(POLITICO) – They called themselves an “elite strike force team.” But the madcap news conference by President Donald Trump’s attorneys on Thursday afternoon was more campaign farce than cogent legal argument, as Rudy Giuliani offered several conspiracy theories and a litany of false claims that he pledged would reverse the outcome of the 2020 White House race.
“I guess we’re the senior lawyers,” Giuliani told a packed room of reporters inside the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., flanked by fellow Trump campaign attorneys Jenna Ellis, Joseph diGenova and Sidney Powell.
In the 90 minutes that followed, the former New York mayor and his colleagues spun a web of mistruths that made mention of the Clinton Foundation, liberal megadonor George Soros and the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez.
And although Ellis described their remarks as merely an “opening statement” on behalf of the campaign, the discursive briefing — during which streams of what appeared to be hair dye dripped down both sides of Giuliani’s face — betrayed almost immediately the desperation of Trump’s flailing effort to undermine President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Just hours earlier on Thursday, the Trump campaign withdrew its last remaining federal lawsuit in Michigan after having no substantive success with similar pieces of litigation across other swing states. Nevertheless, the president’s legal team pushed an alternate political reality at their news conference, which seemed designed primarily to show their boss that they were still fighting on in the face of facts.
Giuliani spoke next to a map of the United States that purported to show “multiple pathways to victory,” with six key battlegrounds highlighted in red: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All of those states have been called for Biden, but the president’s personal attorney insisted his client would prevail — all while baselessly claiming that Trump was the victim of a “plan from a centralized place to execute these various acts of voter fraud.”
Giuliani said this scheme had been “specifically focused on big cities” with a “long history of corruption,” all of which were controlled by “Democrat bosses.” Mail-in ballots “are particularly prone to fraud,” he falsely claimed, and the lack of security protocols in some states meant that votes could have been cast by “a dead person” or even “Mickey Mouse.”
“What I’m describing to you is a massive fraud. It isn’t a little, teeny one,” Giuliani said, going on to complain to reporters that “the coverage of this has been almost as dishonest as the scheme itself.”
Trump campaign officials looked on aghast as the circus-like affair unfolded. At one point, the campaign’s own audio livestream of the news conference was interrupted by unknown voices remarking about the hair dye that seemed to be running down Giuliani’s face. The Trump campaign later claimed on Twitter that the people who could be heard mocking the former mayor “were NOT campaign employees.”
Even Fox News‘ Tucker Carlson, who hardly shies away from the president‘s claims of election malfeasance, said on his Thursday-evening show that his team had reached out to Powell asking for evidence to back up her claims. Carlson told viewers he admires Powell and takes her seriously. But Powell angrily told his team to stop contacting her, he said, and never offered any proof.
Powell did not immediately respond to POLITICO‘s request for comment following Carlson‘s show.
Still, Trump eagerly promoted the spectacle, tweeting that Americans could tune in to watch his lawyers “on @newsmax, @OANN & maybe @FoxNews. An open and shut case of voter fraud. Massive numbers!”
And despite the length of their news conference, Ellis said that they had offered only a “brief description” of the president’s case. “That happens in a courtroom all the time, where that’s not the fact-finding process. That is just an overview. That is what we have given you today, because the American people deserve to know what we have uncovered in the last couple of weeks. Remember, this is such a short time frame,” she said.
In fact, two weeks have elapsed since Election Day, there is still no evidence to support accusations of mass voter fraud, and the 2020 election has been deemed to be “the most secure in American history” by a group of federal officials, election supervisors and voting technology vendors.
Biden, speaking later in the afternoon, said Trump’s increasingly desperate moves are “totally irresponsible” and greatly damage the United States’ standing globally.
“It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks,” Biden said following a speech in Delaware. “I’m confident he knows he hasn’t won, is not going to be able to win and we’re going to be sworn in January 20th. And I just, you know — far from me to question his motive. It’s just outrageous what he’s doing.”
Top Trump campaign officials who had spent months preparing for post-election litigation, including deputy campaign manager Justin Clark and general counsel Matt Morgan, have taken a backseat as Giuliani has assumed full leadership of the campaign’s legal effort — pursuing a plethora of debunked conspiracy theories alongside Ellis, Powell and others on his squad of attorneys.
Neither Clark nor Morgan were present at the news conference on Thursday. Also notably absent was Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, even though the event was held in the lobby of party headquarters. Senior Republicans involved in Trump’s reelection effort privately tried to distance themselves from Giuliani’s appearance hours before it even began.
Trump chose to put Giuliani in charge of his legal battle last Friday following a string of courtroom losses. People close to the president saw Giuliani’s promotion as a tacit admission that Trump was going to lose and that he was more interested in pushing a PR narrative that the election was being stolen from him than pursuing further lawsuits.
But senior Trump aides have rolled their eyes over Giuliani’s assertions and have derided his antics — especially his news conference earlier this month outside a Philadelphia landscaping business — as embarrassing. Within the confines of Trump’s Arlington, Va., campaign headquarters, there is growing annoyance over Giuliani’s legal team, which has been described as disorganized and frenzied.