Giuliani takes over House committee hearing to boost election conspiracies

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, Aug. 31, 2016 | Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

An unusual appearance by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, before a House panel Wednesday turned into an even more unusual Lansing spectacle, after Giuliani used his own testimony time to take over the hearing and question other “witnesses” — without being under oath.

Two hours before the committee meeting, Giuliani had appeared on a Zoom call with Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox to urge lawmakers to appoint pro-Trump electors. Michigan Election Law does not allow for legislator involvement in the elector appointment process. Nevertheless, this was also a theme at the end of the hearing.

“You have state legislators who are so frightened that they have a hard time focusing on it,”  Giuliani said. “You have got to get them to remember that their oath to the Constitution sometimes requires being criticized. Sometimes it even requires being threatened.”

President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump in Michigan by about 154,000 votes, 51% to 48%. The election was certified last week and is now in the National Archives.

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Like the Senate Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers and audience members heard hours of conspiracy theories and unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud centered on Detroit’s TCF Center which had previously been rejected in court. There was no testimony from Democrats or nonpartisan election experts at either hearing.

The pseudo-courtroom environment was, at times, hostile as Democrats on the House Oversight Committee pushed back on the testimonies and in turn were ruled out of order and got their microphones cut off.

Before Giuliani and Trump legal advisor Jenna Ellis began speaking at the committee hearing, state Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) repeatedly asked for the former New York mayor to be sworn in under oath. He was ruled out of order immediately.

House Rule 35 and MCL 4.85 both provide that all committee members have the unqualified right to place any person who appears to testify under oath. Committee Chair Matt Hall (R-Marshall), however, incorrectly insisted that lawmakers don’t administer oaths and refused to do so.

State Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) was also twice ruled out of order after stating that if witnesses are making such serious allegations of wrongdoing, they should be under oath.

“You’re allowing people to come here and lie,” Johnson told Hall.

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Ryan Jarvi, a spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel, declined to comment earlier Wednesday on whether Nessel’s office is looking into people lying in affidavits or any other legal misconduct in Trump election cases.

Nessel did, however, tweet during the hearing to call it “a state sponsored disinformation campaign geared toward undermining our electoral system.”

A whole hour passed before lawmakers were able to ask any questions to speakers during the hearing. Giuliani himself instead called “witnesses” and asked them a series of questions like a court attorney during trial.

Usually, Michigan committees hearing testimony call speakers to the podium and allow them to speak before allowing members of the panel to ask questions. Committee chairs are expected to lead hearings, not testifying speakers.

Camilleri tweeted: “What a ridiculous and shameful waste of taxpayer money. Will we ever get a chance to ask questions or is Rudy now the chairman?”

Hall had insisted that the 6 p.m. hearing would not go too long past 9 p.m., but Giuliani effectively led the meeting and allowed speakers to go at their own pace. The meeting stretched past the allotted time and eventually ended just before 11 p.m.

At several points during the first testimony from Jessy Jacob, Giuliani asked leading questions like whether the woman was expecting “that much crookedness and dishonesty” at the TCF Center.

Wayne County Circuit Chief Judge Timothy Kenny already ruled on Nov. 13 that Jacob’s sworn affidavit lacked credibility and dismissed the legal challenge that centered on it. Camilleri noted Kenny’s opinion during Jacob’s testimony, asking why the panel should trust what she says — to which Giuliani said that he had not heard of such a ruling.

Witnesses made an assortment of false and/or unverifiable allegations about various events they saw at the TCF Center, including ballots being stolen, others not being verified correctly, others being double-counted, “dead people voting,” suspiciously unbalanced vote totals and generalized conspiracies of Democratic misconduct to sway the vote for Biden.

At one point, a witness made the case for voter ID because she declared that she believes “all Chinese people look the same.” Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), co-founder of the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus, called out the remark on Twitter.

“So we can add anti-Asian racism to this circus of a hearing full of lies and complete lack of knowledge of election processes? Great,” she tweeted. “What a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. We are in the middle of a pandemic. People are dying. We have problems to solve. End this circus.”

Michigan has more than 373,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 9,400 people have died.

Mellissa Carone, who claimed she was contracted by Dominion Voting Services (but not paid directly by the company) to work at the TCF Center during ballot processing, made similar allegations Wednesday that she made at the Senate committee the day prior.

She was sharp with lawmakers who challenged her or even asked her questions. Carone had a particularly caustic exchange with Johnson, who challenged her after Carone spoke at length about the amount of “fraud” she witnessed in Detroit.

“I love how you can just say whatever you want to say,” Carone said with a laugh to Johnson while Hall ruled the Democrat out of order.

Carone also sparred with state Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), who questioned her about her allegations of poll books being significantly mismatched, which he noted they weren’t. 

In an exchange that made the rounds on social media, Carone told Johnson, “What did you guys do, take it and do something crazy to it?”

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When closing the hearing, Giuliani held up a large white binder and said it contained all the affidavits of witnesses that didn’t have the chance to speak.

“This is a swindle, it’s a con job, it’s the theft of an election. … They stole the election. It’s not the first one, not the last one. They’re going to steal unless you do something about it,” Giuliani said.

Ellis said that there is plenty of evidence of widespread fraud, although Wednesday’s witnesses did not prevent any such evidence. U.S. Attorney General William Barr stated Tuesday that the Justice Department had found none.

Giuliani said, falsely, that the vote in Michigan is hundreds of thousands of votes off from the “real vote.” Giuliani also criticized Democratic governors like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who have imposed COVID-19 public health restrictions and compared them to dictators.

In response to state Rep. David LaGrand’s (D-Grand Rapids) question about why the Trump campaign did not request a recount in Michigan, Giuliani said it would have been pointless because a recount would only count the “same false results” again. He went on to say that the election was “stolen” by mail-in ballots.

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Earlier on Wednesday, Trump issued a video statement repeating unfounded allegations of election fraud.

“All of a sudden I go from winning by a lot to losing a tight race. It’s corrupt. Detroit is corrupt. I have a lot of friends in Detroit. They know it, but Detroit is totally corrupt,” Trump said at one point.

Rep. Steven Johnson noted that Trump missed his only opportunity to clear up some of the irregularities that witnesses were alleging by failing to ask for a recount. The deadline passed last week. He then said he believes Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey should resign.

State Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) asked Giuliani directly whether he wants the state House and Senate “to hand the president the 16 electoral votes for Michigan.”

Giuliani said that he never asked for lawmakers to do that, but to “take back your power under Article Two, Section One clause” of the U.S. Constitution — essentially asking lawmakers in a roundabout way to break Michigan Election Law and do just that.

Although the U.S. Constitution allows discretion for legislators in the elector-appointing process, Michigan law specifically prohibits lawmakers from assuming such responsibilities, as those are instead delegated to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

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Ellis also asked for lawmakers to take back the certification of the Michigan election (which cannot be done) and undertake an investigation before deciding whether to certify or not. She said the presidential winner of Michigan has not yet been decided, which is false, and urged lawmakers to send electors for whoever did win.

Hall apologized for the partisan rhetoric and interjections during the meeting, and emphasized that he would like Dominion to come in and testify before the committee. 

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Giuliani allegedly approached Trump for a pardon. Toward the end of the hearing, Camilleri raised that issue.

Giuliani turned to Hall and said, “I will ask that he be disciplined for that,” calling it a “defamation of my professional character.”

The hearing was adjourned without votes or action.