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Rudy Giuliani’s Pa. election lies are at the center of New York’s decision to suspend his law license

As Trump's lawyer, Giuliani did more here than in any other state to undermine confidence in the 2020 vote. A New York court called him an "immediate threat" to his profession and democracy itself.

Rudy Giuliani speaks to the media at a Nov. 7 news conference held in the back parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia.
Rudy Giuliani speaks to the media at a Nov. 7 news conference held in the back parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia.Read moreChris McGrath / Getty Images

Of all the lies Rudy Giuliani told in his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, it was the whoppers he spread seeking to undermine confidence in Pennsylvania’s vote that a New York court highlighted first in suspending his law license Thursday.

After all, it was here that Giuliani held his infamous Four Seasons Total Landscaping news conference, where he falsely asserted that thousands of ballots were cast in Philadelphia in the name of dead voters.

It was here that he made his only courtroom appearance on behalf of Donald Trump’s campaign — a fever dream of a proceeding in which he hurled wild accusations of a nationwide cabal of Democratic mayors who were plotting to steal the election.

And it was here, a week later, that the then-president’s TV attack dog served as the guest of honor at a Gettysburg hearing organized by state Senate Republicans, proclaiming that he knew “crooks really well” and if you give them an inch “they’ll take your whole country.”

The New York state appellate court cited his “demonstrably false and misleading statements” at all those events — and his continued spreading of misinformation about other states — in concluding Thursday that he posed an “immediate threat” to the credibility of his profession and democracy itself.

“The seriousness of [Giuliani’s] uncontroverted misconduct cannot be overstated,” the court wrote. “This country is being torn apart by continued attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and of our current president, Joseph R. Biden.”

The decision Thursday marked a remarkable low point — even for a man whose once-lauded reputation as “America’s Mayor” had already been diminished by his late-stage transformation into a cable-news pugilist, conspiracy-mongerer, and, most recently, target of an ongoing FBI investigation.

Manhattan’s famous mob-busting federal prosecutor and the man who, as mayor, shepherded New York City through the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks can no longer practice law in his home state and now faces the possibility of permanent disbarment at upcoming disciplinary proceedings.

The suspension was prompted by a recommendation from the court’s disciplinary committee, which had fielded complaints against Giuliani and concluded he had sought to mislead judges, lawmakers, and the public.

Trump called the suspension a politically motivated “witch hunt.” And Giuliani described the court’s opinion as a “disgrace” that “could have been written by the Democratic National Committee.”

“The bar association should give me an award,” he told listeners on a New York talk radio station Thursday afternoon, adding: “This is happening to shut me up. They want Giuliani quiet.”

In his formal response to court, Giuliani contended that the suspension was a violation of his First Amendment rights and that he couldn’t be punished because he didn’t know the falsehoods he was spreading were untrue.

But in debunking that latest claim, the court zeroed in on three of the biggest tall tales Giuliani told about Pennsylvania last year, including that Philadelphia had counted thousands of ballots cast on behalf of dead people — most notably famous heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier, who died in 2011.

Philadelphia elections administrators have repeatedly said no ballot was cast in Frazier’s name last year and there’s no evidence to back up Giuliani’s claim that thousands of other dead people also had ballots cast in their names.

(Incidentally, Giuliani also got the date of Frazier’s death wrong while first making that claim last year, saying the boxer had died “five years ago.”)

» READ MORE: Fact-checking Trump’s false claims about Pennsylvania’s election before his supporters attacked the Capitol

Giuliani, however, told the New York court he didn’t know any better and had relied on reporting from a local blog — one that, the court noted, had made no such claim about Frazier voting in 2020, though it had inaccurately reported that a ballot had been cast in the boxer’s name in 2018.

Frazier’s voter registration was canceled in 2012, shortly after his death, according to city voting records, which show he last voted in Philadelphia in 2006.

The court also found Giuliani’s defenses for his other Pennsylvania falsehoods lacking.

He blamed an unnamed member of his team for his repeated false claim — spread widely among conservative lawmakers — that more absentee and mail ballots had been returned in the state than had actually been requested.

“There is simply no proof to support this explanation,” the court said, noting that untruth appears to have been based on a misreading of statistics on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website.

» READ MORE: Fact-checking false claims about Pennsylvania’s presidential election by Trump and his allies

And it cited Giuliani’s stumbling performance in front of U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann in the lone case in which the former New York City mayor personally appeared in court to challenge Pennsylvania’s results. It was at that proceeding that he unveiled his baseless theory about a shadowy cabal of Democratic mayors that bore no relation to anything the Trump campaign had argued in its filings.

He contradicted himself, saying first that the case was about “widespread, nationwide voter fraud” and later — after the judge pointed out that the campaign had not actually lodged any specific fraud allegations — acknowledged that “this [was] not a fraud case” and instead was based on complaints about the administration of the election in Pennsylvania.

Giuliani’s “mischaracterization of the case was not simply a passing mistake or inadvertent reference,” the New York court found Thursday. And it concluded the damage had already been done.

» READ MORE: Rudy Giuliani’s courtroom showing in Pa. election fight left many scratching their heads. Trump backers praised it as ‘brilliant.’

More than 3,700 people across America were listening in by phone to that Nov. 17 hearing, and Giuliani’s false assertions led newscasts that evening among conservative cable pundits.

“I don’t know what’s more serious than being denied your vote in a democracy,” Giuliani told Brann at the time.

And on that lone point the New York court agreed.

“It is the very reason why,” it wrote Thursday, “espousing false factual information to large segments of the public as a means of discrediting the rights of legitimate voters is so immediately harmful … and warrants interim suspension from the practice of law.”

Read the opinion:

Staff writer Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this article.