Inside Rudy Giuliani's attempt to sow chaos on behalf of Trump and steal the election
Posted November 19, 2020 6:25 p.m. EST
CNN — One day before the Trump campaign's legal team needed to convince a federal judge that Joe Biden shouldn't have won Pennsylvania, Rudy Giuliani didn't like what he was hearing. Lawyers were going over arguments for the case at the Trump campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, when Giuliani suddenly interjected. "You're out," he said angrily, summarily firing three of the attorneys who had been hired to argue the President's suspicions of election fraud, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Giuliani's snap decision meant that he was now taking charge of a Hail Mary case of utmost importance to the President -- just one day before its most high-profile hearing.
The next day, for the first time in almost 30 years, Giuliani strode into a federal courtroom to argue before a trial judge. It was not an auspicious return to his heyday as a post-9/11 tough-on-crime legal and political icon. Over the next six hours, the former New York City mayor fumbled through legal analysis, answering technical questions with non sequiturs and unfounded accusations of fraud he's peddled in press conferences and media appearances.
Giuliani's debut in the case caught some lawyers and the campaign legal team by surprise, and one source told CNN he was asking for $20,000 a day as compensation, an astronomical rate even for the high-priced legal industry. (Giuliani denied the figure to The New York Times.) By the time the arguments were over, many following the court proceedings were shaking their heads in embarrassment.
"If the campaign doesn't want to pay him $20,000 a day," one former senior Trump White House official said, "I'm sure the Biden campaign would."
The source called the move more self-promotion than anything. "He conveniently fires the lawyers. Then he shows up...as the conquering hero."
A few days later, Giuliani put on a repeat performance -- save for serious questions from a judge -- at a news conference on Thursday at the Republican National Committee headquarters. For 90 minutes, Giuliani and lawyers who've grown close to the President lambasted the media and laid out dubious legal claims and a plan to file more lawsuits. At one point, Giuliani was sweating so profusely that spray-on brown hair color visibly dripped from his temples to his chin.
"I'm in charge of this investigation, with Sidney [Powell, the defense lawyer for former national security adviser Michael Flynn] and the people you see here," Giuliani said when asked who was leading the charge. He said there was "pressure to go as fast as we can" as ballot certification deadlines approach. Another lawyer at the press conference called the team an "elite strike force." It wasn't the same team who had led Trump's election law efforts through Election Day.
Giuliani's raised profile comes as the Trump campaign has suffered a string of major loses in court as part of its longshot bid to block Biden's electoral victory by overturning the popular vote in multiple states. It also marks the culmination of Giuliani's years of work as Trump's personal lawyer, a period marred by the President's numerous attempts to obstruct justice, his impeachment for pressuring Ukraine to help dig up dirt on the Bidens, and a persistent criminal probe that seeks Trump's tax returns.
Giuliani has been telling allies that when it comes to the election, his goal is to pressure lawmakers and officials to block the certification so Republicans can pick their own electors who support Trump in key battleground states where Biden won, according to a source familiar with Giuliani's thinking.
When asked about his goal on Thursday Giuliani said it was to "go around the Iron Curtain of censorship" and attack the press.
Complicating matters is that Giuliani's post-election swirl of activity comes as federal investigators renewed their investigative interest into his work that is already the subject of a New York-based investigation.
In recent weeks, FBI agents in New York contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence, according to a person briefed on the matter. The FBI investigators, who have spoken to at least one witness previously months ago, came back to ask new questions recently about possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden that appear similar to those that the New York Post reported that Giuliani and others helped provide. CNN has previously reported that the ongoing probe is examining whether Giuliani is wittingly or unwittingly part of a Russian influence operation, according to people briefed on the matter.
But questions about that probe have been out of the spotlight as Giuliani stepped into focus as the campaign's chief post-election lawyer. One source close to the Trump campaign countered that Giuliani is an overzealous defender of the president.
Mick Mulvaney, the President's former chief of staff, said in a Fox Business interview on Wednesday he was "a little concerned" with Giuliani's approach and pointed out the former prosecutor wasn't an experienced election lawyer. "This is not a television program, this is the real thing," Mulvaney said.
When asked to comment for this story, Giuliani responded to CNN in a text message on Thursday morning, apparently refusing to engage: "No good reason your story without knowing I'm sure is one u Wouk never cover if it was about THE BIDENS or similar protected species."
