Former Kansas AG not letting lack of law license hinder work on Trump election fight in Michigan, other states

Amistad Project’s legal gambit aims to undercut Biden

Chanting at a Trump Rally outside the Michigan State Capitol Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline resumed riding waves of post-election controversy this week in battleground states at the center of President Donald Trump’s longshot bid to block the ascent of President-elect Joe Biden.

Kline’s role in the legal apparatus has been to help with a flurry of lawsuits alleging Trump was outflanked in key states by well-financed, technologically savvy collaborators eager for the GOP president’s exit. Trump has been unsuccessful in court fights to change the outcome of the election.

Phill Kline, a former Kansas attorney general, is part of a legal team working to challenge election results in swing states on behalf of President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden. In this image Kline discusses strategy during an appearance on Fox television. | Screenshot by Kansas Reflector

As director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, Kline has shared conspiracy theories about election theft on Fox News and during interviews with an array of conservative political outlets. His time under the spotlight also features arguments for how Trump could achieve this reversal of fortune.

Kline alleged, for example, the volume of potentially corrupt ballots in Georgia was 15 times greater than Biden’s advantage over the president. He personally produced Tuesday in Arlington, Va., three whistleblowers with “substantial evidence of unlawful actions” by election officials and “widespread illegal efforts” by U.S. Postal Service workers to influence the election.

The Amistad Project filed suit in Michigan last week asking for the Michigan Supreme Court to “physically secure all evidence of irregularities in the 2020 election and declare the election results invalid on the basis of unlawful conduct by state and local officials,” specifically Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

“In numerous instances, state and local officials brazenly violated election laws in order to advance a partisan political agenda,” Kline alleged in a press release. “The pattern of lawlessness was so pervasive and widespread that it deprived the people of Michigan of a free and fair election, throwing the integrity of the entire process into question.”

The right-wing group asks the Michigan Supreme Court to direct that the GOP-controlled Legislature “conduct a comprehensive investigation” into alleged irregularities. However, the Amistad Project notes that it’s “unlikely that these investigations could be completed in time to meet constitutional deadlines for appointing presidential Electors,” so it concludes that “likely the only remedy available in the presidential contest would be for the Michigan Legislature to exercise its lawful authority to appoint the state’s Electors” — presumably for Trump.

Biden defeated Trump by more than 150,000 votes in Michigan and the election was certified last week.

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In a theme echoed by Trump, Kline said the 2020 election was one of the most lawless in U.S. history. Kline said he was apprehensive as far back as 2019 that novel election practices would taint the vote.

“They used COVID fear to justify lawlessness and within that lawlessness they created a system where we can’t have faith,” Kline said. “Now we’re proving that all the flaws had a direct impact on results.”

Many Kansans remember Kline as a polarizing political figure, whether serving as a Republican state representative, state attorney general or Johnson County district attorney.

Kline’s desire to investigate and prosecute Kansas abortion providers was so fervent that he was found by a state disciplinary panel to have engaged in a pattern of unethical conduct, including presenting false testimony and illegally acquiring medical records of women planning abortions.

In the end, the Kansas Supreme Court determined there was “clear and convincing evidence” to require indefinite suspension of Kline’s law license in 2013.

Here is what the state Supreme Court said: “Ultimately, we unanimously conclude the weight of the aggravating factors — i.e., Kline’s inability or refusal to acknowledge the line between overzealous advocacy and operating within the bounds of the law and his professional obligations; his selfish motives; and his lengthy and substantial pattern of misconduct — weigh more heavily than the mitigating factors and merit his indefinite suspension.”

Kline’s attempts in federal court to reverse the state decision failed, including a request for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his case.

In his day job, Kline was rendered an academic oddity — a University of Kansas law school graduate stripped of legal certification yet employed as an associate professor of law at Liberty University, the evangelical college in Lynchburg, Va.

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Zuckerberg’s money

In the Trump legal showdown against Biden, Kline’s challenge has been to work the courts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada to convince judges there was legitimacy to claims mass quantities of votes were fraudulently cast and counted. The idea is to assert a brazen level of cheating, he said, capable of eventually flipping the election. His high-stakes campaign has been hampered by lack of persuasive evidence of widespread irregularities.

It’s not clear Kline expects to win in the lower courts, because the former Kansas prosecutor has declared the ultimate goal was to get in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Any decision altering outcome of the presidential election — the Electoral College tally has Biden at 306 and Trump at 232 — must come from the nation’s highest court, Kline said.

Kline’s political assignment gives him freedom to repeatedly denounce Facebook co-founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, who donated $400 million to provide nonpartisan support to local election offices preparing for Nov. 3.

The grant money through the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life for acquisition of personal protective equipment at urban, rural and suburban polling sites, assist with drive-thru voting locations, purchase equipment to process ballots and other steps to assist election officials conduct the election during a pandemic.

Kline described Zuckerberg’s cash infusion as an “insidious, coordinated and stealth campaign to manipulate this year’s elections.” This is a similar argument right-wing commentators have made in the past about the alleged influence of billionaire George Soros, who is also Jewish.

‘Should not stand’

An Amistad Project research study, Kline said, showed the center’s 20 largest publicly identified donations went to areas Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016. In addition, Kline asserted Zuckerburg’s financial leverage was a source of compensation for election judges and officials inside ballot counting rooms who were empowered to exclude GOP observers. That claim has been debunked in Michigan and other states.

Kline told commentator Lou Dobbs on Fox Business Network that swing states had hundreds of thousands of suspect votes. He said tens of thousands of valid ballots were spoiled by anti-Trump conspirators, a claim that has yet to pass muster in court.

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“That can’t stand and should not stand,” Kline said. “They wanted to infuse fraudulent ballots. And, they did it.”

On the right-wing news and opinion website Newsmax, he claimed the center financed by Zuckerburg instructed Philadelphia election officials they could obtain grant funding by agreeing to provide a certain number of polling places and abiding by staffing guidance.

Kline took to social media Monday to declare nothing in Wisconsin state law allowed cities and counties to take millions of dollars from an “incredibly wealthy, interested and partisan actor (i.e., Zuckerberg) in order to ‘assist’ those cities and counties in administering the vote.” He said voting discrepancies in Wisconsin resulted from election officials’ willful violation of law.

He baselessly claimed that Zuckerburg dollars flowing into Georgia, Kline said on Twitter, were used to pay ballot harvesters, compensate political activists managing ballots and consolidate counting centers to facilitate movement of ballots.

Kline also said Amistad Project’s consultant who developed data analysis of the election to support lawsuits was contacted by the FBI regarding his findings. “He is cooperating and we fully support him,” Kline said.

A version of this story first ran in the Kansas Reflector, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: [email protected] Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.