Outside the Williamsport federal courthouse, a crowd of about 50 supporters stood in a Wegmans parking lot Tuesday waiting to greet the man President Donald Trump personally sent to rescue his floundering legal effort to overturn the results of Pennsylvania’s election.
And as that ringer arrived, they erupted in chants of his name: “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”
But for all the hope Trump and his supporters had placed in Rudolph Giuliani — the president’s personal lawyer, TV attack dog, and the once-lauded mayor of New York City — it quickly became apparent that the only thing creakier than the case he had come to press in court may have been Giuliani himself.
Arguing before a federal judge for the first time in nearly 30 years, Giuliani delivered a wildly stumbling performance as thousands across the country listened in by phone.
He lobbed wild, unsupported conspiracy theories of a nationwide cabal of Democratic leaders plotting to steal the election that bore no relation to anything Trump campaign lawyers had previously argued in court.
He contradicted himself, saying first that the case was about “widespread, nationwide voter fraud” and later that “this [was] not a fraud case.” At times, he fumbled to remember names, referring to opposing counsel Mark Aronchick as “that man who was very angry with me.”
And he tripped over basic points of legal procedure and in one instance the meaning of common words.
“I’m not quite sure I know what opacity means,” he admitted to U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann at one point. “It probably means you can see, right?
“It means you can’t,” the judge corrected.
Giuliani moved on with a shrug: “Big words, your honor.”
The courtroom showing perplexed even those who had grown accustomed to Giuliani’s late-stage transformation into a cable-news pugilist. And it quickly became fuel for the internet’s meme machine.
The figure who showed up in court Tuesday seemed to bear little relation to the man who first blazed onto the public stage in the ’80s as Manhattan’s mob-busting federal prosecutor and then earned the nickname “America’s Mayor” for shepherding New York City through the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
“It’s sad, really,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office along with the law firm Kirkland & Ellis represented the state’s top election officer in court, in an interview with CNN.
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey told reporters: “I don’t think they have a strong case.”
And Aronchick — who represented several of the counties, including Philadelphia, that Giuliani accused Tuesday of committing fraud — said the whole affair had left him “dumbfounded.”
“When you’re in court, you have to talk about the facts, you have to talk about the law,” Aronchick said, before adding a dig aimed at Giuliani’s widely panned Nov. 7 news conference in a Northeast Philadelphia parking lot: “When you’re at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, I guess you can talk about anything.”
But perhaps Giuliani’s skills of legal persuasion were beside the point.
After all, his recent compromising appearance in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat sequel and the embarrassment heaped on the campaign in the wake of Giuliani’s Four Seasons news conference had done little to shake the president’s faith in him.
Nor had, apparently, the $20,000-a-day salary Giuliani requested to take the helm of Trump’s legal challenges in battleground states, according to the New York Times.
Perhaps it was simply enough for Giuliani to serve as the vessel voicing his client’s Twitter musings about backroom plotting and millions of fraudulent votes in a courtroom in front of a judge.
Predictably, pundits in the conservative mediasphere declared his performance virtuosic.
“I’ve heard from more than a few people that he was absolutely brilliant,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said on his prime-time broadcast Tuesday night. Jenna Ellis, legal adviser to the Trump campaign, took aim at his critics.
“You media morons are all laughing at Rudy Giuliani,” she tweeted. “But he appears to have already established a great rapport with the judge.”
For his part, Judge Brann listened patiently to Giuliani throughout. He greeted him respectfully as “Mayor” at the start and paused at the end to recommend Williamsport’s finest martini bar, in case Giuliani planned to stay over that night.
But in between, Brann peppered Trump’s legal team with skeptical questions about the specifics of their case, which Giuliani often struggled to answer.
That left Linda Kerns — the Philadelphia family law attorney who had been leading Trump’s legal efforts in the state until she was dumped by the campaign Monday night in favor of her more famous cocounsel — to step in repeatedly to try to right the ship.
Kerns’ appearance in court Tuesday had been ordered by the judge despite her ouster by the campaign. (She will continue, she said, to head up smaller courtroom battles contesting small pockets of votes across the state.)
Meanwhile, Mark Scaringi — the Harrisburg-area lawyer and conservative talk-radio host whom Trump’s campaign had initially tapped as Kerns’ replacement before Giuliani swept in Tuesday — remained silent.
Perhaps that had something to do with the assessment he’d offered of Trump’s chances on the Nov. 7 edition of his show. “Litigation will not work,” he said. ”It will not reverse this election.”
Brann concluded Tuesday’s proceedings by stressing he had not yet made up his mind on the case. But despite Giuliani’s vows he would present evidence to support his theories at a hearing scheduled for Thursday, the judge canceled it, saying: “I don’t think there’s a need for a hearing at this juncture.”
And as evening fell and Giuliani left the courthouse to be greeted again by the crowd outside, he did so with the satisfied look of a man who — despite appearances to the contrary — had accomplished what he had come to Williamsport to do.
After all, he told reporters about the case: “If we lose it, we’ll appeal it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.