other state where the campaign sued — not in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada or Georgia.
Instead, Trump lawyers found themselves backpedaling when pressed in court for admissible evidence, or dropping out when they were accused of helping derail the democratic process.
“I am asking you as a member of the bar of this court, are people representing the Donald J. Trump for president (campaign) … in that room?” U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond asked at an after-hours hearing on Nov. 5, when Republicans asked him to stop the vote count in Philadelphia over their alleged banishment.
“There’s a nonzero number of people in the room,” lawyer Jerome Marcus replied.
The count continued in Philadelphia. The Trump losses kept coming. By Friday, Nov. 6, when a state appeals court rejected a Republican complaint over provisional ballots and a Philadelphia judge refused to throw out 8,300 mail-in ballots they challenged, Biden was up by about 27,000 votes.
It was becoming clear that a Biden win in Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, was imminent.
When it came, Trump quickly pivoted to litigation. It did not go well.
A U.S. appeals court found Pennsylvania’s three-day extension for mail-in ballots laudatory, given the disruption and mail delays cause by the pandemic. Judges in Michigan and Arizona, finding no evidence of fraud, refused to block the certification of county vote tallies.
Law firms representing the campaign started to come under fire and withdrew.
That left Giuliani, who had not argued a case in court for three decades, in charge of the effort to overturn the election.
“You can say a lot at a driveway (news conference). … When you go to court, you can’t,” said lawyer Mark Aronchick, who represented election officials in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and elsewhere in several of the Pennsylvania suits.