President Donald Trump’s senior campaign aides were gathered in their headquarters Saturday morning when word emerged that Rudy Giuliani would be holding a news conference in the parking lot of a Philadelphia landscaping business.
They knew that meant trouble.
Senior campaign aides scurried to urge organizers to kill the event, infamously staged at the wrong “Four Seasons” — a landscaping business adjacent to an adult bookstore and a crematorium. But Giuliani plowed ahead anyway, delivering a conspiracy-filled rant that undercut the legal strategy the president’s advisers had meticulously mapped out in the run-up to the election.
Campaign officials described the episode as disastrous, saying it scared off many of the lawyers they spent months recruiting, who now no longer wanted to be involved. With the campaign already facing exceedingly long odds in its recount efforts, there are widespread concerns within Trumpworld and GOP circles that Giuliani’s antics are thwarting the president’s legal machinery from within.
“I can’t imagine that a rational person" in the general public "wouldn’t be adversely affected by the way he conducts himself,” said Barry Richard, who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida recount.
Yet Giuliani is taking on a heightened role. The president on Friday appointed him to oversee any new post-election litigation. The move, which was first reported by the New York Times, has distressed top campaign officials and other advisers, who worry Giuliani’s Hail Mary ploys will damage Trump’s reputation and potentially harm his future political aspirations.
Giuliani’s promotion also threatens to complicate a legal apparatus that has been in the works since June. The campaign began assembling a team of lawyers in swing states and counties where recounts might take place. The effort has been overseen by Citizens United President David Bossie, who was tapped because of his conservative street cred and connections to pro-Trump activists around the country.
The Republican National Committee member from Maryland has also served as a bridge between the campaign and RNC, which had at times clashed during the final months of the race. He has been working the phones from home after testing positive for the coronavirus early this week.
Bossie has joined a regular 9:30 a.m. conference call with general counsel Matt Morgan, as well as top campaign officials Bill Stepien, Justin Clark and Jason Miller, to discuss the day’s agenda. The group has also been holding daily conference calls with on-air surrogates to go over messaging, and with legal and political operatives in the half-dozen states with slim margins.
They have been meeting regularly with the president, allowing him to poke and prod at their ideas while presenting him with a menu of options. The group — which has told the president that he’s facing an uphill path — has outlined to him how they view each state as a mini-campaign governed by different laws.
Looking to buttress its infrastructure, the campaign has shifted staffers from Florida to neighboring Georgia, which is conducting a hand recount.
Much of the focus, however, has been on crafting lawsuits in three states that zero in on specific allegations of voting irregularities. In Arizona, the campaign has drawn attention to issues with voting machines. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, it is complaining about not having adequate observation at voting sites.
The Pennsylvania suit also revolves around the idea that voters in Democratic-heavy Philadelphia had more of an opportunity to “cure” improperly cast ballots than those in the more conservative parts of the state. While the Arizona case was dropped Friday, the Michigan and Pennsylvania cases are pending.
Campaign officials describe it as an incremental approach aimed at chipping away at Biden’s leads and creating margins that are small enough to force recounts. While they concede their lawsuits are unlikely to succeed, they insist they’re not frivolous.
But their strategy has resulted in a clash with Giuliani, who has advocated for more of a damn-the-torpedoes approach. The former New York City mayor has been working independently of the Trump legal apparatus. He’s gone on Fox News and made allegations of widespread voter fraud. Early on, he ordered lawsuits to be filed without the consent of the campaign’s legal team.
Things came to a head during a meeting at the White House last Friday, one day before the Four Seasons Total Landscaping imbroglio. As the group batted around options before the president, Giuliani interjected and derided them as insufficiently aggressive. Some in the room were taken aback.
During a Thursday meeting at the White House that was attended by the president, Giuliani accused Trump aides of lying to Trump about his chances. Clark aggressively pushed back, and the two shouted at one another. Vice President Mike Pence was also present. The encounter was first reported by the Times.
Neither Giuliani nor a spokesperson responded to requests for comment.
Giuliani has been joined by Sidney Powell, an attorney for retired Gen. Michael Flynn. During a Sunday appearance on Fox News, she described a “massive and coordinated effort to steal this election” and said there had been an effort to “delegitimize and destroy votes for Donald Trump” and “manufacture votes for Joe Biden.”
She added that Democrats “used an algorithm to calculate the votes they would need to flip and they used computers to flip those votes from Trump to Biden and from other Republican candidates to their competitors also.”
Powell was apparently referring to a debunked conspiracy theory that Dominion Voting Systems, an election software company, altered vote counts in Michigan and Georgia.
Bossie has told the president there needs to be a more nuanced, state-by-state approach targeted to specific instances of irregularities, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
With Giuliani’s ascendance, there are now expected to be two parallel legal teams working on different tracks. Senior Republicans doubt Giuliani’s ideas will go anywhere and say Bossie’s team will proceed with its own efforts.
Republican officials said they viewed Trump’s decision to promote Giuliani as an implicit acknowledgment that his legal options are closing and a sign that he’s determined to go out guns blazing. Top Republicans described a feeling of resignation late Friday that the election was coming to a close.
The president made the move after advisers informed him in the morning that the Arizona lawsuit had been dropped. Giuliani spent part of the day working out of the campaign’s headquarters.
Trump’s legal team is also facing pressure campaigns from outside detractors. On Thursday evening, the law firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur told a federal judge that it was withdrawing from a Pennsylvania lawsuit the reelection effort had filed. The move came after the anti-Trump Lincoln Project published a tweet urging supporters to contact the firm’s attorneys through their social media accounts.
Still, the president’s team has pushed forward, working 12- to 15-hour days as they race against certification deadlines. They’ve set up a hotline staffed by 40 people to collect reports of irregularities. Prank calls have proven disruptive, however.
While the campaign is expected to lay off much of its staff in the coming days, it is keeping on employees whose work is relevant to the legal fight, including people in the communications and research departments.
Trump advisers have begun looking at the possibility of pushing Republican-controlled state legislatures to put forward a slate of Trump electors to the Electoral College rather than Biden ones.
But there is mounting skepticism even in Republican circles that Trump can pull it off in the courts. He has suffered a string of legal defeats in recent days and Biden’s lead in the contested states has climbed well into the thousands, making it unlikely that any recount could put Trump over the top.
And many see little evidence of irregularities.
“There’s zero, zero basis” for overturning the election, said Richard, the ex-Bush attorney. “They’re not going to win this. All these cases, I think, will be dismissed by the end of next week.”