Attorney General Sean Reyes asks to join lawsuit challenging Trump’s loss

Utah Republican flew to D.C. Thursday for ‘holiday luncheon’ with the president

(File photo courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP) In this Aug. 27, 2020, image from video, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks from Washington, during the fourth night of the Republican National Convention. Reyes was in the nation's capital on Thursday for a luncheon with President Donald Trump and other attorneys general who are suing to overturn the victory of President-elect Joe Biden in four key swing states.

Attorney General Sean Reyes and five other attorneys general are attempting to climb aboard a legal challenge aimed at overturning President Donald Trump’s election loss.

Utah’s top lawyer had already voiced support for the legal action but stepped up his commitment to the lawsuit Thursday with the request to become a party to it. Attorneys general from Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina partnered with Reyes in the motion to intervene.

The motion alleges “unconstitutional administration” of the presidential election in the four key battleground states targeted by the lawsuit, which Michigan’s attorney general has dismissed as a “publicity stunt.”

All four states were won by President-elect Joe Biden.

The filing came the same day that Reyes flew to D.C. to have lunch with Trump, whose campaign also wants to join the lawsuit. All six of the Republican attorneys general trying to intervene in the election challenge were also expected to attended the lunchtime gathering with the president, Forbes reported.

Reyes’ spokesman described Thursday’s get-together as a “holiday luncheon” and said the invite went out well before Utah’s attorney general joined his Republican peers Wednesday in endorsing a lawsuit to invalidate election results in four states won by President-elect Joe Biden.

“I’m sure the most recent events will probably come up,” Reyes spokesman Ric Cantrell said Thursday. “But this was scheduled a month ago. It didn’t have anything to do with yesterday’s action.”

The Texas attorney general, who filed the election lawsuit, was also expected to attend, according to Forbes. Cantrell said Reyes did not use state funds to pay for the D.C. trip.

The Utah attorney general’s support for the election challenge has so far earned accolades from the president’s faithfuls, including Rep. Chris Stewart and a former House Speaker Greg Hughes.

In a Thursday tweet, Stewart expressed support for Reyes’ attempts to “clear up critical concerns regarding the election.”

“There are questions that clearly need to be answered & this lawsuit is an effort to get those,” Stewart, who represents the 2nd Congressional District — including Democratic stronghold Salt Lake City — wrote. “We need all of the information to restore faith in our election process.”

While Stewart approved of Reyes actions, he opted not to emulate them Thursday when more than 100 Republican House members filed a legal memo supporting the lawsuit. Stewart was not among them, nor was any other member of Utah’s congressional delegation.

And setting Trump loyalists aside, the reaction to Reyes so far has been disapproval — and some of it came from the top elected leaders of his own state party — Gov. Gary Herbert and Gov.-elect Spencer Cox. Both condemned the unilateral move on Reyes’ part as an “unwise” use of taxpayer resources.

The governor and lieutenant governor criticized Reyes again on Thursday during a weekly briefing on the coronavirus, with Herbert noting that he didn’t want to “build a mountain out of a molehill here” but had been blindsided by Reyes’ action, which he learned about only when the media called for a comment.

Herbert said he didn’t believe the lawsuit had proper standing and thought litigation over election irregularities should be left to a candidate. And, he added that it was inappropriate for Utah to get involved in another state’s elections.

Cox, who oversees Utah elections, noted that voter fraud does happen but said there’s been no evidence of widespread irregularities in the presidential contest.

And while he argued that Utah’s involvement in this lawsuit wouldn’t change anything and would only cost taxpayers money, he also acknowledged the attorney general’s right to join it.

”He gets to make those decisions,” he said. “In Utah, that’s the way it works. He doesn’t work for me; he doesn’t work for the governor. He’s independently elected and he gets to make those decisions. And I know there are a lot of people that support what he’s doing in inserting himself.”

But Hughes praised Reyes for urging the U.S. Supreme Court to opine on the lawsuit seeking to discredit the vote results in four battleground states won by President-elect Joe Biden. He wrote in a Wednesday Facebook post that the legal action does not constitute meddling in other states’ elections.

“If their election process was not administered Constitutionally and within the parameters of the law and as a result the will of the people is impossible to discern, then that impacts EVERY state’s election,” wrote Hughes. “We want our votes to count. We do not want them cancelled out through potentially unconstitutional and faulty election processes in select CITIES in select states.”

The former House speaker shares President Donald Trump’s brash style and has been a staunch supporter of him since 2016, when many Republicans were still wary of the celebrity-turned-politician. During his unsuccessful run for Utah governor this year, Hughes boasted that Trump once referred to him as an “original supporter.” Both he and Reyes are also Utah electors and, given Trump’s win in the state, are tasked with casting their votes for the president when the Electoral College meets Monday.

The praise for Reyes was in stark contrast with the criticism of Herbert and Cox who said they were not aware of his decision before it was made public and did not understand the attorney general’s motives.

“Just as we would not want other states challenging Utah’s election results, we do not think we should intervene in other states’ elections,” Herbert and Cox said in a joint statement Wednesday evening.

And Utah Democrats rebuked Reyes for what they argue is a misuse of public funds and a reckless move to dispute the election results in other states.

“He chooses partisanship over compassion. He chooses division over unity,” the Utah House Democrats said in a Thursday statement that also noted Reyes is also part of the legal effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act. “Again and again, the Attorney General does not appear to be working for the well-being of all Utahns.”

The Democrats called for additional oversight of the attorney general’s budget and demanded that Reyes “immediately withdraw Utah from this embarrassing and irresponsible lawsuit” and suggested that his budget needs greater oversight to make sure the office is stewarding taxpayer dollars wisely.

Reyes joined 16 other Republican attorneys general Wednesday in endorsing the Texas petition that claims “unlawful election results” in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — all states Biden won — and calls on the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the election results there.

The legal action, Reyes argued, was not about any one candidate or contest but about ensuring faith in the electoral process.

“If the election was fair, the Supreme Court should say so. If not, it should say that,” Reyes said. “Either way, it should say something and not avoid the question. That is the only way to settle the constitutional question facing us today and for future generations and elections.”

Trump has asked the Supreme Court to let him join the Texas lawsuit. But the odds are stacked against the eleventh-hour legal challenge, with the high court having already rejected a case seeking to overturn Trump’s loss in Pennsylvania.

The election has long been called for Biden, and Trump’s legal attempts to overturn the results have flopped in the courts so far. Members of the Electoral College are scheduled to cast their votes for president on Monday.

Salt Lake Tribune reporter Taylor Stevens contributed to this report.