It was Rudy Giuliani’s first appearance in federal court since the early 1990s, and by late afternoon Tuesday it was clear that US District Judge Matthew Brann was losing patience with President Trump’s personal attorney.
Trump is seeking to stop the certification of Pennsylvania’s vote in the Nov. 3 election, alleging that Republican voters in the state were illegally disadvantaged because some Democratic-leaning counties allowed voters to fix errors on their mail ballots. Two voters named as co-plaintiffs with Trump’s campaign in the long-shot suit had their ballots voided and allege that they were not given a chance to correct their mistakes.
’'You’re alleging that the two individual plaintiffs were denied the right to vote,’' Brann said. ’'But at bottom, you’re asking this court to invalidate more than 6.8 million votes, thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth. Can you tell me how this result can possibly be justified?’'
In response, Giuliani said that Trump’s campaign was seeking only to throw out about 680,000 ballots cast in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, because, he said, Republican observers were not allowed to watch them being counted.
But Trump’s attorneys had removed legal claims relating to that issue in an amended version of the lawsuit they filed over the weekend, the judge reminded him.
’'The poll-watching claims were deleted,’' Brann told Giuliani. ’'They’re now not before this court, so why should I consider them now?’'
Giuliani — who in the days before the hearing had falsely denied that the claims were deleted — was forced to acknowledge that they had been. On Wednesday Trump’s legal team informed the court that it intended to file a third version of its federal lawsuit.
Throughout the five-hour hearing in federal court in Williamsport, Pa., Giuliani — a former US attorney and mayor of New York — came under heavy criticism from opposing counsel and appeared unable to answer several questions from Brann about legal technicalities.
Brann asked what standard of review he should apply in the case. ’'I think the normal one,’' Giuliani replied.
’'Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by strict scrutiny,’' Giuliani said at another point.
At a different moment, Giuliani said: ’'I’m not quite sure what ‘opacity’ means. It probably means you can see.’'
The judge responded: ’'It means you can’t.’'
In a heated 45-minute speech delivered over a patchy telephone link, Mark Aronchick, an attorney representing several Pennsylvania counties, said that Giuliani was ignorant of the law, living in ‘‘some fantasy world,’’ and pushing wild allegations that were ’’disgraceful in an American courtroom.’’
Aronchick concluded by urging Brann: ’'Dismiss this case. Please, dismiss this case. So we can move on.’'
Brann declined to do so, setting a deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday for the president’s team to file a motion opposing the election officials’ attempt to dismiss the lawsuit.
This, too, appeared to confuse Giuliani, who asked if the judge was inviting him to file the retooled third version of the lawsuit that he’d promised earlier.
’'This is a brief in opposition to their motion to dismiss,’' Brann replied.
’'Oh!’' Giuliani said. ’'Oh, sure, absolutely.’'
According to the New York Times, Giuliani had asked the president’s campaign to pay him $20,000 a day for his legal work, multiple people briefed on the matter said.
The request stirred opposition from some of Trump’s aides and advisers, who appear to have ruled out paying that much, and it is unclear how much Giuliani will ultimately be compensated.
Reached by phone, Giuliani strenuously denied requesting that much.
“I never asked for $20,000,” said Giuliani, saying the president volunteered to make sure he was paid after the cases concluded. “The arrangement is, we’ll work it out at the end.”
He added that whoever had said he made the $20,000-a-day request “is a liar, a complete liar.”
The president’s attorney opened his appearance in court with a broad claim: that the Trump campaign was alleging ‘‘widespread nationwide voter fraud.’’
But he was unable to provide evidence of any fraud, and said later under questioning from Brann that the lawsuit did not allege fraud as a matter of law and that ‘‘this is not a fraud case.’’
Giuliani painted a sinister picture of Democratic Party machines conspiring to fix the election against Trump. He alleged without proof that mail ballots counted after Election Day in cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were somehow faked to help Democrat Joe Biden make up a lead that Trump held among in-person voters on Election Day, whose ballots were counted first.
Addressing the one formal claim that remained in Trump’s lawsuit, Giuliani argued that Trump’s campaign and Republican voters had their constitutional rights violated when the Democratic-leaning counties invited voters to ‘‘cure,’’ or fix, defective ballots.
’'The Trump campaign has been treated totally differently than the Bush campaign,’' Giuliani said, misstating the name of President-elect Biden.
Attorneys for state and county authorities denied that charge, saying that Pennsylvania law allowed officials to contact voters with defective ballots, and arguing at length that Trump’s campaign had no standing to bring its lawsuit in federal court.
The defense attorneys repeatedly criticized Giuliani for basing his arguments on the discarded allegations that Republican observers were not allowed to watch ballots being counted, noting that three formal counts and a request for action over the issue had been erased in the revised version of the lawsuit.
While the hearing was taking place, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against Trump in a separate case on the count observers, holding that Philadelphia authorities had given reasonable access to representatives from Trump’s campaign.
And on Wednesday attempts by Trump and his Republican allies to throw out thousands of ballots in Pennsylvania suffered further setbacks in the state’s courts.
A judge in Allegheny County rejected a pair of requests from a GOP congressional candidate to bar 2,649 ballots where voters either did not write the date on their mail ballot envelope or signed on only one line rather than two when casting a provisional ballot.
In his orders, Judge Joseph M. James noted that the candidate, Nicole Ziccarelli, had “stated that she was not claiming any voter fraud” had occurred in either case.
“In light of the fact that there is no fraud, a technical omission on an envelope should not render a ballot invalid,” James wrote in one order. Separately, Trump’s campaign withdrew its appeal against a judge’s decision to allow about 600 mail ballots in Montgomery County where voters had failed to write their address on the envelope.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court meanwhile granted a request from Philadelphia authorities to fast-track a case in a lower court where Trump’s campaign is seeking to throw out more than 8,300 ballots for similar administrative errors. City officials asked the state’s top court to step in and rule on the case because counties are due to certify their final results by Monday.
Biden has been projected the winner of Pennsylvania and leads Trump by more than 74,000 votes in the state. Some counties are still counting their last outstanding ballots.