Donald Trump took a massive step towards admitting defeat in the election Monday night by saying he was allowing the transition to Joe Biden to begin – but immediately claimed he can still overturn his defeat at the hands of voters.
General Services Administration Chief Emily Murphy told President-elect Biden in a letter that he can start accessing federal resources to begin the presidential transition process early Monday evening.
Murphy released a letter to Biden announcing the move, but dedicated a considerable portion to defending her own reputation and claiming she had been threatened and harassed.
Her letter, notably, does not go so far as ‘ascertain’ that Joe Biden is the winner of the election, despite networks calling the race 16 days ago, numerous states certifying their tallies, and Biden winning 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. She also called him ‘Mr.’ instead of president-elect or vice-president.
It came just over an hour after Michigan certified that Biden had won the state, putting another nail in the coffin of Trump’s bid to overturn the election result.
The move ends much of the controversy over Trump’s refusal to concede and means that a concession would be purely symbolic.
It allows Biden to get the same intelligence briefing as Trump, order FBI background checks on his picks for office and talk to senior officials in key roles – most notably, Dr. Tony Fauci.
But Trump tweeted defiantly that he had ordered Murphy to start the transition ‘for the sake of the country’ and claimed he was sure he would win ‘the good fight.’
Get on with the job: Joe Biden had spent the day announcing a slate of top cabinet officials and meeting mayors virtually in Wilmington, DE. He can now access crucial government resources
‘Threatened.’ Trump appointee Emily Murphy used her letter to Joe Biden to complain that she had been ‘harassed’ while refusing to start the transition and claim she acted on her own initiative in refusing to declare him the apparent winner
Murphy wrote to Biden defending herself and said: ‘I take this role seriously and, because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results, am transmitting this letter today to make those resources and services available to you,’ she told him, after noting her ability to make resources available.
‘I have dedicated much of my adult life to public service, and have always strived to do what is right,’ she wrote, on a letter dated 16 days after TV networks called the race for Biden.
Murphy, a Trump appointee, claimed she did not receive any pressure to hold up the ascertainment – a word she never used.
‘I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official – including those who work at the White House or GSA – with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,’ she added.
‘To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination. I did, however, receive threats online, by phone, and by mail directed at my safety, my family, my staff, and even my pets in an effort to coerce me into making this determination prematurely. Even in the face of thousands of threats, I always remained committed to upholding the law, she wrote.
She said her decision was not made out of ‘fear or favoritism.’
Murphy had resisted sending the letter of ascertainment as Trump refused to concede the presidential election.
Her action comes after Michigan certified its election results and as Trump has lost most of his lawsuits as he sought to overturn the results of the vote, which gave Biden 302 electoral votes.
Trump has seen his case for victory fade day by day. He has yet to win a major court case.
In Pennsylvania on Sunday, a judge ruled that state can go forward with certifying its 20 electoral votes be certified for Biden.
Georgia is in the process of certifying its 16 electoral votes for Biden after a hand recount confirmed his victory, making him the first Democrat to carry the state since 1992.
And, despite making numerous allegations of voter fraud – including funding from Communists to turn votes in Biden’s favor and alleging voting machines from Dominion Systems changed Trump votes to Biden ones – the president’s team has not shown any evidence.
Numerous state election officials said there was no evidence of voter fraud.
ABC News reported that the Secret Service was already asking agents if they wanted to transfer to Florida to guard the Trumps full-time there from January.
As Trump remains huddled in the White House – he is rarely seen in public and his public schedule for Monday had no events on it – Biden has gone on with building his government.
On Monday he announced a slate of national security officials and more Cabinet announcements are expected.
Trump praised Murphy’s action in a tweet and claimed she was the victim.
‘I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country. She has been harassed, threatened, and abused – and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA. Our case STRONGLY continues,’ he tweeted shortly after she sent the letter.
‘We will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same,’ he added.
