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WRAPUP 5-Battered by failures to reverse Biden win, Trump, allies persist with fraud claims

22 Nov 2020 / 03:47 H.

    (Adds Michigan state secretary response, rally in Atlanta)

    By Simon Lewis and Jonathan Landay

    WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Battered by setbacks in a desperate bid to overturn the U.S. presidential election, President Donald Trump persisted with claims of voter fraud on Saturday and his allies called for an audit of results from a Michigan county that voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Joe Biden.

    Two weeks after Biden was declared president-elect, Trump, a Republican, has refused to concede and is seeking to invalidate or change the results through lawsuits and recounts in several battleground states. His campaign has not provided evidence for its claims of widespread and coordinated electoral fraud.

    On Saturday, the Republican National Committee and the Michigan Republican Party wrote to the state board of canvassers asking it to adjourn for 14 days to allow for an audit of ballots in Wayne County, which includes the majority-Black city of Detroit. The letter cited allegations of "irregularities" that have not been substantiated.

    Asked to respond, a spokesperson for the Department of State noted that Michigan law does not allow for audits before certification - due to take place on Monday - and said: "Judges initially appointed by both Republicans and Democrats have found allegations of widespread fraud to be wholly meritless."

    Two leading Republican lawmakers from Michigan who came to Washington at Trump's behest said after meeting him on Friday that they had no information that would change the outcome of the election in the state.

    But Trump said on Saturday the media were misreading the statement, in which the pair also said they had faith in a review being conducted by Michigan lawmakers.

    "Massive voter fraud will be shown!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

    Trump's efforts, which critics call an unprecedented push by a sitting president to subvert the will of voters, have met with little success in the courtroom or on the ground.

    A manual recount and audit in Georgia confirmed Biden on Friday as the winner in the southern state, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia in nearly three decades.

    The Trump campaign now has two business days to request a recount in Georgia. Trump's legal team has already said it plans a lawsuit in the state, but has not provided specifics.

    Trump's accusations have continued to inflame his hard-core Republican base.

    Hundreds of supporters gathered at the statehouse in Atlanta on Saturday, with video posted online showing speakers denouncing the media for calling Biden the election winner, as well as some Republicans including Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for certifying the results. A counterprotest had also formed and police in riot gear were deployed between the two groups.

    FIGHTING BACK

    The Trump campaign's latest tactic is to convince Republican-controlled legislatures in battleground states won by Biden to set aside the results and declare Trump the winner, according to three people familiar with the plan.

    The long-shot effort is focused on Michigan and Pennsylvania for now, although Trump would still need to overturn the vote in another state to vault ahead of Biden in the Electoral College.

    Such an event would be unprecedented in modern U.S. history.

    Some groups were countering with their own legal action.

    On Friday, a group of Black voters in Detroit and a voting rights organization filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Trump and his campaign of breaching the 1965 Voting Rights Act by falsely claiming voter fraud and trying to overturn the results in Michigan and other states by pressing officials not to count or certify votes or to install pro-Trump electors.

    "Defendants are openly seeking to disenfranchise Black voters," said the lawsuit. More than 78% of Detroit residents are Black, according to U.S. census data.

    Lawyers for Detroit have also asked a judge to reprimand Trump's campaign for spreading "disinformation."

    Biden, who has denounced Trump's attempt to reverse the election results as "totally irresponsible", was due to spend Saturday meeting with transition advisers.

    Trump took part in a virtual summit of the 20 biggest world economies and then went to play golf at his club in Sterling, Virginia.

    Senior Republicans have remained largely silent about Trump's unsubstantiated claims of election fraud or have defended his right to seek redress, but several voiced doubts on Friday.

    Two Republican sources said a press conference on Thursday at which Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani accused Democrats of engaging in a "national conspiracy" to manipulate vote totals, while conceding that he had no evidence, may have been a turning point for some former allies.

    The General Services Administration, run by a Trump appointee, has not recognized Biden's victory, preventing his team from gaining access to government office space and funding normally provided to an incoming administration ahead of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

    Critics say the delay and Trump's refusal to concede have serious implications for national security and the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 255,000 Americans.

    Public health experts say more social mixing and indoor gatherings as the weather turns cold ahead of the Thanksgiving-Christmas season is fueling a worsening contagion, straining healthcare systems already overwhelmed in some states. The single-day death toll surpassed 2,000 this week for the first time since late June, according to a Reuters tally.

    (Reporting by Simon Lewis, Jonathan Landay, Michael Martina, Nandita Bose and Andrea Shalal-esa; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Daniel Wallis)

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