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Behind the scenes, Trump frustrated with his legal team's maneuvers

While the president publicly praises his legal team, he has privately expressed frustration with the slapdash nature of his election defense fight.
Image: U.S. President Trump speaks about prescription drug prices at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump listens to administration officials Friday after speaking about prescription drug prices at the White House. Carlos Barria / Reuters

WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump has publicly praised his legal team’s efforts, he has privately expressed frustration with the slapdash nature of his election defense fight, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

The president has been complaining to aides and allies about his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and recently-removed lawyer Sidney Powell’s over-the-top performances at a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters last week, these people said. Both Giuliani and Powell have continued to make conspiratorial and baseless claims about widespread voter fraud, for which they have provided no evidence.

The president is concerned his team is comprised of “fools that are making him look bad,” said one source familiar with the thinking. Asked why he would not fire them, this person replied, in essence, who knows?

The president grew less impressed with Powell over the weekend, as she continued to make outlandish comments, including falsely accusing Georgia’s Republican governor and its secretary of state of being part of a scheme to alter votes.

That ultimately led to the terse statement the Trump campaign put out Sunday night on behalf of Giuliani and senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis: “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump legal team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity,” it read.

Trump was also not pleased with the optics of the brown substance, presumed to be hair dye or a makeup product, dripping down Giuliani’s face during the nearly two-hour news conference Thursday, according to one of the sources familiar with the president’s reaction.

Outside allies are also irritated about how disorganized and haphazard the legal strategy has appeared, and they have conveyed that to the White House, according to several people close to the president.

On Sunday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a longtime ally of the president, called his legal maneuverings a "national embarrassment," singling out Powell's unfounded claims.

Giuliani got his major role on the team “by default,” according to one ally, because he’s unabashed in his support for Trump and willing to say and do things other attorneys may not. Adding to that, the president’s first choice — longtime aide David Bossie — was sidelined from the effort when he was infected with the coronavirus earlier this month.

When Giuliani was announced as taking the lead, it did not go over well with some of the president’s aides and allies because he “makes mockery” of the effort to actually pursue what they consider to be legitimate issues around voting, these people said.

Others have said anyone around the president who continues to push unfounded claims is “counterproductive,” according to one senior administration official. Many in the president’s orbit are watching for Michigan and Pennsylvania to certify their election results Monday, as expected, for President-elect Joe Biden, who won both by significant margins.

Still, there’s far from a consensus that the president should give up the fight entirely. While he may be exploring ways to do that behind the scenes, Trump is not doing much of that publicly. He had nothing listed on his schedule Monday for the 12th time since the election.