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It goes from bad to worse for the Trump legal team

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/14/2020 Aaron Blake
a close up of a helmet: Supporters of President Trump look on in front of the White House on Friday. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images) © Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images Supporters of President Trump look on in front of the White House on Friday. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

A couple days ago, I wrote about how President Trump’s legal team was having a tough time in court. Faced with proving or otherwise substantiating Trump’s baseless claims of massive voter fraud, they’ve often confronted the limits of their evidence and watered down Trump’s claims. And they’ve been shut down and even explicitly rebuked on many occasions.

It’s only gotten worse since then.

Over the past two days, two prominent law firms have sought to withdraw from representing the Trump legal effort in Arizona and Pennsylvania. And Friday, the campaign was forced to reverse course in an Arizona case, acknowledging that the lawsuit, even if successful, wouldn’t overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in the state.

Those high-profile developments come as more of Trump’s arguments fizzle in court.

In Arizona on Thursday, Trump attorney Kory Langhofer conceded that he was “not alleging fraud” or “that anyone is stealing the election” — in direct contradiction with Trump’s repeated public claims that this was indeed what has happened in multiple states. Langhofer said the Trump legal team was simply raising concerns about a “limited number of cases” involving “good-faith errors.”

It was not the first time that Trump’s attorneys have declined to allege fraud in the same way Trump personally has, with the same thing happening earlier this week in Pennsylvania.

Similarly, witnesses for the Trump side in the Arizona case acknowledged something else that previous cases have revealed — that they weren’t even sure the irregularities being alleged were true.

The Trump campaign’s lawsuit alleged that poll workers nullified votes by pressing or having voters press a button after the voting machine recorded more than one vote in the presidential race. This was the baseless alleged scandal dubbed “Sharpiegate.”

As reported by Law and Crime’s Adam Klasfeld (who has done yeoman’s work on these cases), Trump’s attorneys tried to object to their witnesses being cross-examined, and it turned out they did so for good reason:

The Trump campaign’s parade of witnesses hardly bolstered their case.
When pressed by the Arizona Democratic Party’s counsel Daniel Arellano, each of the witnesses in turn conceded they did not know whether their vote was counted.
“Do you have any basis to believe your vote wasn’t counted?” Arellano asked voter Mia Barcello.
“Uh, I’m not sure,” Barcello replied with a laugh.
When pressed about it further, Barcello replied: “No.”
Ms. Barcello had plenty of company, with another witness responding “I couldn’t say” to the same inquiry, and another replying “That’s correct” when asked if he did not know one way or another whether his vote was counted, a matter that could have been quickly settled by consulting the public record.
Not even the Trump campaign’s Arizona State Election Day operations director Gina Swoboda believed otherwise — and admitted as much under oath.
“I don’t know whether they were counted or not,” Swoboda said, adding that she could speak to voters’ “beliefs” but otherwise had “no way of knowing” whether or not that was true.
Testimony by the Trump campaign’s expert witness took a turn to the absurd when Zack Alcyone, whose business bio boasts of his experience in “ballot access calculations,” conceded that he is the business partner of Langhofer, the lawyer who argued the president’s case all day.

The scene echoed one in Chatham County, Ga., last week, in which a pair of Trump campaign witnesses acknowledged that they didn’t actually know whether 53 ballots received after Election Day had been predated, as had been alleged. Witnesses for the local board of elections testified under oath that they had indeed been received on time.

An attorney for the Arizona Democratic Party, Sarah Gonski, responded to the spectacle by saying, “Your Honor, it’s not exactly clear what they’re asking for, because it’s been a moving target.”

That target moved again Friday. The Trump campaign filed a motion acknowledging that its effort to challenge about 200 ballots in Maricopa County was now moot, given that Biden’s margin in the state was more than 11,000 votes. The number of remaining votes and contested votes in the case is now insufficient to change the result, even if all of them were to go for Trump. That doesn’t mean the Trump campaign will give up on Arizona, but given that this was an early legal battleground, it reinforces that it’s running out of options.

And that goes double with its legal representation. Political pressure has been applied to large law firms representing Trump, with critics alleging they were taking part in undermining democracy, given the lack of substance behind Trump’s claims. On Wednesday, the largest of those firms, Snell & Wilmer, withdrew from litigation in Arizona. And Friday, Trump’s lead law firm in Pennsylvania, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, sought to abruptly withdraw from a lawsuit filed days earlier.

It’s not clear why the law firms have sought to withdraw from the cases, nor should we expect them to elaborate, given that such firms will never acknowledge publicly that they didn’t believe in the claims of their clients or submitted to public pressure. But the withdrawals are difficult to separate from how the cases have been going — especially given the pressure that has been brought to bear in light of Trump’s baseless claims. They also suggest it will be difficult to retain top-tier lawyers to continue to push Trump’s case, which is a real problem given the breadth of election results that would need to be overturned.

(Republicans including former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove have said that the margin is simply too great without evidence of massive voter fraud, which the Trump campaign has yet to produce and which has never been produced on such a scale as is required.)

Adding insult to injury Friday, a judge in Michigan rejected the Trump campaign’s effort to delay the certification of votes in Detroit, saying that allegations of misconduct were “not credible” and that granting the request “would undermine faith in the Electoral System."

The ruling came as Trump continues to trail Biden by well over two percentage points in Michigan, and the fact that it has pressed its case there is a clear reflection of the desperate nature of his legal team’s effort. About 150,000 votes would need to be overturned, which would be, again, unprecedented.

That desperation seems to be registering in plenty of other ways. The question is increasingly how long the Trump campaign, which has conveniently used its legal effort to retire debt and raise money for Trump’s other political efforts, can keep the charade going.


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