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'Beyond an embarrassment,' legal experts say of Trump and Giuliani's floundering efforts in court

"It's as dysfunctional a litigation strategy as I've ever seen," one attorney told NBC News.
Image: Rudy Giuliani And Trump Legal Advisor Hold Press Conference At RNC HQ
Rudy Giuliani holds up a mail-in ballot as he speaks to the press about various lawsuits related to the 2020 election at Republican National Committee headquarters on Nov. 19 in Washington.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Rudy Giuliani was brought in to lead an "elite strike force" of lawyers to guide President Donald Trump's legal challenges to the 2020 election, but their efforts have been "dysfunctional" and "an embarrassment," based on "unsubstantiated evidence" and "outlandish claims," legal experts told NBC News.

"It's beyond an embarrassment," said lawyer Glenn Kirschner. "It's both really poor lawyering and it has the worst possible motive behind it. It's all in the name of overturning the will of American voter."

Election lawyer Matthew Sanderson compared Giuliani unfavorably to James Baker, who led George W. Bush's legal effort in the 2000 presidential election.

"This is like Bush v. Gore, but replace James Baker with the editor of a QAnon subreddit," he said. "It's not competent lawyering. There are strategic errors, typographical errors — every kind of error you can make in a case."

"It's as dysfunctional a litigation strategy as I've ever seen," Sanderson added.

On Monday, the campaign filed its appeal of a federal judge's ruling dismissing the campaign's lawsuit in Pennsylvania challenging some mail-in votes.

The appeal complained the judge in the case, Matthew Brann, "misconstrued the remedy sought. The Campaign is not seeking to disenfranchise 6.8 million Pennsylvanians," as the judge wrote in his scathing decision — and Giuliani acknowledged in a court hearing last week.

The appeal says the campaign just wanted to set aside some ballots that they believe may be defective — and then notes that one of the remedies they're seeking is "an order that the results of the 2020 Presidential general election are defective, which would allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to choose Pennsylvania's electors" — in other words, which would disenfranchise 6.8 million Pennsylvanians by dismissing their votes.

The filing at one point refers to ballots as "ballets," and another of the campaign's filings earlier in the day referred to "Presidential Donald J. Trump" instead of president.

That earlier filing — which said the campaign was only appealing part of Brann's order but then added it might appeal other parts of the order — led to confusion from other defendants in the case, who said it was improper and they couldn't understand what exactly the campaign was seeking.

It also wasn't the first such filing since Trump named Giuliani his lead lawyer. Earlier in the same Pennsylvania case, Giuliani was seeking to add back in arguments his predecessors had dropped, presumably because they didn't have the evidence to back their claims. "The lawyers thought they were losers," Sanderson said.

Also Monday, the campaign lost another lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court — the latest in a string of dozens of court losses in six swing states since the election, most of which were started by Giuliani's predecessors.

"I don't think any team of lawyers can save this case. Election litigation is not designed to overturn tens of thousands of votes. That just doesn't happen. But even with that caveat, this strategy has not been well-executed," Sanderson said.

He noted that Giuliani seemed to struggle with some legal terms during his court appearance last week, and his over-the-top claims about a massive nationwide voter fraud scheme haven't been helping his credibility.

Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program, said Giuliani's efforts aren't aimed at winning court challenges — they're designed to bolster Trump's attacks on the democratic process.

"I think this is a strategy of trying to dog whistle to his base" by attacking minority voters in Democratic strongholds, she said. "It's to cheapen the process of how we resolve our political differences peacefully, and cast doubt on the outcome of the election in which he's not the winner."

"It's a pernicious, problematic attempt to bedraggle our democratic processes," Pérez said, adding the legal campaign has been full of "unsubstantiated allegations, inadequate evidence and outlandish claims."

Some of those claims have apparently even gotten to be too much for the president — he jettisoned lawyer Sidney Powell from his team over the weekend after she suggested Republicans had taken payoffs to fix the election in Georgia. That's where two seats that will determine control of the U.S. Senate are up for grabs in a runoff election in January.

Giuliani had made claims similar to some of Powell's, but never accused any Republicans of wrongdoing.

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A source familiar with Trump's thinking told NBC News Monday the president was unhappy with Powell's and Giuliani's over-the-top performances at a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters last week, where both shared baseless conspiracy theories about the election. The source said Trump is concerned his team is comprised of "fools that are making him look bad."

Pérez called Giuliani's variety of conspiracy allegations "the legal equivalent of jumping the shark."

"This is all going to ultimately fail, but this is still going to be damaging," she said.

Kirschner, an NBC News legal analyst, said, "It angers me when I hear Donald Trump's lawyers and defenders say, 'You have every right to bring these cases.' Actually, no. You have every right to bring a winning case. You don't have a right to file a frivolous lawsuit for purposes other than winning a lawsuit, like trying to undermine public confidence in elections."