Murphy faced heavy pressure from Biden and congressional Democrats as – without her blessing – the president-elect could not communicate with federal agencies or access federal funds allocated for the transition process.
House Democrats were threatening to haul Murphy to Capitol Hill to explain the delay. They sent her a letter late last week demanding an in-person briefing from her on Monday. She tried to delay that until next week.
But they sent her another letter on Monday evening demanding one on Tuesday.
Among those who pounced on Murphy’s statement was former head of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub.
‘The letter’s worth a read. It may be the most unprofessional thing I’ve seen an agency head put on letterhead. She makes this about her. She makes excuses. She never says that she ascertains the apparent winner. But she releases funds as though she has, so there’s that at least,’ he wrote.
Days earlier, he tweeted: ‘The law requires her only to ascertain the ‘apparent’ winner. It does not require her to be right. There is no harm in releasing the resources. People may die if she doesn’t.’
Democrats including Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia called her actions ‘unconscionable,’ and accused her of ‘hamstringing’ the incoming administration amid the pandemic.
Some Democrats and Trump critics called for her to be investigated after Trump leaves office.
GSA CHIEF AT CENTER OF STORM CAN GO BACK TO CHECKING WEST WING IS CLEAN
Emily Murphy, 47, became GSA chief in December 2017. She was appointed by President Trump to the position.
A graduate of Smith College and the University of Virginia law school, she worked for years as a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch where she had a reputation for being a policy wonk.
She heads a 12,000-person agency that manages the government’s real estate and its shopping list: the GSA runs all federal buildings and procures supplies for the executive branch.
From keeping the photocopiers in paper to making sure the FBI’s electricity bill is paid, it has one off what would normally be the least political aspect of government imaginable.
Its task range from cleaning the West Wing of the White House to managing the federal government’s 215,000 vehicle motor pool to negotiating multi-million dollar contracts.
But Murphy – who will most likely be required to resign by the incoming Biden administration as a political appointee regardless of her resistance campaign – will now go down in history as its most political boss ever.
It was her deputy, not Murphy, who had agreed to brief congressional Democrats who demanded a briefing about her actions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the request for a briefing as opposed to a full hearing an effort to not blow up the situation.
The end of the Trump resistance effort came after a glitchy zoom meeting in Michigan spelled the end of his bid to overturn its popular vote for Biden.
The four-person split-party panel who certifies presidential elections in Michigan voted Monday afternoon 3-1 to confirm Joe Biden’s popular vote win in the swing state.
The vote is yet another blow to Donald Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the presidential election, which includes mounting several lawsuits in battleground states like Michigan.
The Michigan Board of State Canvassers Vice Chairman Norman Shinkle, a Republican, expressed his objections to certifying Biden’s victory due to irregularities and errors in the voting and tabulation process – and he voted to abstain on Monday.
After hearing from clerks and volunteers who worked at and observed ballot tabulation, the four members voted to certify the election.
Shinkle’s fellow Republican panel member Aaron Van Langevelde voted to certify the election, but maintained a post-election audit needs to be conducted. He also said any complaints of election fraud need to be investigated and, if found, prosecuted.
Ahead of the vote, there were concerns that the split panel members could find themselves in a deadlock, which would result in a delay of certification as President Donald Trump’s continued pressure for swing state Republicans to back his claims of widespread voter fraud.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee also joined the ranks of Republicans Monday calling for Trump to concede and accept that he has lost reelection.
‘The presidential election is rapidly coming to a formal end,’ Alexander released in a statement shortly after the Michigan certification. ‘Recounts are being completed. Courts are resolving disputes. Most states will certify their votes by December 8.’
