President Donald Trump’s campaign has dramatically scaled back its federal lawsuit challenging the election results in Pennsylvania, dropping legal claims stemming from observers who assert they were blocked from viewing vote-counting in counties dominated by Democrats.
The retrenched version of the suit filed late Sunday morning with a federal court in Williamsport, Pa., withdrew the request for relief over the poll-watching allegations and now focuses solely on varying practices by county officials for handling mail-in ballots that lacked an internal secrecy envelope or otherwise ran afoul of the state’s election rules.
The Trump campaign argues that Trump’s constitutional rights were violated because some counties made efforts to contact voters who botched their mail-in ballots, while other counties made no such outreach.
The legal move appears to narrow the number of votes at stake in the federal suit to a few thousand or less. Officials in one suburban Philadelphia county, Montgomery, said at a court hearing earlier this month that they believe about 93 ballots were “cured.”
With President-elect Joe Biden nearly 69,000 votes ahead of Trump in the Keystone State, the number of cured ballots seems likely to be too small to matter. However, the revised version of the Trump campaign’s federal court suit continues to ask for a court order barring Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar from certifying the statewide election results for president.
The Trump campaign is continuing to press its legal claims about the poll-watching issues in state court. Trump had some success on that front, winning an order in Pennsylvania that allowed some observers to get closer to the ballots as they were being counted. The city of Philadelphia has appealed that order to the state Supreme Court.
U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann has set oral arguments on the federal case for Tuesday and an evidentiary hearing for Thursday, but lawyers for the state said in a court filing Saturday afternoon that the narrowing of the suit leaves the case so flimsy that those court sessions don’t seem necessary.
“The extant state law issues still should be resolved by Pennsylvania state courts,” lawyers from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis argued on behalf of Boockvar. “Although the Secretary does not believe that oral argument is necessary to dispense with Plaintiff’s allegations and claims, counsel for the Secretary will appear and be prepared for argument as scheduled for Tuesday … if the Court still intends to hear argument.”
The move came on the same day Trump sent a tweet that seemed to concede his defeat, before taking it back a little more than an hour later.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told “Fox News Sunday“ that Trump was being “sarcastic” when he initially said of Biden: “He won because the Election was Rigged.” In a tweet Sunday night, Giuliani insisted the campaign wasn’t dropping the issue about observers and he noted that some language about the exclusions remains in the complaint. But the suit no longer asks the judge to do anything in particular to rectify that alleged wrong.
Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh emphasized that Trump’s lawyers aren’t abandoning their complaints about a lack of access to the counting process.
“We are still making the strong argument that 682,479 ballots were counted in secret. Our poll watchers were denied the legal right to meaningful access to vote counting and we still have that claim in our complaint,” Murtaugh said in statement. “We reserved our rights to make that argument.”
But Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias said on Twitter that it was clear Trump’s legal team retreated. “There is no doubt the Trump lawsuit in PA suffered shrinkage today,” Elias wrote.
While Trump’s flurry of litigation over the election has made little headway, the president insisted Sunday that more lawsuits are about to be unveiled and he suggested they’d be more spectacular than those already before judges.