Even as leaders of and lawyers for both major political parties denounce Donald Trump's warnings that next month's election could be "rigged," one top Republican legal group is standing by the nominee.
"History has proven that some elections have involved serious questions and it remains a possibility in 2016," Randy Evans, the chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) and a partner at the global law firm Dentons, told BuzzFeed News. "Only the rule of law performed by election workers enforced by lawyers informed by citizens decided by courts is the only sure way of making sure elections are open, fair, and honest. Time will tell whether that happens in 2016."
Asked directly about Trump's comments, Evans said it was "premature to say now" whether the candidate's words are appropriate or correct.
After initial publication of this report, the executive director of the association, Michael Thielen, responded to a second request for comment from BuzzFeed News — specifically asked the second time whether he agrees with Evans' comments — writing, "RNLA is working on an official statement in response from the association. Unfortunately as this is Sunday, that statement will not be ready until Monday."
Evans' comments represent a dramatic break with much of the rest of the Republican Party — which has either criticized Trump's comments or stayed quiet on the issue.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Saturday that he is "fully confident" in the fairness of the election; Trump's own running mate, Mike Pence, said on Sunday morning that "we'll respect the outcome of this election"; and some leading Republican lawyers also have denounced Trump's remarks.
"Donald Trump's effort to stir up trouble at polling places and to question, without any factual foundation, the fairness of the general election is a dangerous and unprecedented attack on our democratic institutions," Robert Kelner — a partner at Covington & Burling who has represented the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the past — told BuzzFeed News.
"The only real threat to this election is the reported effort by Russian intelligence services to hack election systems, which is something that Trump himself has failed to condemn," Kelner said.
(On Saturday, BuzzFeed News reported on the group accused of being behind the targeted hack of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign, which the federal government says has been directed by senior Russian officials with an aim of interfering with the US election.)
Also on Saturday, a Republican election lawyer, Chris Ashby, went on a tweetstorm that went viral — and harshly criticized this latest line of attack from the Republican candidate.
"In addition to undermining public faith & confidence in our electoral system, which is foundational to the legitimacy of our government," Ashby tweeted, "It is undermining legitimate efforts to recruit & train watchers to observe this elex to ensure that it is free, open, fair and honest."
Pence's comments Sunday morning on CBS News' Face the Nation appeared to diverge from the growing standard position of the Trump campaign on the question of the legitimacy of the upcoming election — echoed by Sen. Jeff Sessions on Saturday when he said "[t]hey are attempting to rig this election" and by Trump's Sunday afternoon tweet.
This story has been updated to include comment from the executive director of the Republican National Lawyers Association.
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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