Trump’s Paranoid, Fact-Free, Anti-Democracy Id Gets Its Day in Court

Attorney for the President, Rudy Giuliani, speaks at a news conference in the parking lot of a landscaping company on November 7, 2020 in Philadelphia. - Joe Biden has won the US presidency over Donald Trump, TV netw... Attorney for the President, Rudy Giuliani, speaks at a news conference in the parking lot of a landscaping company on November 7, 2020 in Philadelphia. - Joe Biden has won the US presidency over Donald Trump, TV networks projected on November 7, 2020. CNN, NBC News and CBS News called the race in his favor, after projecting he had won the decisive state of Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 17, 2020 5:30 p.m.

In what may have been his first appearance in federal court in several years, former New York mayor and President Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani went on a bizarre and sensational diatribe about “big cities” doing “corrupt” things as part of an election “stolen” from the President.

The rhetoric — employed at a court hearing for a Trump campaign lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s election result — was familiar for anyone who follows Trump’s Twitter account. But it was a stark contrast to how Trump campaign lawyers have typically distanced themselves from Trump’s fact-free and often ridiculous claims about voter fraud once they are in the courtroom.

Giuliani jumped in to represent the Trump campaign in the longshot lawsuit just hours before Tuesday’s hearing was scheduled to begin. There had already been several shake-ups of the campaign’s legal team on the case before Giuliani joined it, and the complaint had also undergone significant changes over the weekend to what it was alleging about ballot-counting in the state.

Rather than focus on the particulars, however, Giuliani started his initial 30 minute presentation by telling U.S. District Judge Matt Brann, of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, that the case was about “widespread nationwide voter fraud.”

This is an outrage, your honor, to do this to people,” Giuliani said, while lobbing baseless claims about Philadelphia not being an “honest” place and about a Democratic “machine” that had colluded against the President’s supporters.

He brought up equally questionable conspiracy theories about how the election had been carried out elsewhere in the country. He connected the Trump campaign’s current allegations to a “time honored” practice of “holding back votes,” as he cited claims about Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s supposed interference in a 1960 election.

He warned that if Pennsylvania’s election results were not thrown out, it would lead to an “epidemic” of Democratic vote stealing.

“You give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. They’ve already taken a mile,” Giuliani said. “They stole an election, at least in this commonwealth.”

His rant drifted back and forth between the two main claims the campaign is making in the case. It is alleging that the U.S. constitution had been violated because Democratic-leaning counties were giving voters more of an opportunity to fix deficiencies on their mail ballots than certain GOP-leaning jurisdictions.

Giuliani claimed that this allegation was a “classic violation of equal protection.”

“That is exactly Bush v. Gore,” Giuliani said.

The lawsuit as initially filed also included extensive claims about the supposed lack of poll watcher access for observing the processing of nearly 700,000 mail ballots. Much of that section was removed in an amended complaint submitted Sunday, as was the specific request tied to it: that, if the court would not block the certification of the election, it order those roughly 700,000 ballots excluded from the count instead.

At the hearing, Giuliani suggested that some of those changes to the complaint happened by mistake and that another amended complaint was being filed to restore allegations that had been removed.

He also said that it was actually 1.5 million ballots that should be considered illegally cast because of the poll watching issues, but he did not explain how he came up with the numbers.

Giuliani ranted at length about the “cages” poll watchers were allegedly kept in. He said the campaign would submit as evidence photos of poll watchers stationed 20 to 30 feet away from processing and holding binoculars because their visual access was so limited. 

Giuliani put forward the exhibits even though the hearing was on the Pennsylvania motion to dismiss request, a procedural phase that usually comes before the evidence is considered. Giuliani said that if the court denied the dismissal motion, the campaign had “hundreds” of affidavits to put forward, though Giuliani was concerned about “overburdening” the court.

While the proceedings were on a break to fix technical issues in the teleconference line carrying the hearing, a 5-2 decision came down from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that said Philadelphia did not violate state law in how it set up its poll watching access.

The lawyers representing the Pennsylvania election officials being sued in the case railed against Giuliani’s presentation, while picking apart the complaint itself.

Mark Aronchick, who is representing some of the defendant county officials, called Giuliani’s claims “disgraceful” and “ridiculous.” He said that campaign was turning the Constitution’s equal protection clause  “upside down” by going after counties for making voting easier during the pandemic.

“Can you imagine anyone understanding a court order cancelling [about 1 million votes] … based on nothing?” Aronchick said. “It is disgraceful that you would be asked to do that.”

Once the judge began asking each side questions about their arguments, it became clear that Giuliani did not understand basic legal terms.

For instance, Judge Brann asked Giuliani which level of scrutiny he should apply for the dispute. In election law cases, if a “strict scrutiny” standard is applied, states must overcome a higher bar in defending their voting policies, while under a “rational basis” standard, states have more leeway in defending their actions.

When Brann asked Giuliani which standard should be applied, Giuliani at first said “the normal one.”

Brann tried to clarify if Giuliani meant strict scrutiny.

“No, the normal scrutiny,” Giuliani.

“Maybe, I don’t understand what you mean by strict scrutiny,” Giuliani later added.

The judge also had questions for the other side, but they seemed to indicate that he was likely to rule in the defendants’ favor. He nonetheless asked for another round of filings in the coming days.

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