US election: Trump’s claims of voter fraud condemned by 1,000 ex-judges, lawyers in open letter
- The letter included signatures by former Democratic and Republican administration officials
- Trump has yet to concede, and the White House has also blocked most resources for President-elect Biden’s team, potentially preventing a smooth transition
A group of 1,000 lawyers, including retired federal and state judges, state attorneys general and law professors criticised the Trump administration over baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
“Every candidate has a right to ensure that an election is conducted lawfully. However, court challenges, if any, must be based on facts, on evidence,” stated the letter, which asked public officials to stop making false claims of systemic fraud that President Donald Trump has claimed “stole” the election from him.
“The President of the United States has directed the filing of court cases seeking to stop ballots from being counted on the ground that there has been widespread ballot fraud. His sons have sharply criticised Republicans who are not backing their father’s claims.”
Republican lawmakers, including Senators Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have made statements backing Trump’s lawsuits and claims of fraud.
Trump has yet to concede to President-elect Joe Biden and has, instead, sought to challenge the results in key states he lost while making broad and unproven claims of massive fraud. The White House has also blocked most resources for Biden’s team, potentially jeopardising chances of a smooth transition to the new administration as the country faces record numbers of coronavirus cases.
In a statement, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said: “The President owes it to the 73 million people who voted for him to ensure that the election was fair and secure, and he also owes it to everyone who voted for Biden. Every American deserves the peace of mind that our elections are sound.”
Trump had 72,319,510 votes. More than 77 million Americans voted for Biden, winning the popular vote by about 5 million.
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The Trump campaign has filed a flurry of state and federal lawsuits in five states where Biden won to challenge election results, stop the counting of votes or block results from getting certified.
But legal experts said that the Trump campaign is highly unlikely to succeed in court. The president’s legal team would have to convince judges that widespread fraud exists and could change the outcome of the election, but they have provided scant evidence and such allegations of systemic problems have so far failed to hold up in court.
In Michigan, a federal lawsuit filed earlier this week relied heavily on dozens of anecdotes from affidavits from poll watchers to support the claim that something sinister had occurred. Although the witnesses claimed being denied access to the vote counting, intimidation, ballot-counting problems, glitches and backdating of ballots, the allegations do not show widespread voter fraud.
In Arizona, where the president’s campaign has alleged that “up to thousands” of ballots were improperly processed in Maricopa County, a lawyer for the campaign acknowledged during a hearing that it is not alleging fraud but is simply raising concerns about a limited number of “good faith errors”.
A lawyer for the campaign acknowledged in a Friday court filing that the allegations were moot, given Biden’s insurmountable numbers.
In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign has alleged that its poll observers were denied access to vote counts in Philadelphia. But during a recent hearing, a lawyer for the campaign acknowledged the opposite, saying there’s “a non-zero number” of observers present during ballot counting. The campaign also filed a lawsuit this week broadly attacking the state’s mail-in voting system, but legal experts said the case has little chance of succeeding.
The letter, which was signed by former Democratic and Republican administration officials, called out lawyers representing Trump, citing the American Bar Association code of conduct barring lawyers from misleading the court.
“While an apparently defeated candidate has the right to pursue challenges that are authorised by law, it is an abuse of the rule of law to file charges that lack an objective evidentiary basis, and it is a violation of lawyer ethics to represent a party that files such charges purely for political purposes,” said Stuart Gerson, a former Justice Department official under the presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and one of the letter’s signers.
Michael Frisch, the ethics counsel at Georgetown Law and former disciplinary prosecutor in Washington, DC, said the president is trying to sow doubt on the legitimacy of an election that he lost by creating a narrative “that’s very much like birtherism”.
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The letter also singled out Attorney General William Barr who, earlier this week, authorised federal prosecutors to pursue allegations of voting irregularities before election results have been certified.
The action, detailed in a carefully worded two-page memo, bucked decades of Justice Department policy that prohibited interventions that could influence election results and opened the department to claims of partisan interference that could delay the traditional post-election transfer of power.
The attorney general told prosecutors they could open inquiries “if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State”.
A Justice Department official previously said that Trump did not direct Barr to take action. But the timing of the memo drew nearly as much notice as its contents, with Trump’s legal team largely failing in their efforts to contest voting in several swing states.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush who signed the letter, said the president’s behaviour could be “very damaging” to the country.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic … It’s really too bad if Donald Trump can’t act decently,” Painter said, adding that Trump’s refusal to accept the results would make things much harder for the incoming administration.
Laurel Bellows, past president of the American Bar Association who also signed the letter, said the post-election events is reminiscent of McCarthyism, when Americans were blacklisted based on suspected ties to communism, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“These were two times in which fear governed our entire country and erased any resemblance of constitutional protection … Our rule of law is fragile unless we educate people,” Bellows said.