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Utah attorney general takes time off to help Trump challenge the election results

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) This June 2, 2020, file photo shows Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes debating during the Republican primary. After praising high voter turnout and uniting people after the election, Reyes has now joined President Donald Trump in alleging, without evidence, that the presidential election where Democrat Joe Biden is leading has been compromised.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said Friday on Twitter that he’s taking a “personal leave" to help President Donald Trump’s team fight legal battles in several states over what Reyes calls a “compromised election process.”

In making the announcement, the newly reelected Republican also reiterated unverified claims made by the Trump campaign in recent days that illegal votes had been cast and counted in the presidential race as former Vice President Joe Biden has taken the lead in several swing states, thanks to processing of by-mail ballots.

“Despite months of predictions about a ‘blue wave,’ @GOP kept the Senate & expanded seats in the House. Biden & his allies know @POTUS will win if only verified, #legal votes are counted," he wrote. "We are making sure that happens but looks like courts may have to decide that. #RuleOfLaw.”

The president has for months cast aspersions on by-mail votes, which have trended more Democratic as a result. This week, he called for counting of legally cast ballots to be stopped.

Kelly Laco, the national press secretary for the Republican Attorneys General Association, said in a statement Friday that Reyes was on the ground in Nevada, which was still counting ballots as of Friday afternoon. Biden has a slim lead in the state, where the results remain too close to call.

“The Republican attorneys general are continuing to monitor the election and work on amicus briefs in consultation with the Trump campaign in order to ensure that the American people have confidence that all legal votes are counted," Laco said. "RAGA has staff as well as current and former AGs on the ground in every single battleground state still in play.”

Reyes clarified in a statement that he wasn’t taking a “leave of absence” from the attorney general’s office but was instead taking "a personal weekend to help review and advise on potential lawsuits related to ensuring all legal votes are counted.”

Richard Piatt, a spokesman in the attorney general’s office, reiterated Friday that Reyes was taking personal time and that “no office funds are being used for this work,” including for travel, food, accommodations or other costs.

Reyes said he does not believe all votes in the 2020 election were fraudulent and praised the work of volunteers and election officials across the country who “worked hard to ensure a fair process.”

“But, if even some actions in battleground states resulted in improper votes being counted or proper votes being rejected, that compromises the overall fairness of the electoral process and can disenfranchise the votes of millions of Americans,” Reyes continued. “Some mistakes were likely made innocently. Others appear very intentional. But, in either case, we should carefully review and remedy any such irregularities.”

Republican Burgess Owens, who’s in a tight race with Rep. Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, also weighed in on allegations of fraud in the presidential election on Friday, blaming Democrats for undermining confidence in the vote count.

“For 4 years the @DNC spent millions of dollars, and flooded our airwaves with warnings of how easily corrupted the presidential election can be... Now they’re offended people believed them?” he tweeted.

Several Utah politicians, though, including some Republicans, have criticized the president’s rhetoric around the election in recent days — including Gov.-elect Spencer Cox, who told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that he was troubled by Trump’s questioning of the democratic process without evidence.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Friday that the president was undermining the cause of freedom and weakening the institutions that lie at the foundation of the republic.

Reyes joined the president as a subject of criticism Friday for his tweets about the presidential election, including from Democratic Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant and state Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper.

“This is an inappropriate thing for an elected official to say, @SeanReyesUT,” Harrison tweeted. “You should delete this and stop undermining public faith in our elections process. These kinds of baseless claims are a threat to our republic.”

The progressive Alliance for a Better Utah also took aim at Reyes, saying in a news release Friday that he had “abandoned” Utah for Trump.

“His unfounded allegations of voter fraud are irresponsible and simply not true," said Chase Thomas, the alliance’s executive director.

“Just because Reyes may not like the results of the election doesn’t make them any less valid,” he continued. "Every vote matters, and every vote must be counted. As the attorney general of a state that has enjoyed mail-in voting for years, Reyes should know this. Whether acting in his private or public capacity, preparing to contest election results that he personally dislikes is an absolute betrayal of the trust Utahns have placed in him.”

Reyes skated easily to a second full term Tuesday, with 61.12% of the vote as of Friday morning.

In a statement he released on Election Day, Reyes praised Utah voters for participating in the election in record-setting numbers through by-mail and in-person balloting and struck a bipartisan tone.

“Regardless of party or ideology, our state and nation are stronger when more of us educate ourselves on candidates and issues and participate in elections,” he said. “It is exciting to see. No matter the outcome, hopefully we can remember those things that unite us as Utahns and Americans."

Reyes has often aligned himself with the president, praising Trump at the Republican National Convention this summer as “a warrior against human trafficking" and saying that as a “proud descendant of warriors” he recognizes a kindred spirit.

The Utah attorney general faced criticism throughout the election from Democratic contender Greg Skordas for his effort to join with other Republican attorneys general in a Trump administration effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. He also came under fire for attending an indoor Trump rally in Nevada last month and not wearing a mask.

Skordas said Friday that the efforts from the Trump campaign to “throw out” legitimate votes was “unconscionable" and “un-American."

“We’ve shown here in Utah that vote by mail works," he said in an interview. "We’ve done it for years. It’s had no problem. And to have one of our leaders travel around the country to say, ‘It worked in our state but didn’t work in yours’ is really immoral.”

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