The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted 3-1 Monday to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the state with Republican member Norman Shinkle, 70, abstaining over concerns with mail-in voting and transparency
Fellow Republican member Aaron Van Langevelde voted to certify the election, shutting down concerns a deadlock would be reached on the four-person split panel
Both Democratic members of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers Julie Matuzak (right) and Chairwoman of the panel Jeannette Bradshaw (left) voted to certify the results for Biden
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee immediately released a statement Monday after the vote telling Donald Trump it’s time to concede to Joe Biden
‘Since it seems apparent that Joe Biden will be the president-elect, my hope is that President Trump will take pride in his considerable accomplishments, put the country first and have a prompt and orderly transition to help the new administration succeed,’ he wrote in a statement posted to his Twitter.
‘When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do,’ Alexander concluded.
Also immediately after the vote, Trump’s campaign sent out a statement from its senior legal advisor Jenna Ellis on certifications.
‘Certification by state officials is simply a procedural step,’ Ellis said in an email blast from the president’s campaign team. ‘We are going to continue combatting election fraud around the country as we fight to count all the legal votes. Americans must be assured that the final results are fair and legitimate.’
Shinkle, 70, said ahead of the vote – and throughout statements made during the proceedings Monday – that he has concerns regarding the integrity of the election and suggested he was considering forcing a delay of certification of Biden’s win.
He shared that he has questions regarding electronic equipment used in the Michigan election, the absentee and mail-in voting process and transparency issues.
Shinkle’s opposition for a potential block of certification would only be possible if Van Langevelde joined him in not signing off on Biden’s win, which would create a deadlock with the two Democrat members – Julie Matuzak and Chairwoman Jeannette Bradshaw.
Van Langevelde, 40, an attorney and former assistant prosecutor living with his wife Adrianne in Charlotte, Michigan, has not said how he plans to vote.
Shinkle lives in Williamson, Michigan with his second wife, Mary. He has two sons, Teddy and Douglas, from his first wife Linda.
Trump’s campaign immediately sent out an email blast with a statement from senior legal advisor Jenna Ellis on certifications being an insignificant ‘procedural step’ after the Michigan certification
Mary Shinkle was a Republican poll watcher at the Transportation Service Center in Detroit for four days surrounding the election. She claimed there was funny business at that tabulation location.
Mary was one of the more than 200 people who signed a sworn affidavit alleging errors and wrongdoing that they said they witnessed during Wayne County ballot tabulation.
The Trump campaign used this affidavit in one of its federal lawsuits, which since then has been withdrawn.
In her sworn statement, Mary said she observed on Election Day a specific precinct tabulation table duplicating their counts for ballots. She also was told that the ‘table captain’ told her that she was not allowed to look at ballots because ‘if we were mistaken you would be all over us.’
She also raised concerns with ballots being left unattended in unsecured bags at her specific site in Wayne county.
The wife of the Republican member of the Board of State Canvassers also said that on November 4, the day after the election, that election workers were ‘extremely rude and aggressive’ toward observers.
Following the election, pro-Trump protests popped up near election tabulation sites, demanding counters ‘stop the steal’ – or stop counting mail-in ballots received after Election Day.
Michigan went blue this year, with current reporting showing 50.6 per cent of the vote for Biden and 47.8 per cent for Trump. In 2016 the state swung red for Trump.
The president, however, has called into question the integrity of the results in the rustbelt battleground state this year, claiming there was funny business with tabulation and not allowing Republican poll watchers to stand close enough to observe the ballot counting process.
Shinkle’s wife, Linda, was a Republican poll watcher in Detroit, and singed a sworn affidavit used by the Trump campaign in a since withdrawn lawsuit alleging errors and wrongdoing in ballot tabulation
Usually signing off to certify the presidential election winner in a specific state is a routine event – but as is par for the course in 2020, not this year.
Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, Van Langevelde’s boss, flew to Washington, D.C. Friday with six other GOP lawmakers to meet with Trump and members of his team Friday. He was also spotted enjoying drinks at Trump hotel just a few blocks from the White House over the weekend.
Following the meeting, Chatfield and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, both Republicans, said they have not been ‘made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan.’
‘There was this outrage that the president was going to ask us to break the law, he was going to ask us to interfere, and that just simply didn’t happen,’ Chatfield told Fox News when describing the meeting.
