Trump’s Latest Gambit

Trump summons Michigan Republicans to the White House to plan — but time is running out before states certify their results. It’s Friday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

President Trump has opened up new lines of contact with Republican state and local officials in Michigan as he seeks to invalidate the state’s results and subvert the national election.

With Inauguration Day exactly two months away, Trump plans to meet today at the White House with the Michigan Legislature’s Republican leadership. And he called at least one local Republican elections official this week amid the party’s challenge to the results in Detroit.

Michigan’s Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, and its speaker of the House, Lee Chatfield, both Republicans, are scheduled to visit Trump this afternoon, according to a person close to the situation. It’s unclear what exactly they plan to discuss.

Observers said that Trump appeared to be aiming at having Republican legislatures intervene and appoint pro-Trump electors in states Joe Biden won, throwing the Electoral College to the president when it meets on Dec. 14. But the effort to overturn the election results is all but certain to fail, and has been subject to defeat after defeat in the courts.

Both Shirkey and Chatfield have said that whichever candidate has the most votes after the results are certified will receive Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. And Shirkey said this week that Trump’s team was “not going to” succeed in persuading state lawmakers to overturn the election result.

The Trump campaign yesterday dropped the last of its federal lawsuits challenging the election results in Michigan, even as it signaled that it would seek to revive a Republican effort to invalidate the ballots coming from Detroit.

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers’ two Republican members, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, initially voted against certifying the results on Tuesday, citing small discrepancies in the vote count from certain precincts. Palmer suggested at one point that votes in suburban precincts could be certified while votes from Detroit, which is predominantly Black, would be declared invalid.

They dropped their opposition after a torrent of blowback from Democratic officials and citizens, and the Board of Canvassers approved Wayne County’s results later that day. But on Wednesday night, after Trump called Palmer, it emerged that she and Hartmann had signed affidavits stating that they had been intimidated into approving the results and wanted to rescind their votes.

Democratic state officials said the ship had sailed. “There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote,” said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office. “Their job is done and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify.”

But yesterday, as it withdrew a lawsuit in Michigan, the Trump campaign pointed to Palmer and Hartmann’s affidavits. The deadline in Michigan to certify results is Monday.

Trump has also asked aides what Republican officials he could call in other swing states as he tries to stop results from being certified in battlegrounds where Biden won, advisers said.

The Trump campaign suffered other legal setbacks yesterday, as judges rejected its arguments in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

In Arizona, Judge John Hannah refused to order a re-audit of Maricopa County’s ballots, citing a partial audit that found no irregularities. He also invited the state to ask the G.O.P. to pay the state’s legal fees, pointing to a state law that lets defendants pass their costs on to plaintiffs when a lawsuit is deemed baseless.

A Trump-appointed federal judge in Georgia rejected a lawsuit brought by a Republican supporter of the president, saying he had no grounds to sue and calling the relief he was seeking “quite striking.” The plaintiff had wanted to block the certification of election results based on his perception of fraud. (In other Georgia news, the secretary of state there announced last night that the state’s hand recount had not significantly altered Biden’s margin of victory.)

And in Pennsylvania, a county judge shot down the Trump campaign’s effort to invalidate more than 2,000 absentee ballots for technical reasons.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, said yesterday that the campaign would be announcing more lawsuits in Georgia, and possibly others in Arizona and New Mexico. He said he had evidence of a “centralized” plot of widespread fraud, but provided none.

In 2018, Scott Pruitt, the ally of the fossil fuel industry whom Trump tapped to run the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned amid a cloud of ethics investigations — including allegations of profligate spending and first-class trips on the public dime.

Now, as Trump’s time in office nears its close, Pruitt’s replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is under scrutiny as well. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who had previously served as Pruitt’s deputy, is planning to take two costly trips overseas in the weeks before his job runs out — one to Taiwan and another to four Latin American countries.

The taxpayer-funded Taiwan trip alone could cost roughly $300,000. That trip is part of an initiative “to collaborate on issues including the Save our Seas initiative and marine litter, air quality, and children’s health,” a spokesman for Wheeler said.

Photo of the day

Trump is set to meet at the White House today with two top Michigan Republicans.

Why Trump’s unprecedented attack on the election is unlikely to succeed.

Trump’s political career has been one long saga of expectations upended and norms busted. His all-out assault this month on the election’s results represents the boldest and most outlandish gambit yet.

As our reporter Jeremy W. Peters writes in an explainer for our Daily Distortions blog, it is also extremely unlikely to succeed.

Trump’s strategy centers on challenging the results in states and individual counties where he lost, and leaving them be in places that were more favorable to him. There are plenty of examples throughout United States history in which courts have tossed out election results on the local, state and federal levels because of irregularities.

But so far, vanishingly few of the Trump campaign’s claims about voting improprieties have been borne out.

And another thing that history tells us — and that election law experts told Jeremy — is that the legal bar is extremely high when it comes to invalidating the votes of American citizens. Even if they are proved, the irregularities have to be substantial enough to alter the outcome of a race.

“The prevailing view today is that courts should not invalidate election results because of problems unless it is shown that the problems were of such magnitude to negate the validity of which candidate prevailed,” Edward Foley, an elections law expert at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, said in an interview with Jeremy. This tends to be hard to demonstrate, he said, since it’s hard to show which candidate a disputed ballot was intended to be cast for.

On first blush, Biden’s relatively close margins in a number of key states — including Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona, where his lead is under one percentage point in each — might provide an opening for Trump’s team to challenge enough ballots that it could make the case that a result was invalid.

But even if it showed that a certain number of ballots were wrongly cast or counted, that number would probably have to be much higher than Biden’s margin of victory to prove that the election result could really have been changed.

That standard was met, apparently, in Clark County, Nev., where local officials voted this week to hold a do-over for one race for a county commission seat. Its margin? Exactly 10 votes.

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