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Trump's legal absurdities force more Republicans to speak out

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) tells CNN's Dana Bash that the voters of Michigan have spoken and that elected officials need to get back to governing.

Posted: Nov 23, 2020 1:21 PM
Updated: Nov 23, 2020 1:21 PM

President Donald Trump's increasingly inane legal claims and constitutional arson are prompting a growing number of high-profile Republicans and informal advisers that it's time for him to end his attempt to overturn his election loss.

The President, ruining time-honored traditions of a peaceful transfer of power, is firing off long-shot court challenges and heaping pressure on state election officials. His aides are stoking a political storm apparently designed to destroy Joe Biden's presidency before it starts and to shield Trump from the historic humiliation that comes with losing an election after only a single term.

Most congressional GOP leaders are still silent. But the spectacle has some senior Republicans ready to call time. "It's over," GOP Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan said on CNN's "Inside Politics" Sunday. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a frequent Trump critic, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump's behavior was akin to that seen in a "banana republic." And even Trump's friend, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaking on ABC News' "This Week," branded Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his cohorts a "national embarrassment."

One of the President's friends and outside advisers, Steve Schwarzman, an investor and philanthropist, said Monday he is now looking ahead to a Biden administration.

"The outcome is very certain today and the country should move on," Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group, said in a statement provided to CNN. "I supported President Trump and the strong economic path he built. Like many in the business community, I am ready to help President-elect Biden and his team as they confront the significant challenges of rebuilding our post-COVID economy."

RELATED: CNN's live results from the presidential election

A critical point, however, may be nearing in the confrontation between the administration and the President-elect's team over Trump's refusal to initiate a transition, with vote certifications due Monday in Michigan and in most counties in Pennsylvania.

If local officials move ahead despite the interference of a White House flinging baseless claims of mass fraud, they will effectively confirm yet again Biden's capture of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Trump's position will therefore become less tenable even if he refuses to back away from false claims that he won on November 3.

But Republican officials in Michigan especially are trying to delay certification by creating partisan deadlock on the state canvassing board, which could lead to an even more serious constitutional showdown in the key swing state.

Trump's attempts to throw out millions of lawfully cast ballots in order to win a second term by malfeasance are unfolding as the official leading the Covid-19 vaccine effort warned on CNN Sunday that a proper transition would be preferable, given the vital task of swiftly inoculating tens of millions of Americans.

"Of course, smoothness is what we all aim for, and, therefore, it would be better," vaccine czar Moncef Slaoui said on "State of the Union." Slaoui also delivered encouraging news that the US could reach a sufficient level of immunity through vaccinations by May, offering hope of a return to normal life even as raging infections and rising death tolls herald the pandemic's darkest months and fears rise that Thanksgiving travel will make an awful explosion in cases even more dire.

But as Biden, who's having to raise his own money to prepare his government since Trump is holding back millions in federal funds, moves ahead with naming several key cabinet members this week, his team warned that the stalled transition could have serious consequences.

"What we're looking for is access to real-time information about what's being worked on with vaccine distribution and with vaccine development and all the plans for that moving forward," Jen Psaki, senior adviser for the transition team, told CNN's Jake Tapper.

The President-elect is poised to nominate Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of state, people familiar with the matter told CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica Sunday, elevating a longtime foreign policy adviser as Biden makes his first round of Cabinet announcements Tuesday.

Trump's legal team turns on itself

The President and his self-declared "elite strike force" legal team are more interested in amplifying their baseless claims of electoral fraud than working in the interest of all Americans to ease Biden's assumption of power, however. The campaign's legal gambit was dealt a death blow on Saturday when a federal judge witheringly accused them of failing to provide evidence to support an audacious request to invalidate millions of votes in Pennsylvania.

"This Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence," Judge Matthew Brann wrote in a judgment released on Saturday.

Giuliani on Sunday lodged an ultra long-shot appeal to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in an approach increasingly disconnected from reality. His team is asking judges to effectively disenfranchise millions of Americans without offering admissible evidence of fraud.