Michigan’s elections agency has already recommended that the board certify the presidential election results, which shows Biden with a 2.8 per cent margin of victory.
The Republican National Committee and the Michigan Republican Party, however, are urging the board to adjourn for 14 days to instead investigate alleged irregularities in Wayne County – the state’s largest area, which emcompasses Detroit.
Chair of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel, who is a Michigan resident, and Laura Cox, chair of the Michigan Republican Party, wrote the board Saturday asking it to delay certification for another two weeks as it awaits results of an audit.
They cited ‘procedural and accounting irregularities’ like discrepancies between the number of people recorded casting ballots at Detroit precincts and the actual number of ballots counted.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says post-election audits are in the works, including in Wayne County even though Michigan law states such audits can only be conducted after results are certified.
The group reportedly stayed at the hotel drinking until midnight
The celebratory drinks came hours after Chatfield and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey met with Trump as part of the president’s move to try to overturn Joe Biden’s popular vote win in Michigan
Chatfield said that if the Board of State Canvassers does not confirm the results and the Michigan Supreme Court does not order it to do so there will be a ‘constitutional crisis.’
But the Michigan House speaker, among other Republicans, have vowed not to go against the voters or undermine their will.
The new request to delay certification comes after a two-week period where Michigan double-checked ballots in all 83 counties – and found some expected inaccuracies and irregularities that happen in most elections. The errors were corrected.
During such a partisan time in American history, experts are questioning whether a four-person split panel is still a realistic way to go about certifying election results as a potential deadlock ensues. Some claim there needs to be some sort of built-in tiebreaker like in other states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
TRUMP’S POSSIBLE ROADMAP TO KEEPING THE WHITE HOUSE
Donald Trump does have a precarious – and politically explosive – path to keeping the White House. To do it he needs to get Joe Biden’s wins in a series of states set aside.
With his claim that the Supreme Court would do that looking to have evaporated, instead he has to use the procedures of the Electoral College to turn it round.
And he needs to do it in a lot of states: if Georgia and Arizona stay on track for Joe Biden, he will have 306 votes, far above the 270 needed. Trump appears to be taking legal action, or intending to, in six states: Pennsylvania, with 20 Electoral College votes; Georgia, with 16; Michigan with 16; Arizona with 11; Wisconsin with 10; and Nevada with six.
He needs to get at least any two of the larger three states plus one more state to go Republican to get Biden under 270.
Here is how he might manage it:
STEP ONE: GET COURTS TO PUT HOLDS ON CERTIFYING THE VOTE IN TARGET STATES
The vote is not official until it is ‘certified’ – that is officially declared valid – which happens later in November. Georgia certifies on November 20, and Nevada and Wisconsin are last on December 1.
Trump is already trying to get certification put on hold in Pennsylvania and Michigan, claiming large-scale irregularities. That briefly appeared to succeed in Wayne County, MI, on Tuesday 17 when the Republicans on the bipartisan board of canvassers refused to certify – but only for a few hours before backing down. The next day they said they wanted to withdraw their signatures but it appeared to be too late under state laws; in the meantime Trump thanked them for their support. On November 23, the bid collapsed completely as the state certified its results, with one Republican member of its board of elections holding out but the other approving them.
OR: GET AN ‘AUDIT’ REQUESTED OR EVEN BETTER ORDERED – AND KEEP IT GOING PAST CERTIFICATION
Some Michigan Republican state senators have asked for an ‘audit’ claiming that allegations of irregularity need to be looked into. This could be a useful tool if courts don’t come through: at the very least it would allow Republicans to say they don’t trust the certification because it has not been audited. But so far Trump has failed to get anyone to agree to that either.
STEP TWO: KEEP THE CERTIFICATION ON HOLD PAST DECEMBER 8
This is the ‘safe harbor’ deadline when all election disputes must be resolved. If they are not fully played out, whoever has a court ruling in their favor at this point keeps that result. So if Trump has certification on hold in target states, he has a chance to flip them to him starting now.
