Trump campaign drops Michigan ballot lawsuit — president called GOP county election officials

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Wayne County Board of Canvassers Chair Monica Palmer, left, talks with Vice Chair Jonathan Kinloch before the board’s Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 meeting in Detroit.
Robin Buckson | Detroit News | AP

President Donald Trump‘s reelection campaign on Thursday dropped an election-related lawsuit in Michigan, the latest development in the multi-state effort to challenge President-elect Joe Biden‘s projected electoral victory.

In a court filing, a lawyer for the Trump campaign said the lawsuit, which had sought to stop the certification of ballots in Wayne County, Michigan, was being withdrawn because the county’s board of canvassers “met and declined to certify the results of the presidential election.”

But that statement is false: The board voted to certify the results, after an outcry over Republican members who initially voted not to certify.

Those two GOP members now say they want to rescind their votes. But state officials say that is not possible, and that the certification is official.

In a statement from the Trump campaign, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “This morning we are withdrawing our lawsuit in Michigan.”

Giuliani said the withdrawal came “as a direct result of achieving the relief we sought: to stop the election in Wayne County from being prematurely certified before residents can be assured that every legal vote has been counted and every illegal vote has not been counted.”

But David Fink, a lawyer for the city of Detroit in the lawsuit, told CNBC, “They can put whatever spin they want on it. They dismissed the case because they were going to lose.”

“The so-called rescission of those votes has absolutely no legal significance,” Fink said. “The canvassing board made its decision and the votes will now be reviewed by the state canvassing board.”

The Trump campaign’s federal lawsuit had attempted to stop Wayne County, which contains the city of Detroit, from certifying its election results until swaths of ballots were cut from the final tally. Those would include “unlawfully cast ballots” and certain mail-in ballots received after Election Day, as well as votes tabulated solely using the Dominion software program.

Wayne County is the most populous area in Michigan, and voted overwhelmingly for Biden over Trump — 68% to 31%, respectively.

Michigan is one of several battleground states that Trump narrowly won in 2016 — giving him his victory in the Electoral College over Hillary Clinton — and which Biden won this year. Ballot tallies in the Wolverine State show Biden leading Trump by more than 150,000 votes.

The county’s board of canvassers has become a major focus ahead of the national certification of election results next month. Two Republican members of the board initially refused to certify Wayne County’s vote, before reversing themselves earlier this week following widespread criticism.

Shortly thereafter, both members reversed their positions again. As of Wednesday, the canvassers were calling to rescind their votes to certify, and signed affidavits that were included in the Trump campaign’s notice of withdrawal Thursday.

Media outlets reported that the canvassers had been contacted by Trump directly on Tuesday evening.

One of them, Monica Palmer, told NBC News that she and Trump did not discuss her decision to rescind her vote “or anything like that.”

“My conversation with the President was about threats coming from the public and my safety — not about rescinding my vote,” Palmer told NBC.

The other GOP canvasser, William Hartman, in his affidavit wrote that he was “enticed to agree to certify based on the promise that a full and independent audit would take place.”

“I would not have agreed to the certification but for the promise of an audit,” Hartman wrote.

Palmer wrote in her own affidavit, “I fully believe the Wayne County vote should not be certified.”

A spokeswoman for Michigan’s secretary of state Jocelyn Benson, however, said the fight is over.

“There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote. Their job is done and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify,” press secretary Aneta Kiersnowski told NBC News.

A similar federal lawsuit challenging the vote counting in Wayne County, which was filed by two women, Angelic Johnson and Sarah Stoddard, was voluntarily dismissed by those plaintiffs on Thursday, according to court records.

Ian Northon, a lawyer for Johnson and Stoddard, told CNBC that “we voluntarily dismissed because there was similar action filed by the Trump campaign, making similar accusations, in the same court, with the same judge.”

“As a practical matter … we have limited sources. We pulled that case to focus on a different” lawsuit, which Northon said he expects to file soon.

When told that the Trump campaign had dismissed its own lawsuit on Thursday, Northon said, “That’s news to me.”

Fink, the lawyer for the city of Detroit, said, “It is not surprising that all of these case are being voluntarily dismissed. Every time one of their cases has gotten to a judge, their baseless conspiracy theories have been rejected.”

Fink added, “With the margin of over 150,000 votes in Michigan they still have not documented a single vote that was fraudulently cast.”

This is developing news. Please check back for updates.

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