Donald Trump, his lawyers, and his allies have filed an embarrassing number of post-election lawsuits, each of which is intended to help the outgoing president win an election he lost. These efforts have failed spectacularly, with a wide variety of judges -- including some chosen for the bench by Trump himself -- roundly rejecting the baseless cases.
And yet, they continue. The Texas Tribune reported this morning:
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing four battleground states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — whose election results handed the White House to President-elect Joe Biden. In the suit, he claims that pandemic-era changes to election procedures in those states violated federal law, and asks the U.S. Supreme Court to block the states from voting in the Electoral College.
While there's little reason to believe Paxton's case will succeed, the fact that he filed it at all struck me as notable for a couple of reasons, one of which is more obvious than the other.
The principal problem, of course, is that the Texas attorney general's case is hilariously bad. As Reuters' Brad Heath explained, Paxton is "literally asking the Supreme Court to throw out the results of other states' presidential elections, set aside the millions of votes cast in states that are not Texas, and have other state legislatures make Trump president. This is, to be clear, a lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court making some of the same specious, patently false claims that have been filed -- and rejected -- by other people trying to have the courts make Trump president again. Only this one was filed by an arm of state government."
There's a reason the lawsuit has been described as "bonkers."
But the less-obvious angle to this is why Paxton thought it'd be a good idea to file such a case in the first place. It's possible this is simply a display of raw partisanship: Paxton is a Trump loyalist, and 2020 co-chair of Lawyers for Trump, so perhaps he decided to go through the motions, filing doomed litigation that's become the subject of ridicule in order to prove his fealty to the outgoing Republican president.
The larger context, however, is tough to miss. As regular readers may recall, Paxton was indicted a few years ago on felony securities fraud charges. Two months ago, his troubles got worse when members of Paxton's own team made multiple criminal allegations against him.
Meanwhile, Associated Press reported a few weeks ago that the FBI is investigating allegations that Paxton "broke the law in using his office to benefit a wealthy donor."
All of which raises an unfortunate possibility: as Donald Trump abuses his pardon powers, and weighs the possibility of handing out pardons "like Christmas gifts" before leaving office, is it implausible that the scandal-plagued Texas attorney general filed a doomed case in the hopes that he'll receive a presidential reward that would make his legal troubles go away?