STEP THREE: GET REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURES TO AGREE TO APPOINT THEIR OWN ELECTORS
You were not voting for the president directly: you were voting for electors to the electoral college. But the Constitution does not say that electors are winners of a popular vote. Instead the Constitution says: ‘Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.’ In the early 19th century, states rapidly moved to make the appointment of the electors the result of the popular vote; by 1832 South Carolina was the only holdout. It stuck with that approach until secession.
So Republicans in at least three and possibly more states would have to decide that because the results are not certified – or because they claim they don’t trust the certification because of an audit or the lack of one – that they can take back control for themselves. They would argue that because the results aren’t certified or trustworthy, it’s up to them to work out the will of the people.
Then – undoubtedly in the face of huge public protest – they would appoint Republicans who will vote for Trump.
This has happened in recent history: in 1960 Hawaii had disputed elections and sent two slates of electors.
STEP FOUR: SWEAT IT OUT WHEN GOVERNORS APPOINT THEIR OWN ELECTORS
All three of the biggest target states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – have Republican legislatures and Democratic governors. So now the governors could simply appoint their own electors – voting for Biden – and say that their votes are what counts on January 6, when the Electoral College is counted and record in Washington D.C.
STEP FOUR: SURVIVE A SUPREME COURT CHALLENGE TO THE REPUBLICAN ELECTORS
Such a dramatic change would go to the Supreme Court. It has never directly ruled whether states could do that: in 2000, three of the five justices who gave the election to Bush over Gore said that state legislatures had complete control – but that is not a precedent. Now Trump’s fate would be in the hands of nine justices, three of whom he appointed and one of whom – Clarence Thomas – said that legislatures are in charge.
Democrats would of course argue that the governors’ electors are the right ones, and a titanic battle would play out. If Trump wins – again in the face of likely huge public protest – he is on to the final stage.
STEP FIVE: HOPE THAT THE PENNSYLVANIA REPUBLICAN SLATES DON’T GO FAITHLESS
If Pennsylvania is one of the states to ignore the popular vote, Trump needs its 20 Republican electors to stick to the plan – but the state allows faithless electors. So all, or even some, could make a difference in an already mathematically fraught bid to keep the presidency. But assuming he has enough votes not going to Biden, it is on to Washington D.C.
STEP FIVE: MAKE IT TO JANUARY 6
This is D-day for the plan: The newly-sworn in Congress meets to count the Electoral College votes. The vice-president, Mike Pence, presides, over a joint session. Normally the ‘certificates’ showing how each state voted are opened in front of the vice-president, the count is recorded and with a bang of the gavel, the electoral college winner is officially declared.
Now Trump needs Republicans in the House and Senate to work together. A member of the House and a senator can jointly object to a state’s certificate when it is opened. The last time this happened was in 1877, which caused a months-long crisis, ended by compromise and followed by the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
This time the 1887 rules come into play. If there is an objection, they split into the House and Senate and there are two hours for debate. This has only happened once, in 2005, when a tiny number of Democrats objected to Ohio’s vote count. But it was voted down overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.
And finally, the vote count is in alphabetical order, so Arizona will be the first battleground state where all this could be tested.
STEP SIX: MAKE SURE THE RULES ARE IN YOUR FAVOR
As the Trump ships enters uncharted waters, one issue is unresolved: how do you work out what a majority of the Electoral College is? That seems simple but it might not be. If the House and the Senate come to different conclusions on a state with rival slates of electors, then the question is what happens next.
The most likely answer is that they are simply removed from Biden’s total but not added to Trump. But does that mean the states still count in the Electoral College? The 1887 law is not clear: it seems to suggest both options are available, so Congress might have to try to decide – or Pence as president of the joint session could rule.
