With legal efforts to overturn his loss in the U.S. presidential election flailing, President Donald Trump's campaign is trying to persuade Republican state legislators to intervene in battleground states won by Democratic rival Joe Biden.
The new strategy, confirmed by three people familiar with it, is being pursued even as Georgia completed a painstaking recount on Thursday that affirmed Biden's victory there, and as Trump's campaign said it was withdrawing a lawsuit challenging Biden's win in Michigan.
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A senior Trump campaign official told Reuters the plan was to cast enough doubt on the results in crucial states to persuade Republican legislators to step in and appoint their own slates of electors.
The Trump campaign has already asked a judge in Pennsylvania, where Biden won by 82,000 votes, to declare Trump the winner and said its Republican-controlled legislature should choose the state's 20 Electoral College voters.
While legal experts see Trump's last-gasp effort as unlikely to succeed, they say the strategy represents an unprecedented assault on the country's democratic institutions by a sitting president.
Republican legislative leaders from Michigan are scheduled to visit the White House on Friday at Trump's request, a source in Michigan said, adding the lawmakers planned to hear what the president had to say.
Biden has captured 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232 in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner of the election, well above the 270 needed for victory.
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In remarks on Thursday after a call with ten state governors, the president-elect called Trump's attempt to reverse the results "totally irresponsible."
"It sends a horrible message about who we are as a country," said Biden, although he expressed no concern that the gambit would succeed in preventing him from taking office on January 20.
Trump's campaign has filed at least nine lawsuits challenging the results since the November 3 election, with scant success so far. Judges in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania separately dealt Trump more courtroom setbacks on Thursday, rejecting claims of vote-counting improprieties.
Several prominent law firms have pulled out of the campaign's legal challenges, leaving Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to spearhead the efforts.
Giuliani alleges conspiracy
At a news conference on Thursday, Giuliani said he planned to file more lawsuits and that Democrats had engaged in a "national conspiracy" to manipulate vote totals, although he admitted he did not have any evidence. He did not answer a question about trying to sway state lawmakers.
Other members of the legal team floated a theory involving Venezuela and George Soros, a bogeyman of conservatives, although they said they would probably not pursue it in court.
Giuliani said accounts of suspicious activity would ultimately overturn the election, which Biden won nationwide by 5.9 million votes. Some of those accounts have already been thrown out of court.
"We cannot allow these crooks - because that's what they are - to steal this election. They elected Donald Trump. They didn't elect Joe Biden," Giuliani said.
Giuliani's agitated performance, featuring rivulets of hair dye running down his face, was widely mocked by Democrats. Others expressed alarm.
"That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history," tweeted Christopher Krebs, who headed up the U.S. government's efforts to combat election disinformation until he was fired by Trump earlier this week.
Critics say Trump's refusal to concede has serious implications for national security and the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 250,000 Americans.
Biden is not receiving the classified intelligence briefings due a president-elect. He warned the delay could cause additional deaths as the pandemic surges to record levels across the country.
"There is no excuse not to share the data and let us begin to plan, because on Day One it's going to take us time, if we don't have access to all this data," he said in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. "It's going to put us behind the eight ball by a matter of a month or more, and that's lives."
The former vice president has focused on preparing his incoming administration, naming senior staff members and getting briefed by his advisers. He said on Thursday he had selected a Treasury secretary and could announce his pick as soon as next week.
Part of the new Trump campaign effort involves trying to delay certification, the normally routine process by which election results are finalized, the senior campaign official said.
In Detroit on Tuesday, Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refused at first to certify the results, then reversed themselves, then signed affidavits that they wanted to rescind their certification.
One of the members told Reuters that Trump called her after she agreed to certify the results.
State and federal election officials agree with outside experts that there is no evidence for Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud.
In the court of public opinion, however, the allegations appear to be having their intended effect. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday found about half of Republicans believed Trump "rightfully won" the election.
Lawyer David Boies, who aided Democratic nominee Al Gore's legal efforts after the 2000 election, said Trump's efforts to "stir up" his political base would not change the ultimate outcome.
"From a legal standpoint, this election is over," Boies told CNBC on Thursday.