Donald Trump’s last-ditch barrage of election lawsuits, which he touted again in a falsehood-laden national address Thursday, are “baseless” and “absurd,” amounting to little more than a hopeless effort to confuse voters about a contest he has already lost.
Or at least that’s what veteran GOP lawyers, none of whom were Trump supporters but who have served Republican presidents or helped candidates prevail in litigation against an overmatched Democratic Party over the years, told The Daily Beast.
Trump’s campaign spent Thursday battling to overrule COVID-19 restrictions that kept its official observers from getting nearer than 25 feet to ballot-tallyers in Philadelphia, a key city whose votes seemed like they might deal a death blow to his candidacy. He even secured an order that briefly paused the count as city officials weighed whether and how to adapt their operations in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. But the count proceeded after the city appealed the move, and a federal judge declined to get involved Thursday evening.
Meanwhile, a judge in Michigan tossed a similar lawsuit regarding official “challengers” at the counting stations, while a court in Georgia dismissed odd allegations involving 53 ballots in the heavily Democratic city of Savannah.
Attorneys for the president’s re-election bid also filed a suit in a Nevada federal court attempting to block “illegal votes.” At a press conference, Trump proxies regaled reporters with stories of people who had allegedly received more than a dozen postal ballots at their homes, of voting corpses, and of living people who supposedly relocated from the Silver State but still mailed in ballots.
But the remarks were misleading, according to one longtime lawyer for Nevada Republicans.
“Ninety-nine percent of claims about voting fraud are total B.S. and noise,” said Las Vegas-based attorney Daniel Stewart, who served as counsel to GOP ex-Gov. Brian Sandoval and Republican former leaders of the Nevada state Legislature.
Stewart explained that most of the anecdotes cited were from the primary in June, when local officials in Clark County mailed ballots to both active and inactive voters—leading to pileups at addresses where multiple people had registered over the years. But Stewart noted that, if the sort of mass fraud the GOP alleged had occurred, the state would have witnessed a massive uptick in participation by inactive voters.
That never occurred.
Stewart told The Daily Beast he had changed his personal registration from GOP to unaffiliated in August in response to what he described as Trump’s ”constant attacks on the integrity of elections,” though his firm continues to work for Republican candidates and interests.
He acknowledged that many people left Nevada this year after the pandemic shuttered the entertainment industry. But he asserted that to prove fraud, Trump’s team would have to show that those people had formally changed their residency by doing something like registering to vote in another state. Similarly, with dead voters, the campaign would have to prove that the people passed away prior to casting their ballot.
He further noted that the campaign’s touted number of 10,000 cases conveniently resembled former Vice President Joe Biden’s edge in the state at the time the suit was filed. The Democrat’s advantage has since swelled even further.
"I think it's incredibly unlikely that there's any evidence of substantial numbers, or any numbers, that would change the race,” he told The Daily Beast.
That fundamental question of evidence—and specifically evidence on the scale that would invalidate tens of thousands of votes across multiple states, or halt a count trending in Biden’s favor—recurred in all The Daily Beast’s conversations with veteran GOP attorneys.
"Give me the kind of cause that a policeman can act on: actual reason to think something is wrong,” said Stuart Gerson, a veteran of late President George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign and Department of Justice who briefly served as acting attorney general under President Bill Clinton. "While Trump's lawyers are screaming fraud, they're not providing any evidence of fraud.”
Another anti-Trump conservative, Gerson is attached to an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court in favor of allowing Pennsylvania to count ballots postmarked on Election Day. In an interview with The Daily Beast, he argued that the campaign’s efforts to get its inspectors nearer the counters of on-time votes were merely a ploy to bind up the process and force it past the legal deadline on Friday, thus preventing large numbers of ballots from going toward the totals.
"The request is absurd,” said Gerson. "They're trying to prevent the counting of legitimately cast ballots, that the voters cast under the terms of the law as it was enunciated to them.”
Gerson further noted that the reason the count has extended so far past Election Day is the fault of the Keystone State’s legislature, which members of his party dominate, and which refused to pass legislation allowing mail-in ballots to be opened prior to Tuesday morning.
Charles Fried, former President Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general, was slightly more generous to the campaign’s calls to get its observers closer to the counting process. He granted that such reasoning was “plausible,” since historically campaign operatives have been allowed to oversee vote tallies.
What was implausible, he argued, was that it would make any difference.
Trump is already irrecoverably behind in the results from Michigan—the other state where he has fought in court to get his overseers nearer vote-notching workers—and his small lead in Pennsylvania was almost certain to vanish as deep-blue Philadelphia and other “collar” counties in the suburbs tallied votes that arrived by Election Night. (Those received since have been the subject of litigation that has already been passed on by the U.S. Supreme Court, though they could be subject to further litigation. In the meantime, they are not included in the official sum.)
"This is garbage,” Fried said. "None of that is going to change the outcome if they prevail.”
The lawsuits are merely an exercise in public relations, Fried maintained: an effort by Trump to deny and delegitimize his failure to secure a second term. According to the Harvard law school professor, the current situation is simply a continuation of a lifelong pattern of lying and frivolous litigation from Trump, who as a private citizen brought or threatened lawsuits against figures ranging from Merv Griffin to Rosie O’Donnell to hip-hop artist Mac Miller to his own ex-wife.
“The strategy is to kick up as much dust, to raise as much smoke, in order to be able to claim the election was stolen,” said Fried. “He's the kind of guy who kicks his golf ball out of the rough and pretends that's where it landed. That's what he's doing here.” Sure enough, Trump insiders previously told The Daily Beast the president’s approach to election litigation was basically to make life miserable for Democrats.
In his speech Thursday night, Trump showed no signs of giving up his legal fantasy.
“Ultimately,” he said, “I have a feeling judges are going to have to rule.”