Donald Trump, Facing Defeat, Asks Lawyers to 'Pull a Rabbit Out of a Hat'

The Trump Team's Last Glimmer of Hope

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks on election night in the East Room of the White House in the early morning hours of November 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The morning after one of the closest presidential elections in U..S. history, President Trump's campaign aides were flinging lawsuits at contested states and expressing their confidence with optimistic cliches. The White House and the campaign still insisted the president had a path to victory, despite trailing in the critical Midwest states of Michigan and Wisconsin. As one staffer not authorized to speak on the record told Newsweek, the campaign's multi-state legal strategy could enable them "to pull a rabbit out of a hat"—while acknowledging the effort was a "Hail Mary."

At midday, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner huddled in the campaign's Arlington, Va., headquarters with campaign manager Bill Stepien and other top officials, gaming out what comes next. The campaign filed suit in Michigan for an immediate stop to vote counting, alleging that Republican campaign monitors were not sufficiently represented in vote-counting sites.

"We also demand to review those ballots which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access," Stepien said.

The president's campaign leveraged similar allegations about a lack of access to ballot counting procedures in its petition to stop the vote-count in a reliably blue county in Nevada.

Trump operatives vowed to file a petition for a recount in Wisconsin, which is allowed under state law if the margin is less than one percent. The current margin separating Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is 0.6 per cent. Recounts rarely reverse presidential votes; Wisconsin conducted one after Trump's narrow victory in 2016 and it changed slightly more than 300 votes.

Late Wednesday the campaign dispatched a high-profile group led by Eric Trump and Rudy Giuliani to hold a press conference, warning Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Frank Wolf not to allow "magic ballots," as senior campaign advisor Jason Miller called them, to deprive the president of what the campaign declaratively calls a win in the state.
Even though a substantial number of mail-in votes were still not counted in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Democratic strongholds both, the president's campaign insists that votes not counted from Trump-friendly counties will give Trump the win.

"The margin won't be close," Stepien says. "We are declaring victory in Pennsylvania."

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling late last month allowed mail-in votes to be counted for three days after the election, without even requiring signatures on the ballots. The Trump campaign could argue, as the state GOP did earlier, that it is only the legislature, currently controlled by Republicans, who can change such laws. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the earlier case, saying there was not enough time before the election. Three conservative justices, however, said the court could hear the case after the election.

The campaign could urge the state GOP to petition the High Court again. And with Amy Coney Barrett now on the court, it's plausible a conservative majority could vote to decide the case on the merits. That, potentially, could invalidate mail-in votes counted after election day and would likely end the Biden campaign's hopes in the state.

"We are suing to stop Democratic election officials from hiding the ballot counting and processing from our Republican poll observers—observers whose only job is to make sure every valid ballot is counted, and counted one," says Justin Clark, the deputy campaign manager at Trump's reelection campaign.

"What to make of all this activity? First, the effort is to slow the vote in places where the Trump campaign is behind so that these states are not called for Biden," wrote Rick Hasen, an election law analyst and legal professor at the University of California-Irvine, in a blog post Wednesday afternoon. "On top of that, the hope is that these Hail Mary legal plays could lead to court intervention to throw out votes and help Trump capture one of these states."

Trump's senior campaign aides contend that along with winning Pennsylvania, Trump will eventually prevail in Arizona, which Fox News and the AP called for Biden Tuesday night. The Trump campaign insists that there are 605,000 votes outstanding in Arizona, and that the president needs only 57 percent of them to take the lead and win the state.
By Friday, Stepien says, it will be clear Trump has won Arizona and has held on in North Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania. That would give him the electoral votes needed to win re-election.

Is that scenario realistic? ''That's our story," says a campaign official who requested anonymity, ''and we're sticking to it."