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Trump vs the election: Asha Rangappa

Donald Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, addresses the media at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, 7th November 2020. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

This is the first interview in an eight-part series.

Asha Rangappa
Legal scholar and former FBI agent

“That is really hard to answer,” says Asha Rangappa, who in her roles as senior law lecturer at Yale University, legal analyst for CNN and former FBI special agent has probably faced trickier questions than “Can you be sure that Joe Biden didn’t steal the election?”

“It’s like having to answer to someone who says the sun revolves around the Earth,” she says. “It’s not true, and there are demonstrable facts that can prove that. When you have people who continue to lie in the face of evidence that proves the contrary, the question should be ‘What is wrong with these people?’”

 

Whether Donald Trump genuinely believes his baseless claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the election and that in fact he won by a landslide is unclear. His campaign did, however, spend millions of dollars on lawsuits attempting to overturn the results in key battleground states. After more than 60 lawsuits, all but one of which were lost, the campaign failed to prove a single individual case of voter fraud. Moreover, his legal team faced ridicule for promoting outlandish conspiracy theories, including linking former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, to the alleged rigging of voting machines. They were also mocked for a succession of bizarre events including a press conference in the car park of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a gardening business situated by a sex shop and crematorium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He used the legal system as a weapon”

Did this unconventional longshot legal campaign ever stand a chance? “No,” says Rangappa. “The problem for Trump was that he not only lost decisively, he lost by fairly wide margins in many different states.”

She argues that comparisons to Florida in 2000, when George W Bush won the state by 537 votes to claim the presidency, are misplaced because even if the Trump campaign had demonstrated cases of voter fraud, he still would have had to make up many thousands of votes in several states. “This is why nobody thought there was any chance [of Trump overturning the results],” she says.

It was perhaps always likely that a man who was involved in over 3,500 lawsuits before he became president would challenge an election defeat in the courts. “In business he used the legal system as a weapon,” says Rangappa. “He used the threat of litigation as a way to silence or coerce people into doing what he wanted.” But he found it harder to weaponise the law as president. “The tables were turned to a large degree in that the legal system became a weapon to be used against him,” she says. “This happened with policies such as the [Muslim] travel ban which was challenged and taken to the supreme court.”

Rangappa does not think Trump will be proved criminally responsible for inciting the mob attack on the Capitol on 6th January 2021, because of the high burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But she does think he might face other legal difficulties – there are ongoing criminal investigations over his business activities, and in February 2021 the supreme court ordered him to give his tax returns to prosecutors. He also faces an ongoing defamation lawsuit by one of the women who alleges he sexually assualted her. E Jean Carroll, who in 2019 publicly alleged that Trump raped her in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s, filed a defamation case against him after he denied her allegations and said she was lying to sell books.

Has Trump done lasting damage to the rule of law? “Yes, and I don’t think it can be easily repaired because the damage is psychological,” says Rangappa. “He has convinced a huge segment of the population that they cannot trust the administration of justice… This kind of psychological damage, where people no longer trust their civic processes, is dangerous because it makes people believe they have to take matters into their own hands. That’s what you saw on 6th January.”

We hope you enjoyed this sample feature from issue #41 of Delayed Gratification

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