Another shake-up on Trump campaign legal team

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The game of musical chairs among lawyers pursuing President Donald Trump’s court challenges to the election results continued on Monday evening, as the campaign tried to replace the entire team handling the campaign’s federal lawsuit seeking to block certification of Pennsylvania’s results.

A court filing said Marc Scaringi, a Harrisburg, Pa., attorney, conservative talk radio host and former Senate candidate, was taking over the case. The move came just hours before a potentially make-or-break court hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon on motions by Pennsylvania state and county officials to dismiss the lawsuit.

The legal escapade devolved into farce on Monday night as the federal judge rejected a move by the campaign to postpone that key hearing.

Less than 90 minutes after the outgoing attorneys for the campaign assured U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann that “Scaringi is aware of the schedule set by the Court in this matter and will be prepared to proceed according to that schedule,” Scaringi asked the judge to put off the session, arguing that he was inadequately prepared.

“Having only been retained today, Plaintiffs’ new counsel need additional time to adequately prepare this case for the upcoming oral argument and evidentiary hearing,” Scaringi wrote. “Furthermore, this is a case of significant complexity and importance to the people of the United States of America.”

Brann, an appointee of President Barack Obama who sits in Williamsport, Pa., promptly denied the continuance without explanation — beyond noting that the request was filed at 7:40 P.M.

“Oral argument will take place as scheduled, tomorrow, November 17, 2020,” the judge wrote. “Counsel for the parties are expected to be prepared for argument and questioning.”

Brann also appeared to balk at the campaign’s attempt to swap out its entire legal team. He excused two Texas-based attorneys who just formally joined the case on Friday, but did not immediately release a Pennsylvania lawyer who has served as local counsel since the suit was filed a week ago.

The latest tumult in the Trump campaign’s legal lineup followed a rapid-fire series of similar switches in recent days. Just four days ago, an Ohio-based law firm handling the suit — Porter, Wright Morris & Arthur — begged off the case under pressure from Trump opponents who regard his lawsuits as frivolous and divisive.

A campaign spokesman said last week that those lawyers “buckled” under the liberal onslaught and would be replaced with “rock-solid attorneys.”

On Friday, Brann approved the addition of two Texas lawyers to represent the campaign — John Scott and Douglas Hughes. But Scott and Hughes lasted only one business day. The third attorney who sought to exit, Linda Kerns, is a Philadelphia-based solo practitioner.

The court filing making the formal request to upend the legal team offered only a terse phrase to explain the move, saying that the Trump campaign, two individual voters who joined in the suit and the departing lawyers had “reached a mutual agreement that Plaintiffs will be best served” by the shift.

A lawyer and spokeswoman for the campaign, Jenna Ellis, painted the last-minute transition as routine.

“The President announced Saturday that he has asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani to lead the national legal team, along with local counsel,” Ellis said in a statement, referring to Trump’s personal lawyer. “Our substitution of local counsel is consistent with routine managing of complex litigation.”

Asked how the ouster of two Texas-based attorneys could be described as part of a “substitution of local counsel,” Ellis told POLITICO she was referring to the teams handling litigation for the campaign in each state.

The move also came less than a day after the suit drew headlines over the filing of a revised complaint that withdrew legal claims relating to the alleged exclusion of Republican election observers from ballot counting rooms in Pennsylvania’s Democratic strongholds. The revision left as the central claim in the federal case the fact that some counties tried to notify voters who botched their mail-in ballots about the foul-ups so they could correct them, while other counties did not.

It is unclear whether the streamlining of the suit led to the ouster of the legal team, but Scaringi’s request for delay also said the campaign was planning to file a third version of its complaint.

Giuliani stressed on Sunday night that the second version of the complaint still mentioned the exclusion of the observers. He did not explain why the legal claims about them were dropped, although one case related to that issue is pending at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and challenges to other parts of the election process are pending in other state courts.

Scaringi ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2012, finishing fifth out of five candidates. Tom Smith, a former Democrat and local official, won the Republican nod but was defeated by incumbent Sen. Bob Casey Jr., 54 percent to 45 percent.

Scaringi served as a campaign aide to then-Rep. Rick Santorum when he first won election to the Senate in 1994. Scaringi was elected as delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2016 on the Trump slate, and won the same position this year, although without the endorsement of the campaign.

In a Facebook post early this year, the lawyer pledged his fealty to Trump.

“When asked then, as now, I will vote for Donald J. Trump on the first ballot, the second ballot and on every ballot until he is nominated President of the United States,” Scaringi wrote.

On a recent broadcast of Scaringi’s radio show, which airs weekly on WHP-AM in Harrisburg, the new counsel for the Trump campaign sounded dismissive about the lawsuits filed by the campaign and other Republicans.

“There really are no bombshells that are about to drop that will derail a Biden presidency, including these lawsuits,” Scaringi said on Nov. 7, according to a recording posted by the liberal group Media Matters. “At the end of the day, in my view, the litigation will not work. It will not reverse this election.”

In addition, a blog post that appeared on the website of Scaringi’s law firm seemed to endorse the idea that Trump was defeated in the election earlier this month. “Joe Biden has successfully claimed the role of the 46th president of the United States,” said the unsigned post, which was deleted sometime on Monday.

The Trump campaign’s federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania had not yet been filed at the time of Scaringi’s radio remarks, but was submitted to the court two days later.

In addition to Scaringi, another attorney at his small Harrisburg firm, Brian Caffey, entered an appearance in the case on Monday.

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