Rudy in Williamsport
The likelihood that Trump's bid to overturn the election will fail has only increased since Giuliani took charge on Monday. Since then, he's avoided giving solid answers to hard questions from the judge in Pennsylvania, had his team submit clumsy filings in court, and the Trump campaign has pulled out of a lawsuit making a similar Electoral College play in Michigan.
The approach Giuliani has pushed asks judges to block battleground states from using the popular vote results they've reported that show Biden clearly has won. Judges fielding the cases since Election Day have refused to even begin down that path, and many of the lawsuits that seek to block Biden wins have been dropped.
The remaining Trump campaign case in Pennsylvania seeks to open the path to overturn the popular vote for the state, so that legislatures could attempt to make their own choice for their Electoral College slate, theoretically handing Trump electoral votes that were earmarked for Biden. The case in Pennsylvania still hasn't been decided, and has always been nearly certain to fail, because it asks a court to discount millions of votes.
"Ultimately, Plaintiffs will seek the remedy of Trump being declared the winner of the legal votes cast in Pennsylvania in the 2020 General Election, and, thus, the recipient of Pennsylvania's electors," the campaign legal team led by Giuliani wrote in court filings in Pennsylvania Wednesday night.
"It's easy to joke about this, and Rudy has become the butt of a lot of jokes. On the other hand, this is deadly serious stuff," said Rick Hasen, an election law expert and CNN analyst. "They're talking about trying to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people, and take the election away from the winner and hand it to the loser."
A new direction
Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, another attorney for the President who's tried to defend Giuliani's courtroom performance on Twitter and appeared with him at Thursday's news conference, have clashed feathers with campaign staffers. Layoffs at the campaign days after the election in part created an opening for Giuliani and Ellis to take charge, prompting one campaign lawyer to call Giuliani a "f***ing asshole" on a recent call.
Still, they've pushed forward on what many see as an unworkable legal strategy. Joining them has been Sidney Powell, a Texas-based attorney known for attempting to pull Flynn out of his admissions of guilt in court, and longtime Washington-area defense lawyers-turned-conservative pundits Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing. Together, they've spouted baseless theories of global conspiracies and fraudulent elections that officials in both national security and state administrations say are not true.
When Giuliani took control of the Pennsylvania case, they reached out to attorney Bruce Marks. Marks was a Pennsylvania state senator years ago who had brought a lawsuit that alleged election fraud and contested results of an election because of absentee ballots.
Marks told CNN he was asked by people associated with the Trump campaign to go to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, Marks told CNN this week. "They've asked me other things as well."
He had crossed paths with Giuliani in recent years because of their shared interest in Ukraine on behalf of legal clients. As a lawyer in Philadelphia, he is known for representing powerful Russians and Ukrainians.
But by Tuesday, he had become both a prop and lawyer in Giuliani's approach. Marks answered a question from Judge Matthew Brann, creating an unusual moment for any case where a simple legal answer would have sufficed. The judge asked Giuliani to cite a case that could support his argument. Giuliani turned to Marks. Not only was a lawyer in the room who knew of a relevant case, Giuliani said, the plaintiff himself was there, teeing up Marks to discuss an appellate ruling in the case Marks v Stinson.
"Marks was there. Nobody knew it better than Marks," Marks said on Wednesday to CNN.
The legal reasoning has largely been overshadowed by logical flaws and typos.
One document appeared to have erroneously signed the judge's signature to a proposal the judge is set to review and could sign. (The campaign corrected that filing a day later.) Another filing misspelled poll watchers as "pole watchers." Yet another court document from Giuliani's team explained how the turnover on the Trump legal team in recent weeks caused "lack of clear communication" that prompted a previous re-writing of the lawsuit that cut out claims the team now would like to revive.
Yet another part of the filings used the brash style of Giuliani's hyperbole to ask for the moon -- or in this case, a Trump win.
The judge should let the Trump campaign itself count the ballots in Pennsylvania, they argued, allowing them to do math to extrapolate whether Biden could have possibly won by as much as he did in Democratic strongholds. They also asked the judge to declare Pennsylvania's election results "defective" and let the Pennsylvania General Assembly choose who gets the state's 20 Electoral College votes. The General Assembly, unlike the popular vote in Pennsylvania, is majority Republican.
Pennsylvania's counties are set to submit their results to state officials on Monday for the certification process that will confirm Biden's popular vote win. Among all its requests on Wednesday, the Giuliani-led team asked for a delay to its filings, effectively pushing back the clock on their lawsuit so that the judge wouldn't have all arguments on paper until Saturday.
"It's like the other team has showered, rinsed the champagne off their Stanley Cup and Rudy is just putting on the skates," a former senior Trump White House official said.