If Congress goes for the shrinking college, that favors Biden unless Trump has Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – all the states being targeted by Trump. But if it stays at 538, then Biden could well lose without Trump actually winning: once it falls below 270, there is no majority and therefore it is up to the House to decide.
STEP SEVEN: KEEP MITT ROMNEY, SUSAN COLLINS AND LISA MURKOWSKI ON TRUMP’S SIDE (AND HOPE PENCE CAN VOTE)
If Trump is to win, he has to have the Republicans in the Senate vote for Arizona’s Republican slates as the first order of business.
This is where the Georgia Senate race comes into play.
If the Georgia runoffs are decided and Democrats take both seats, Pence would have to tie break in Trump’s favor – if that is allowed. The rules say he is president of the joint session. But they are unclear on whether he retains his tie-break power as president of the Senate. The two roles are not identical and the 1887 law appears to give him a passive, rather than active, role in the session – more like the chief justice presiding over Trump’s impeachment trial than a regular Senate session.
But if Republicans get one or both Georgia seats, the Senate will be 51-49 or 52-48, which means that any rebellion by Republicans is extremely dangerous. Assuming that Pence has a tie-break, it would take only two or three rebels to end Trump’s run. There are three obvious candidates: Mitt Romney voted to impeach him, Susan Collins owes him nothing after he refused to campaign for her, and he has called for Lisa Murkowski to be primaried.
STEP EIGHT: WATCH A DEBATE WHICH HAS NO PRECEDENT
The 1887 law sets some ground rules for how the House and the Senate debate which slate of electors are valid. They have to decide what the true vote was at the safe harbor deadline – back on December 8 – and which slate of electors were appointed in line with state law. So the debate should – in theory – not be partisan but a determination of which side is valid. In principle, that could mean different outcomes for different states. But assuming that a Arizona goes Trump’s way in the Senate and Biden’s way in the House, that state is tied – and then it’s on to a new constitutional crisis.
STEP NINE: NOW IT’S GETTING REALLY MESSY – COULD THERE BE TWO PRESIDENTS
The law says that Congress can’t move on to the next state until debate is resolved over the one in question. But it also says that the meeting cannot be dissolved until all states are decided.
So the whole proceeding could be deadlocked at Arizona. And as long as it remains deadlocked, there is a looming deadline of January 20 – at which point Pence and Trump are out of office anyway. In that scenario, Nancy Pelosi becomes president automatically at noon.
However, Pence could break the deadlock on Arizona by ruling that the votes are not to be counted at all, and debate can resume on the next item.
Democrats clearly would not agree. In that scenario, it is impossible to say what would happen. They could walk out, say the debate is not resolved – which it would not be – and therefore Pelosi would be sworn in on January 20.
But Pence can then rule that the debate in fact is going on even without Democrats, run through the votes with only Republicans and come up with a Trump victory: meaning two rival presidents both claiming they are in charge. Both can be sworn in at noon on January 20, with only one with their personal items in the White House.
What happens then is impossible to say: the Supreme Court could try to rule between them, or the military might have to decide who is commander-in- chief.
THE OTHER STEP NINE: KEEP DEBATING (ALTHOUGH WHY WOULD DEMOCRATS WANT TO?
Of course Democrats could stick with the debate and keep going, debating each state as they go along.
If Trump overturns six states’ votes, it is inevitable that Democrats lose, regardless of the rules. If he has fewer states, he will want the 538 figure kept in play to get Biden into a minority. This highly unlikely step gets to neither having a majority in the Electoral College.
STEP NINE: THE HOUSE DECIDES – TRUMP HAS DONE IT
If Trump and Biden end up here this is safer ground: the House has decided before. It does not vote under normal rules. Instead each state delegation gets one vote and has to decide among the delegation how to allot it.
So going by current House results, 27 states have Republican majorities, and all Trump has to do it get a simple majority of them. Trump has triumphed – but it is an exhaustingly long process to get back on the platform on January 20 to be sworn in.