Trump carries on fight to overturn Pennsylvania's election even as his administration greenlights Biden transition

Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY

This news story has been updated with the certification announcement for Pennsylvania's 2020 election results.

President Donald Trump's campaign on Monday took its fight to block Pennsylvania from certifying its election results to a federal appeals court, even as his administration agreed to let government agencies prepare for the transition to Joe Biden's administration.

The long-shot legal motion before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit came two days after a federal judge issued a scathing ruling that dismissed the campaign's effort to block the state from certifying its results, which show that Biden won the state.

Trump's lawyers sought the delay to give them more time to find evidence of a fraudulent election system and improper ballot counting. District Court Judge Matthew Brann ruled on Saturday that they had failed to provide "compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption."

The federal appeals court had not issued a ruling as of 10 p.m. EST Monday. Opposing lawyers were scheduled to file their reply by Tuesday afternoon.

Similarly, a group of Pennsylvania Republicans and electors led by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly filed an emergency appeal in state Commonwealth Court on Sunday seeking to block the election certification.

Mail voting favored Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and in-person voting tended toward President Donald Trump.
Mail voting favored Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and in-person voting tended toward President Donald Trump.

Election results finalized as Biden prepares to take office

The legal complaints and Trump's claim of ultimate victory were overtaken by other developments Monday.

A state canvassing board in Michigan officially certified Biden as the winner there. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the state certified its results Tuesday.

Biden tapped former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as the first woman Secretary of the Treasury. And, more than two weeks after Biden was declared the victor, the U.S. General Services Administration said federal funding and assistance would begin flowing to prepare for him to take office.

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Nonetheless, Trump tweeted that "our case strongly continues ... and I believe we will prevail!"

Trump's lawyers press claim that Pennsylvania election was invalid

In asking the federal appeals court for a temporary restraining order, the Trump campaign said Pennsylvania officials as soon as Monday were expected to certify "results of an invalid and constitutionally infirm election process before this case can be heard on its merits."

"It would be unconscionable to allow Pennsylvania to certify electors for Biden and then have it turn out that Trump won the race," Trump's lawyers wrote. Biden won Pennsylvania by approximately 81,000 votes, according to the Associated Press.

Federal judge gutted Trump lawsuit: In scathing ruling, judge dismisses Trump campaign's effort to overturn election results in Pennsylvania

The Trump campaign's motion for a restraining order argued that Pennsylvania officials "should have the burden of proving the mail votes were legal."

Contending such evidence exists, the Trump campaign claimed Pennsylvania officials blocked "attempts to meaningfully observe and document their actions at almost every turn," including during the processing of mail ballots. However, Brann's ruling cited Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions that said the state's election code does not require the close inspection of mail ballots sought by the Trump campaign.

The campaign filed a separate motion asking the appeals court to reverse the portion of Brann's ruling that denied permission to file another revised complaint – the second abrupt shift in legal arguments in a case that is just two weeks old. Campaign attorneys asked the appeals court to send the case back to Brann for further proceedings.

Brann didn't allow the campaign to revise its legal claims again because it would "unduly delay" a resolution. The Trump campaign challenged that conclusion in Monday's filings.

Among the potential reasons the Trump campaign would try to get the revised complaint into court is that it sought a broader legal remedy.

That complaint asked to prevent all "unauthorized votes" from being included in the final tallies. But it also offered an alternative – declaring the state's election returns "defective" and "providing for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to choose Pennsylvania's electors" to the Electoral College that will officially name the nation's 46th president.

Such a procedure theoretically could strip Biden of Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes and hand them to Trump. But it would not change the outcome of the presidential race.

Trump's lawyers argued that Brann had mistakenly said the campaign sought to disenfranchise 6.8 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the election. Instead, the campaign said it seeks to disqualify defective ballots among the 1.5 million cast in seven counties with high Democratic Party enrollments.

A 'tortured' history in two-week-old case

Although Monday marked Pennsylvania's deadline under state law to certify its election results, the Trump campaign argued the true deadline is Dec. 8, the so-called Safe Harbor date. Congress has said it must accept electoral slates submitted by then. That leaves time for additional review of the legal issues without jeopardizing Pennsylvania's role, the campaign contended.

However, Brann made certain to file his decision in time for Monday's deadline.

In it, he wrote that the case developed a "tortured procedural history" that included a parade of lawyers for the campaign, shifting legal arguments, and an eleventh-hour motion to delay a hearing— even as the state's statutory certification deadline loomed.

The judge concluded that the campaign lacked legal standing to bring the case and criticized the lack of evidence from the Trump campaign's lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and federal prosecutor who is a personal attorney for Trump. Giuliani's arguments during a hearing in the case Tuesday marked his first appearance in federal court since 1992.

"One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption," Brann wrote. "Instead, this court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations ... unsupported by evidence.

"In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state," the judge wrote.

In the Pennsylvania state appeals court case, the group led by Kelly alleged this year's widespread use of mail voting, which followed a 2019 overhaul by state lawmakers, violates the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The group said they filed the lawsuit "not to subvert, but to maintain the existing status until the merits of the controversy can be fully heard and determined." If the state's certification were allowed to proceed, court authority to undo the process "becomes impossible," the group argued.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump appeals federal ruling tossing Pennsylvania election challenge