Biden plans court move over transition

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020 00:00 |
US President Joe Biden. Photo/AFP

President elect Joe Biden’s transition team is said to be considering legal action on the transition agency that is yet to provide office space and federal funding, though other options are on the table, according to a Biden official speaking to Reuters.

Robert MacKichan, who was general counsel to the GSA during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration has been speaking to US public radio.

The Biden team is still waiting for the funding and space it needs to get to work on taking over the levers of power.

That depends on a federal agency - the General Services Administration (GSA) - led by Trump appointee Emily Murphy.

She will be the one to sign a letter allowing all this to happen, but for now she says there has been “no ascertainment” or, as a spokeswoman put it more clearly, she has not yet found that “a winner is clear”.

The revelation comes on the day President Donald Trump claims that the election was fraudulent got some wind in its sails with the Attorney General William Barr allowing federal prosecutors to probe alleged irregularities in the presidential election, prompting a top justice department official to quit.

The official, Richard Pilger, would have overseen such investigations.

Any such cases would normally be the remit of individual states, but Mr Barr said this was not a hard and fast rule.

Donald Trump refuses to accept Joe Biden’s projected victory, and has made unsubstantiated fraud claims.

The president’s campaign is seeking an emergency injunction in Pennsylvania to prevent Mr Biden’s victory being certified in the state.

The president-elect’s projected win there on Saturday took him over the threshold of 270 electoral college votes needed to secure victory nationwide.

Mr Trump’s spokeswoman vowed the legal battle to contest Mr Biden’s victory was only just beginning.

“This election is not over,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told a news conference. “Far from it.”

 The attorney general wrote that inquiries could be made by federal prosecutors “if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State”.

Mr Barr said prosecutors should only look into “substantial allegations” of irregularities, and that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims” should be ignored.

Primary responsibility

He acknowledged that individual states had the primary responsibility for the conduct of elections but said the justice department had “an obligation to ensure that federal elections are conducted in such a way that the American people can have full confidence in their electoral process and their government”.

The department would normally only go beyond preliminary investigations after an election had been concluded and the results certified, but Mr Barr said this could result in situations where “misconduct cannot realistically be rectified”.

Mr Pilger said he had quit in response to Mr Barr’s memo.

“Having familiarised myself with the new policy and its ramifications... I must regretfully resign from my role,” he wrote in an email to colleagues.

Mr Pilger became head of the department’s Election Crimes Branch in 2010. This branch, and Mr Pilger himself were previously in the public eye at the time of a row about extra scrutiny of political groups seeking tax exemption.

Mr Pilger was reported to have had discussions about the issue with Lois Lerner, the tax official at the centre of the row.

Separately, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit on Monday in a Pennsylvania federal court, seeking an emergency injunction to stop state officials from certifying Mr Biden’s victory in the state. The state’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, called the lawsuit “meritless”.

Amicus brief

Prosecutors in Republican-controlled states meanwhile threw their weight behind the president’s challenge to the election results.

Ten state attorneys general filed a so-called amicus brief at the US Supreme Court backing the Trump campaign’s case in Pennsylvania.

According to BBC’s Anthony Zurcher, the AG’s memorandum is yet another example of the attorney general’s skill at pleasing his boss, the president, while dancing on the edge of propriety within the Justice Department he runs.

He writes: “The document gives Donald Trump what he wants – proof that the government is looking into unproven claims of widespread electoral illegalities in multiple states he narrowly lost.

The attorney general, however, couches the memo with conditions and cautions that prosecutors only focus on specific “irregularities” and avoid pursuing “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims”. – BBC

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