While Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani embarks on a quixotic and potentially destructive effort to reverse the results of the 2020 election, much of the president’s official campaign apparatus wants to disown it.
Several officials in leadership positions on Trump’s re-election team, including campaign manager Bill Stepien, have recently told associates they have zero faith in Giuliani, and are currently waiting for what they view as a doomed, haphazard legal fight to burn out and end, according to four sources with knowledge of the situation.
One Trump adviser called the current strategy a “dead end,” and said Giuliani’s high-profile attempts at drumming up legal obstacles to the certification of Biden’s election amounted to a “hostile takeover of the campaign.”
“The obvious thing is, this is a shitshow,” the adviser said. “When the Rudy show started, that was a sidelining of everyone else. At that point, it became an issue of going through the motions and the recognition of, ‘OK, this is definitely over because we don’t have a chance with... these conspiracy theories.’”
The sense of resignation felt privately by a chunk of the Trump campaign operation is at odds with the president’s personal assessment of how his long-shot efforts to recapture a second term are going.
As of Friday night, two sources close to the president said he remained intensely invested and personally supportive of Giuliani’s legal challenges. It was presumed among campaign staff that he was thrilled with his team’s now-infamous press conference on Thursday, in which Giuliani, and two other allied lawyers—Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis—presented a smorgasbord of wild conspiracy theories about election fraud, including a lengthy explanation of how anti-Trump Venezuelan villains supposedly worked to rob Trump of legal votes. And, for that reason, there was little appetite for anyone to say anything questioning the current approach—at least with their name attached to it.
“It appears that none of us are allowed to say [publicly] that that was one of the weirdest fucking things we’ve ever witnessed,” one senior Trump administration official said, noticeably exasperated.
And yet, that press conference was, for many, more notable by who was not there as opposed to who was. Trump’s own campaign manager, Stepien, was not in attendance at the on-camera event at the Republican National Committee headquarters. And sources close to Stepien and on the campaign say that’s because he does not actually support what Giuliani, Powell, and Ellis are doing.
“Bill Stepien convenes a call every morning to go over the day’s legal landscape and next steps. It includes top campaign staff and lawyers. It’s not a full-on campaign any longer; it’s a legal effort,” a senior Trump campaign aide said.
As of Friday night, Stepien hadn’t tweeted in support of the legal salvos since Nov. 5. He hadn’t posted to Twitter at all since he tweeted about “#stopthesteal” and “#fightthefraud” that day.
Stepien is not alone in seeking distance. Jay Sekulow, who has represented Trump in a variety of legal matters, including impeachment, has notably not been participating in the current legal drama, which has involved a number of often-humiliating losses and error-riddled filings in various state courts. John Dowd, who represented the president during the Mueller investigation and remains an informal legal adviser to Trump, is often willing to publicly defend the president on the given issue of the day. However, when asked on Friday about ongoing efforts to overturn the outcome in Michigan and the Giuliani-led operation, Dowd simply replied, “I have no comment,” before hanging up.
Top officials on Team Trump, knowledgeable sources say, view the current legal endeavor to steal the 2020 election as a “fucking pile of garbage,” as one official succinctly described it—one that has no chance of working, even as the president continues to throw his support behind it.
The aforementioned Trump adviser noted that inside the physical campaign headquarters, Giuliani, Powell, Ellis and Joe diGenova—another lawyer pushing the current legal machinations—are working by themselves in a solo conference room separate from the rest of the operation. There is, the source said, barely any cross-pollination between the two teams—though there is a shared bit of concern over the spread of COVID-19 after Giuliani’s son, Andrew, showed up this week and subsequently tested positive for the virus.
Asked about the factions that have developed among the Trump team, Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump 2020, responded with a statement that portrayed everyone on the same page philosophically with one person—Giuliani—in charge operationally.
“We are all here to fight for President Trump and help ensure that our elections are free and fair,” Murtaugh said. “The president has named Mayor Giuliani to lead the legal effort and we are here to support him.”