WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) — Battered by setbacks in a desperate bid to overturn the U.S. presidential election, President Donald Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud on Saturday and his allies tried to block official recognition of Democrat Joe Biden's victories in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
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, a group of Republican politicians and voters filed a lawsuit in state court in Pennsylvania arguing that a 2019 law that cleared the way for expanded absentee voting was unconstitutional. They sought to block authorities from certifying that Biden won 81,000 more votes than Trump in the state, and instead allow the Republican-controlled legislature to decide who won the election.
A nonpartisan expert said the lawsuit, like dozens of others filed by the Trump campaign and its allies, would not get far in court.
"I don't think this case is designed to win," said Benjamin Geffen, an attorney at the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia. "I'm concerned the case is really more about stoking conspiracy theories and undermining civic trust in our election process."
In Michigan, the Republican National Committee and the state 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. Biden won 154,000 more votes than Trump in Michigan.
A spokesperson for the Michigan 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 Michigan lawmakers 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.
Trump said on Saturday that 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.
Big voter fraud information coming out concerning Georgia. Stay tuned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2020
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 also 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.
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.
Biden, who has denounced Trump's attempt to reverse the election results as "totally irresponsible," spent Saturday meeting with transition advisers and attending church.
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.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Jonathan Landay, Brad Heath, Michael Martina, Nandita Bose, Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrea Shalal-esa; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Daniel Wallis)