Lawyer Sidney Powell is also pushing an absurd theory that the Republican pro-Trump governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, and other GOP officials are involved in a conspiracy with the CIA, China, Cuba, long-dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and Democrats to fix voting machines to deprive Trump of victory. Sunday evening, Giuliani and another Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis sought to distance themselves from Powell, saying she was not a member of the team even though both appeared with her in an unhinged news conference in Washington last week and Trump previously said she was on the team. In her own statement later Sunday night, Powell said she agreed she was not part of the campaign's legal team, but added that "we" are preparing to file an "epic" lawsuit this week.

In the hall of mirrors in which Trump's legal team operates, a stinging rebuke from a judge is simply interpreted as validation for a legal strategy steeped in conspiracy theories, lies and paranoia. Giuliani greeted the humiliating put-down by Brann not as confirmation of a laughable case but as a decision that "turns out to help us in our strategy to get expeditiously to the U.S. Supreme Court."

The outlandish nature of such claims is forcing some high-profile Republicans to say enough is enough for Trump's destructive, democracy-tainting behavior.

Hours after Trump's legal defeat Saturday, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is shielded from being primaried by Trump supporters since he is not running for another term in 2022, said the decision by Brann, "a longtime conservative Republican," meant the President's legal options had been exhausted and he congratulated "President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris."

Christie, who helped the President prepare for this year's debates, said that for all the bizarre claims that Giuliani's team makes in court, they do not produce evidence of fraud when they come before a judge.

"I have been a supporter of the President's. I voted for him twice, but elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn't happen," Christie, an ABC contributor, said.

Upton, the Michigan congressman, told CNN's Dana Bash that "the voters have spoken. I mean, here in Michigan, it was a 154,000 vote margin by President-elect Biden, and no one has come up with any evidence of fraud or abuse. ... It's not a razor thin margin."

He pointed to Saturday's statement from third-ranking House Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who said Trump should respect "the sanctity of our electoral process" if he can't prove his claims in court.

Hogan, a frequent Trump critic, said on "State of the Union" that "it's time for them to stop the nonsense. It just gets more bizarre every single day. And, frankly, I'm embarrassed that more people in the party aren't speaking up." The Maryland governor's comments earned a tweeted rebuke from the President.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Trump ally, did not openly break with the President, but did say a transition ought to begin. And on "Fox News Sunday," former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said that while he hoped Trump, whom he has staunchly supported, would eventually prevail, the White House should "loosen up that money" Biden needs to run his transition in order to assure the continuity of government.

Michigan moves

Michigan, a battleground that went for Trump in 2016 but where Biden won by more than 150,000 votes this year, will be in the spotlight again on Monday with a key Republican on the state's canvassing board expected to vote against certifying the election.

GOP Rep. Paul Mitchell of Michigan has said that one of the two Republican members on the board, Norman Shinkle, will vote against certification until an investigation is completed, CNN's Tapper and Annie Grayer reported. Despite producing affidavits alleging irregularities in the Wolverine State, the Trump campaign hasn't produced evidence that has stood up in court. The chances of the election being certified on Monday now depend on the vote of the other GOP member of the canvassing board, Aaron Van Langevelde. A failure to certify the election could leave the dispute in the hands of Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or the state's Supreme Court.

Trump and his aides have placed considerable pressure on local politicians in Michigan to thwart Biden's victory. The President summoned two members of the state legislature's Republican leadership to the White House on Friday. But they emerged to say that they have been made aware of no information that would change the outcome of the election.

In Pennsylvania, where Biden's margin is more than 81,000 votes, most of the county Boards of Elections are expected to meet on Monday to certify their election results. Philadelphia is expected to meet Monday or Tuesday depending on a pending lawsuit filed in state court attempting to delay certification. Counties send results to Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who will award the state's 20 electoral votes to the winner.

The cascading certification deadlines and continued reversals in court mean that Trump's already thin hopes of overturning the election results are becoming more miniscule by the day.

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