Democratic lawyer enters Florida recount fight with string of wins


TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – Attorney Marc Elias thinks imperiled Florida Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson can win a recount, similar to his prediction a decade ago in another tight Senate contest.

History proved Elias’ prediction almost exactly right, down to the number of votes involved when comedian Al Franken won his Senate seat, recalls Jay Weiner, who wrote a book about that lengthy recount.

“No one should underestimate Marc Elias,” Weiner said, noting that critics accused him of stealing the 2008 Minnesota election. “He doesn’t steal elections. He scientifically wins them.”

Underscoring Elias’ reputation as a partisan heavy-hitter, President Donald Trump singled out Elias on Friday, alleging without evidence that Florida’s tallies were tainted by corruption.

Trump said on Twitter that “Democrats sent their best election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias.” He promised to send even better lawyers “to expose the FRAUD!”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it will review allegations of criminal fraud but had no active investigations at this time.

The case highlights Elias’ role in many of the nation’s most prominent recounts.

Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, who declared himself the winner of the Senate race after polls closed on Tuesday, also pointed fingers at Elias during a Thursday night press conference.

Scott cited cases in states including Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia when Elias said margins comparable to the initial vote count in Tuesday’s election could not be beaten.

“I have a pretty good track record on that prediction elsewhere, as Governor Scott points out,” Elias told reporters on a Friday conference call, joking that Scott had handed him “a free promotional video.”

Elias stressed that he has encouraged Democrats not to pursue recounts when he thinks they are hopeless. “I have done this enough to have an informed judgment,” he said, citing his representation of Democrat Hillary Clinton in her presidential campaign against Trump in 2016.

Elias, who also served as general counsel for John Kerry’s unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign, noted that he had helped Democrats to prevail in a string of tight contests and recounts over two decades, from former Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s 1998 win to Maria Cantwell’s 2000 recount in Washington state. He also counseled North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, who narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in 2016.

Elias, the Washington, D.C.-based chair of the political law group at the firm Perkins Coie, also has scored major victories for Democrats in challenges to congressional maps drawn by Republicans.

His ties to a dossier outlining Russian financial and personal links to Trump’s campaign are more controversial.

Perkins Coie hired the Washington research firm Fusion GPS in 2016 to do opposition research, including hiring former British spy Christopher Steele’s firm to compile the dossier for the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s presidential campaign, for which Elias was the general counsel at the time.

A spokesman for Elias’ law firm said he was not available for an interview on Friday.

With Florida elections officers due to report unofficial vote tallies on Saturday, both sides were building legal cases.

Republicans issued a press release that Scott would be represented by “powerhouse” legal firm Gibson Dunn, whose partners include veterans of Florida’s famous 2000 presidential recount.

Republicans won that fight after weeks of recounts when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the counting and Republican George W. Bush triumphed over Democrat Al Gore.

Partisan control of Congress is not at stake in this recount, as Republicans extended their majority in the chamber in Tuesday’s election.

Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler



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