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Trump's last-chance power drive sends U.S. and GOP down a treacherous road

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, on

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, on Thursday at Republican National Committee headquarters. Credit: EPA / Jim Lo Scalzo

Subversion therapy?

The number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. has passed the grim quarter-million milestone, and President-elect Joe Biden faces the challenge of the pandemic as he prepares to take office.

Even so, President Donald Trump has little on his official schedule on the cusp of his final days. His sights remain on plotting a kind of partisan coup — a ride into unmapped terrain that, if nothing else, promises to provide personal therapy and fundraising opportunities for himself and his followers.

Trump has gone all in on the power of positive scheming in a bid to fix Electoral College results. The wrapping came fully off his plan Thursday when Trump began reaching out to Republican state legislators in Michigan, which Biden won in no small part on the strength of Black voters in Detroit.

Trump invited the lawmakers to meet with him Friday at the White House, GOP sources said. The president's lawyers dropped a lawsuit challenging results in Michigan. Trump contacted two Republicans on a key canvassing board; both canvassers have tried to rescind their certification of votes in Wayne County, which includes Detroit.

The idea is to get GOP individual electors loyal to Trump to cast their Electoral College ballots on Dec. 14 either to reelect Trump or pare Biden's margin, in defiance of the wishes of the majority of Michigan voters. Biden is on track for 306 electoral votes based on the latest tally. Trump in 2016 got the same number, which he called a "landslide."

To keep up the pretense on multiple fronts that the election has yet to be decided, yet another lawsuit was filed on Trump's behalf in Pennsylvania. The embarrassing sloppiness and errors of his scattershot legal effort have attracted professional notice. "The sloppiness just serves to underscore the lack of seriousness with which these claims are being brought," Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told The Associated Press.

For Trump, salvation via Michigan looks from all angles like a mirage. Biden has a 157,000-vote advantage there. Just this week, the state Senate's majority leader, a Republican, said the drive to have legislators throw out election results was "not going to happen." In Georgia, an audit of votes that effectively amounted to a full hand recount confirmed that Biden won the Peach State, according to results announced Thursday night by the office of the state's secretary of state.

Weirdest show on earth

Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani starred Thursday in a long and strange spectacle of a news conference where he escalated his already far-fetched claims of a massive voter-fraud plot against the president. The iconic photo had the once-acclaimed Republican ex-New York mayor sweating so profusely that hair dye ran down both sides of his face. He also saw fit to reference the movie "My Cousin Vinny."

But the real oddities came from what the ex-mayor alleged. Ever darker and deeper went the Trump team's tales of treachery. Giuliani claimed Biden had directed a "national conspiracy" to fix ballot counts in multiple states that supposedly involved officials in "big cities controlled by Democrats ... that have a long history of corruption." Giuliani also claimed that "there was a plan from a centralized place to execute these various acts of voter fraud." (In court testimony, however, he and other lawyers for the election challenge have clarified their cases are not about fraud. See an update on where the lawsuits stand.)

"I think the logical conclusion is this is a common plan, a common scheme," Giuliani said. "It comes right directly from the Democrat Party, and it comes from the candidate." To help toss in the kitchen sink, he was assisted by lawyers Jenna Ellis, Joseph diGenova and Sidney Powell.

Over the course of 90 minutes at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, the four lawyers spun hard-to-follow narratives that made connect-the-dots mentions of the Clinton Foundation, liberal philanthropist George Soros, communist-linked computers, truckloads of mystery ballots, death threats, supposed FBI cover-ups and even the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

'It sends a horrible message'

Biden on Thursday afternoon stepped up his criticism of Trump's refusal to cooperate in an orderly and peaceful transition of power. He said the incumbent's conduct would assure Trump's legacy as "one of the most irresponsible presidents in American history."

"It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks. I’m confident he knows he hasn’t won, and is not going to win," Biden told news media, when asked about the president’s meddling in Michigan. "And we’re going to be sworn in on Jan. 20," the president-elect said of himself and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who joined him at the news conference in Wilmington, Delaware.

