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Trump's election challenges not aging well as legal team is ridiculed

Rudy Giuliani, who is heading President Donald Trump's

Rudy Giuliani, who is heading President Donald Trump's election legal team, with lawyer Sidney Powell on Thursday at the Republican National Committee headquarters. Credit: AP / Jacquelyn Martin

'Martini bars' to motion denied

Last week, Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis implied that her co-counsel, Rudy Giuliani, made a good impression with the federal judge overseeing Team Trump's lawsuit to discard millions of ballots in Pennsylvania.

"You media morons are all laughing at @RudyGiuliani," Ellis tweeted on Nov. 17, about Giuliani's courtroom interaction with U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann. "But he appears to have already established a great rapport with the judge, who is currently offering recommendations on martini bars for Team Trump in open court."

On Saturday night, the consensus on social media was that the tweet had not aged well.

Brann, a conservative judge who also has served as chairman of the Bradford County, Pennsylvania, Republican Committee, issued a blistering critique of the campaign’s defense in denying their motions. A president seeking to discard millions of ballots should have come "armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption," according to the 37-page opinion, released Saturday evening. One claim, "like Frankenstein’s Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together," Brann wrote.

The scathing opinion was enough to prompt Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. "...Will appeal!" President Donald Trump tweeted late Saturday. On Sunday, according to The Associated Press, Trump and other plaintiffs filed a "notice of appeal" with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pennsylvania counties have until Monday to certify the election results. Biden won the state by 81,813 votes, which has 20 electoral votes, according to The Associated Press.

Ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who headed Trump's 2016 transition team until Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner fired him, lambasted the president's lawyers. Speaking Sunday on ABC’s "This Week," Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said: "The conduct of the president's legal team has been a national embarrassment." For more, read a roundup of Sunday political news by Newsday's Rachelle Blidner.

She doesn't even go here

By Sunday evening, Ellis and Giuliani had signaled distance from a prominent Trump attorney: Sidney Powell, who frequently tweets QAnon conspiracy theories.

Speaking on the far-right channel Newsmax on Saturday evening, Powell made reference to the legal strategy in Georgia. "Georgia's probably going to be the first state I'm going to blow up, and Mr. Kemp [the governor] and the Secretary of State need to go with it" due to a "scam," she said, referencing an unsubstantiated voter fraud scheme. (A Newsmax article characterized the "blow up" remark as speaking "rhetorically.") She said of the defense she planned to file: "It will be biblical."

A statement from Ellis and Giuliani on Sunday evening read: "Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for President Trump in his personal capacity."

Treasury or State?

Biden is set to announce some of his Cabinet picks this week, beginning Tuesday. Incoming White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, teased the announcement on Sunday to "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos.

"You’re going to see the first of the president-elect’s cabinet appointments on Tuesday of this week," Klain said.

Stephanopoulos asked: Would the announcements be for secretary of state? Treasury? Or attorney general?

No teasers were given. "We want people to tune in, George," Klain replied.

Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the matter, reported Sunday night that Biden was expected to nominate Antony Blinken, a defender of global alliances and a longtime adviser, as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan, another close aide, as national security adviser. The New York Times confirmed the plan, citing sources, as did Politico and others.

Parades and Probes

Klain said the inauguration in January would be held in accordance with proper safety and health regulations surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. But he offered no specifics.

It’s "definitely going to have to change," Klain said. Proceedings will convene in a way "that honors the importance and symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in spread of the disease."

Klain also commented on whether a Biden Justice Department would conduct investigations into the Trump administration.

"Joe Biden is not going to tell the Justice Department who to investigate or who not to investigate," Klain said. "That's who we saw the past four years, the president tampering with the Justice Department, egging on investigations so on and so forth. He's going to pick an excellent attorney general, an independent Justice Department, and that department will make decisions independently, free of politics, free of political favor in either direction as to how to enforce the laws." (See a transcript.)

