The Note: Trump, GOP test limits as legal walls close in

If Trump and his legal team want to hold out, it could get lonely and costly.

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It's getting real now.

But such actions are going to get more expensive -- whether Rudy Giuliani gets his asking price or not. Real state deadlines and legal rulings are already starting to close out paths to the presidency that Trump might imagine still exists.

The Trump campaign faces a Wednesday deadline to request a recount in Wisconsin -- where the president is trailing by more than 20,000 votes and where initiating a recount carries a price tag of an estimated $7.9 million.

The political costs are perhaps more substantial in Georgia, where the state's hand audit of ballots will wrap up Wednesday. Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, is saying he sees no way that President-elect Joe Biden's nearly 14,000-vote margin will be reversed -- and is lashing out at fellow Republicans who are peddling "vitriol and outright lies" in addition to threats.

"I would have thought Republicans were better than that," Raffensperger told ABC News senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce.

The Trump campaign's legal options are no rosier in Michigan, where Biden leads by nearly 150,000 votes, or Pennsylvania, where Biden leads by more than 70,000 votes. Judges in both states are expected to hand down rulings in the coming days that would effectively end remaining legal avenues for the president.

It may be political self-interest that has so many national Republicans holding their tongues about what Trump needs to do and when he needs to do it. It may also be that, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that what senators say about the topic is "frankly irrelevant."

But from here, if the president and his legal team want to hold out, it could get lonely as well as costly. There could be more firings and defiance -- though nothing from official channels that makes it any more likely that Trump will retain the presidency.

Election latest: Joe Biden leads the popular vote total with 79,091,829 votes and is projected to have 306 electoral votes. President Donald Trump follows with 73,348,518 popular votes and is projected to have 232 electoral votes.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

There will be plenty of dividing lines in the Democratic Party this spring -- how far and fast to push for pollution standards and the best next steps on possible trade deals.

But one of the most explosive arguments for the new administration could be about to handle the last.

Following reports that Biden hoped to avoid extensive investigations of Trump, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., a senior Ways and Means Committee member who led the charge on pushing for Trump's tax returns wrote Tuesday, "In 2021 the entire Trump administration must be fully investigated by the Department of Justice."

"He has endangered our national security. He ripped families apart. He poisoned the Census. He has personally profited from his office. ... Failure to hold financial and political wrongdoing accountable in the past has invited greater malfeasance by bad actors. A repeat of those failures in 2021 further emboldens criminality by our national leaders and continues America down the path of lawlessness and authoritarianism. There must be accountability."

Biden might not get the final say in how his colleagues in the House handle investigations. In the past, he has said he would not want to interfere with the Justice Department's judgments, meaning his pick for attorney general will face immediate questions about the outgoing president.

The TIP with Cheyenne Haslett

By Wednesday evening, the country will know whether Trump is closer to accepting his campaign's loss in Wisconsin or further digging in his heels to claim false victory.

The deadline to request a recount in the state is 5 p.m. local time. If Trump plans to continue fighting the results, which show Biden with a 20,608-vote lead, or around 0.6%, then his campaign will take the next step by calling for a recount. This could mean a full, statewide recount, which would cost the campaign nearly $8 million, or a recount in select counties, which could be significantly cheaper.

But there are a few reasons the recount itself won't change much. In 2016, the statewide recount requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein changed the results by 130 votes. Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe has repeatedly said a recount will only demonstrate that the system is solid. Even former Republican Gov. Scott Walker has thrown cold water on hopes it will significantly alter the count.

Rather, a recount is likely to be the first step to legal challenges filed by the Trump campaign after the process is over. So far, the campaign hasn't had much luck with such lawsuits in other states. And of course, if the deadline in Wisconsin comes and goes without a request to recount, there will be fewer avenues for Trump to attempt to discredit the results -- signaling that Trump is ready to put the fight in Wisconsin to rest.


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Wednesday morning's episode features a conversation with Langhorne, Pennsylvania, nurse Jim Gentile, who walked off the job Tuesday in protest of working conditions as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge. ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks discusses the pushback President-elect Joe Biden is getting from progressives about his initial White House hires. And Will Sommer from The Daily Beast explains why top conservative voices are fleeing traditional social media for the Parler app.

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman joins ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl to discuss the election.


  • Vice President Mike Pence attends a U.S. Space Command basing briefing at 2 p.m. in the White House.
  • President-elect Joe Biden will participate in a virtual roundtable with frontline health care workers in Wilmington, Delaware.
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