By Tierney Sneed
Rudy Giuliani defended his work on former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election-reversal gambits as he testified Monday in attorney disciplinary proceedings in Washington, DC.
Over the course of several hours of questioning by the chief lawyer in the DC Bar’s disciplinary office, Giuliani acknowledged he was now fuzzy on the election procedures in Pennsylvania — where he signed onto a lawsuit challenging Trump’s defeat that is at the heart of current attorney ethics charges — and he pushed back on the idea that the fraud allegations made in the lawsuit needed to be more specific.
“You don’t start a lawsuit being able to prove — I mean, you’re very lucky when you do. You don’t start a lawsuit being able to prove, but being able to responsibly allege,” the former New York City mayor said. “I was responsibly alleging, based on the things that were told to me by other people. I wasn’t proving — I had a long way to go to prove.”
The Board on Professional Responsibility is hearing testimony from Giuliani and other witnesses as it weighs whether the lawsuit he brought on behalf of Trump’s 2020 campaign put him in violation of attorney ethics rules.
The disciplinary proceedings have a shape similar to a trial, with several witnesses including Giuliani testifying. The disciplinary process, which was launched by DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox, has several more steps to go before final resolution.
During Monday’s hearing, Fox grilled Giuliani on the logic of the Pennsylvania lawsuit, where the Trump campaign was seeking to throw out hundreds of thousands of mail ballots, and what evidence the Trump team had to support its mass fraud allegations. In one exchange, Fox pointed to an account referenced in the lawsuit about ballots being damaged by one Pennsylvania county’s ballot opening machines. He asked Giuliani what other evidence could be combined with that account to allege fraud.
“Of course, I didn’t know that at the beginning of litigation. No lawyer would know that, Mr. Fox,” Giuliani said. “You find that out when you take discovery. You find that out when you when you ask further questions. I’m in this case for two days.”
Giuliani described the Trump campaign’s legal strategy for challenging the 2020 election results and said he had hoped to frame an eventual case for the US Supreme Court.
“My role was to show in Pennsylvania had followed the same set of eight or 10 suspicious actions, illegal actions, whatever you want to call them — irregular actions — that could not have been the product of accident,” Giuliani said, while suggesting that the goal was proving a conspiracy across many states.
Doubling down on conspiracy theories
The disciplinary proceedings that have been brought against Giuliani zero in on the Pennsylvania lawsuit, filed in federal court in the state. His description of the larger strategy sheds new light on the Trump team’s plan to overturn the former president’s electoral defeat — an effort that is being scrutinized in both a Justice Department special counsel investigation and by an Atlanta-based Fulton County grand jury.
Giuliani on Monday said he wrote only a few paragraphs of the initial complaint that was filed and that he was relying on a local attorney to spearhead the bulk of the case. That attorney, Ronald Hicks, withdrew from the lawsuit before it was heard by a district judge and Giuliani led the arguments for the Trump campaign.
“I was giving (Hicks) language so that eventually we would have the chance to consolidate this case with other cases similar to it, so we can try to have one case to go to the Supreme Court,” Giuliani said.
At the time, there was much focus on whether the Trump campaign was actually alleging fraud in the lawsuit, as some of those claims were removed from the lawsuit shortly before the Pennsylvania case was heard. During those oral arguments, however, Giuliani made sweeping, unsubstantiated claims of “widespread, nationwide voter fraud” and a Democratic plot to steal the election in Pennsylvania.
Fox said at the start of the proceedings that Giuliani was “responsible for filing a frivolous action asking a federal court to deprive millions of the people in Pennsylvania of their right to vote.”
Giuliani’s lawyer, John Leventhal, told the hearing committee that his client had a reasonable basis to believe the lawsuit had proper legal and factual basis. Giuliani told the hearing committee that he was provided with a “deluge of materials” as he worked on the Trump legal efforts in 2020.
Giuliani on Monday doubled down on various conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, including a claim that Black Lives Matters activists were bused into Philadelphia to vote illegally in the election. The claim was based on the declaration of an out-of-town hotel guest who observed a large group of people wearing Black Lives Matter gear at her Philadelphia hotel and from a statement about the supposed scheme from an unidentified Uber driver. Giuliani provided the declaration to the DC Bar’s disciplinary office at the start of its ethics investigation in an effort to show that the Pennsylvania lawsuit had a reasonable basis.
“Do you think that is reliable evidence of fraud in the 2020 election in Pennsylvania?” Fox asked.
“I don’t know, we would find out. We would certainly follow up on this,” Giuliani said.
Throughout Giuliani’s testimony, Fox asked him not to stray from the specific questions he was being asked and Giuliani accused Fox of not allowing him to give the full context around the 2020 legal work.
Giuliani’s testimony will resume Tuesday morning and his lawyers will also have the opportunity to ask him questions in the proceedings.
A trial-like disciplinary proceeding
Giuliani is one of several attorneys who have been targeted in professional sanctions proceedings. His law license was already suspended in New York by the state bar there, which said that the former Manhattan US attorney “communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large” in his work for the Trump campaign.
Fox, the lawyer who heads the disciplinary office of the DC bar, alleges Giuliani violated attorney conduct rules in Pennsylvania by filing a frivolous lawsuit and by engaging in “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
Fox has framed his ethics charges as a case “about respondent’s ethical obligation as a member of the bar to refrain from advancing claims in court that lack any legal and factual basis”
Giuliani attorneys contend that, faced with the fast pace of election-related litigation, he was relying on information provided to him by others assisting the Trump legal team and that he had reason to believe it was true.
Once the proceedings wrap up, the hearing committee will assemble a report and ultimately issue recommendations to the Board on Professional Responsibility. That board will consider a round of briefing from both sides and hear arguments, but the final arbiter of the matter will be DC’s local court of appeals.
Giuliani has signaled interest in bringing in witnesses to talk about their investigation into supposed voting “irregularities.” His initial list of potential witnesses included several prominent names in Trump world, including some who played central roles in pushing Trump’s election fraud lies, but his lawyers have since indicated that many of those witnesses won’t be testifying on advice of their own counsel.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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