Janison: Keep an eye on who, what go out the door

Transitions set all kinds of goods and people in motion, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Where they go and what is left behind can be interesting.

Federal records present a key question. The president is unique for his sketchy "don't-put-it-in-writing" approach. No true record reportedly exists for five meetings he had with Vladimir Putin during the first two years of his term, as recalled in The New Yorker. He gets staffers to sign nondisclosure agreements. They use apps that erase text messages. He tears up documents after meetings and has tried to erase some of his Twitter postings.

Will federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention communications about the administration's inaction in containing the coronavirus pandemic be available — as they should — to Congress, future administrations and academics?

Were all the intelligence briefings that Trump didn't read or believe safely stored? Will he respect or follow any of the rules and laws involving presidential records and the National Archives? Disputes over the material props of his office would mark a fitting end to the Trump tenure.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Another Republican, Sen. Kevin Cramer of South Dakota, added his name to a small number of Senate Republicans who have said publicly the transition should move forward.

"It’s past time to start a transition," Cramer said on NBC’s "Meet the Press." He acknowledged it "should happen tomorrow morning because it didn’t happen last Monday morning."

But enough with the histrionics, Cramer said, calling Biden "a bit overdramatic" over concerns about distributing an eventual coronavirus vaccine.

As for Trump's legal challenges, Cramer said: "I think everyone ought to calm down a little bit. I don't see this as an attack on our democracy."

Cramer said Democrats "went through four years of trying to delegitimize him."

Cramer added, "Everyone ought to just relax and let it play out in the legal way. We'll be just fine."

No sharing

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, the government initiative to accelerate the development, production and distribution of coronavirus vaccines, said he has been unable to communicate with the incoming Biden administration. Speaking on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Slaoui said he had "been informed that I should not be saying anything that's confidential to anybody, including, you know, anybody that's not part of the administration, and therefore, I'll act according to what the legal requirements are."

In a separate appearance on "This Week," Slaoui also said he has had "no contact" with members of Biden’s team. "We are focused, frankly, on making sure that the vaccines are made available as quickly as possible and distributed as efficiently as possible, regardless of the political contexts that surround us." (See a transcript.)

He noted, "Of course, we would hope that transition happened quietly and smoothly, and we're here to serve the American people and the American population, and we'll do our best."

Slaoui, on NBC, said he would be willing to work with the Biden team, but he will likely move to his "private life" with the change in presidential administrations. (Watch the interview.)

Hogan not a hero to POTUS

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is a Republican who didn't support Trump's reelection bid. Instead, he wrote in Ronald Reagan’s name for president, according to The Washington Post. On Sunday, Hogan told CNN anchor Jake Tapper he was "embarrassed" more Republicans weren’t acknowledging Biden as the president-elect.

"And, frankly, I'm embarrassed that more people in the party aren't speaking up," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I just don't think there are a lot of profiles in courage, frankly," Hogan said. "Very few of us are willing to stand up." (Watch the interview.)

Trump later tweeted that Hogan was a "Republican In Name Only."

"This RINO will never make the grade. Hogan is just as bad as the flawed tests he paid big money for!"

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo and Keldy Ortiz. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Local and state officials are resisting efforts by Trump to not certify their election results, according to The Washington Post.
  • The Trump administration on Sunday formally exited the Open Skies treaty, according to the The Wall Street Journal. The 34-nation treaty allows countries to fly over one another’s territories to ensure they are not advancing militarily. Trump announced plans to withdraw from the treaty in May.
  • The New York Times reports growing divisions within the ranks of the Republican National Committee, where current chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is seeking reelection. Trump is backing her, a move that has "incited a behind-the-scenes proxy battle, dividing Republicans between those who believe the national party should not be a political subsidiary of the outgoing president and others happy for Mr. Trump to remain in control of it," The New York Times reported.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) on Sunday urged the incoming Biden administration to put an immediate focus on the Grumman plume and seek input from leaders on Long Island to fix the problem. Read the story from Newsday’s David M. Schwartz.

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