"An incredibly damaging message is being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions," he said. "It sends a horrible message about who we are as a country." (Watch a video clip.)

Biden abiding as clock ticks

Earlier Thursday, Biden met virtually with governors from both parties and criticized Trump’s unheard-of stab at blocking the transition.

"Unfortunately, my administration hasn’t been able to get everything we need," the president-elect said during a video conference with the National Governors Association’s leadership team of five Republicans and four Democrats. Delaying information to incoming officials could cost lives, Biden warned.

Biden talked with them about prioritizing COVID-19 and a national vaccination plan. "We haven’t been able to get into Operation Warp Speed, but we will take what we learned today and build it into our plan," he told the members of NGA executive committee. The Republican governors on hand were Larry Hogan of Maryland, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Kay Ivey of Alabama, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Gary Herbert of Utah.

GSA wheels still jammed

In an irregular move, the General Services Administration, which is usually run apolitically, continues stalling on making transition arrangements as a result of Trump's intransigence. Former GSA chief David Barram said it’s "clear" that Biden should be officially recognized as winner of the election.

"To me, it's clear that we should be recognizing Joe Biden as the president-elect," Barram, who was the GSA administrator during the 2000 recount in Florida, rather uncontroversially told CNN. Barram, who served in the Clinton administration, said he spoke with GSA Administrator Emily Murphy before the election in a "very cordial conversation" in which she asked about his experience in 2000.

Biden said Thursday that his team hadn't ruled out going to court to compel the agency's ascertainment process.

Fauci on rumor patrol

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top official on infectious diseases, continues to find himself clarifying false and distorted accounts about the deadly pandemic; some claims he encounters happen to echo Trump's months of denials about its severity.

Fauci warned Thursday that it could be difficult convincing people who dismiss the coronavirus as "fake news" to get vaccinated next year as shots become available.

"They actually don’t think that this is a problem," Fauci said during a virtual conversation with The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute. "Despite a quarter-million deaths, despite more than 11 million infections, despite 150,000 new infections a day, they don’t believe it’s real. That is a real problem."

"By the time you get the FDA deeming that this is a safe and efficacious vaccine, you’ve had a independent and transparent process decide," Fauci said. "We’ve got to keep hammering that home because — for the group of people who are concerned about the process — the process is sound."

Top Pentagon official tests positive

The Pentagon is conducting contact tracing and coronavirus testing for those who met recently with a delegation that included retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who is serving as the undersecretary of defense for policy.

The Defense Department said Thursday that Tata, appointed by Trump last week in an overhaul of Pentagon civilian leadership, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating. Tata did not join acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller for a visit with service members and leaders at Fort Bragg and aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford on Wednesday. That was just days after Tata, Miller and the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force met in person with the Lithuanian defense minister, who has since tested positive.

Miller and the service secretaries tested negative and do not plan to self-quarantine, the Pentagon said.

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. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • New York State probes into Trump and his businesses are now reviewing tax deductions taken for consulting fees. Some payments appear to have gone to Ivanka Trump, The New York Times reports.
  • The Afghan government may be losing its grip as the Taliban gloats in preparation for Trump's hastened withdrawal of U.S. troops, The Wall Street Journal reports.
  • The Census Bureau says it will be unable to produce state population counts from the 2020 survey before Trump leaves Jan. 20, blocking the administration from excluding undocumented immigrants from apportionment numbers.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he does not plan to extend several key emergency-lending programs beyond the end of the year.
  • Lara Trump, daughter-in-law of the president, is considering a Senate run in North Carolina, Politico reports.
  • Talks on a coronavirus relief package may be resuming, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hinted.
  • Over 60% of American businesses in China are more optimistic about future operations after the presidential election, according to a business group's survey. One-third expected tensions between the two nations to continue.

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