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Rudy Giuliani’s conspiracy theories could be dangerous to democracy, experts say

(CNN)Rudy Giuliani’s increasingly outlandish claims of election fraud have former federal officials worried that theories peddled by the man once dubbed “America’s mayor” could be dangerous to democracy in the US.In the two weeks since Election Day, Giuliani has become a super-spreader of election disinformation. His eyebrow-raising claims — from Republican observers being barred from vote counts, to mysterious batches of ballots appearing in the middle of the night, to an election technology company using Venezuelan software to swing results — have been steadily debunked in courtrooms and by federal officials who have declared there is zero evidence of widespread irregularities. But experts say Giuliani’s avalanche of falsehoods — along with the President’s — could still have a long-lasting impact, sowing distrust in America’s electoral system that will be difficult to unwind. That would play into the agenda of US adversaries, a half-dozen national security and elections officials told CNN. 

“Real distrust in the system, casting doubt on the integrity of our electoral system, the constitutional process — the Russians and the Chinese couldn’t ask for any more,” former Trump national security adviser John Bolton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria Sunday. “This is dangerous to the Republican Party, obviously. Of paramount importance, what Trump’s doing, it’s potentially dangerous for the country.” Javed Ali, who served as senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council during the Trump administration, said that Giuliani and Trump questioning the election’s legitimacy makes it more difficult for the US to “wag the finger at other countries where you see similar things happening.””It’s one thing to try to prevent foreign adversaries from engaging in disinformation and misinformation campaigns to influence the elections,” Ali said. “When you have the President and his advisers pushing those messages literally from inside the White House, that makes us more vulnerable.”

As a personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, Giuliani has become a regular presence on right-wing TV, internet shows and on social media, arguing that shady forces stole the election.

In an appearance on the podcast of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, Giuliani claimed that ”in each state there were ineligible ballots that overwhelm the margin of victory.” But court case after court case has found no substantial batches of ineligible ballots.And Giuliani has repeatedly falsely claimed that officials spirited 100,000 mysterious ballots for Biden into the Michigan vote count late in the wee hours of election night. Federal government agencies have declared that “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” ”There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” a group of officials from various agencies within the Department of Homeland Security and other election groups wrote in a statement last week.  Giuliani didn’t answer CNN’s questions about his election fraud claims and declined an interview request. In a statement, he said he had collected dozens of affidavits alleging irregularities in Michigan and Pennsylvania.”My team is vigorously fighting on behalf of the President to restore legitimacy and trust in the results of this election and future ones,” he said in the statement. 

Dominion theories

Many of Giuliani’s latest conspiracy theories involve Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based election technology company that provides voting machines and other technology to election officials in more than two dozen states. Speaking on Fox News this weekend, Giuliani claimed that glitches in Dominion software swung votes and that the company “has close, close ties with Venezuela and therefore China.” That’s totally false — there have been no confirmed cases of problems with the company’s software affecting any vote count or results. And while Dominion acquired a separate company that was once owned by another company that had once worked in Venezuela, according to The Washington Post, Dominion has no “close ties” with the country. 

“Assertions of voter fraud conspiracies are 100% false,” Dominion said in a statement. “Election safeguards — from testing and certification of voting systems, to canvassing and auditing — prevent malicious actors from tampering with vote counts and ensure that final vote tallies are accurate.” Dominion also added that it is a non-partisan company and all vote counts can be audited.

Backing Trump

Giuliani’s role as a hawker of conspiracy theories is a far cry from his status as “America’s mayor” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He launched his political career as a federal prosecutor in New York, where he prosecuted mob bosses and Wall Street fraudsters. After his celebrated role responding to 9/11 as New York mayor, Giuliani became one of the Republican Party’s most high-profile figures. He ran for president in 2008, dropping out after trailing in the early GOP primary contests.Giuliani emerged as a vocal supporter of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, and quickly adopted his latest persona as the president’s conspiracist in chief. He traveled to Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son who had business dealings in the country — part of an effort that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Intelligence officials told the White House that Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operation in 2019, according to The Washington Post.Andrew Kirtzman, a New York communications consultant who is working on his second biography of Giuliani, said the former mayor searched for national relevance after failing to win the presidency — and found it in Trump. ”He is standing by his man because Trump has been his vehicle to power,” Kirtzman said. “The moment that Donald Trump leaves power is the moment that Rudy Giuliani loses power also, so it’s in his best interest to reverse the election results.”One of the clearest ways to see the falsehoods behind Giuliani’s claims is to follow the Trump campaign’s legal challenges, which Giuliani is “spearheading,” according to a tweet from Trump. On Friday alone, the campaign dropped a lawsuit in Arizona and lost six cases in two counties in Pennsylvania.In one Pennsylvania court case, in which Trump attorneys tried to have hundreds of ballots thrown out, a judge asked the attorney for Trump: “Are you claiming that there is any fraud in connection with these 592 disputed ballots?””To my knowledge at present, no,” the attorney admitted. The judge dismissed the lawsuit.

“The cases are falling apart,” said Ben Ginsberg, a high-profile Republican elections lawyer whose work includes the litigation surrounding the 2000 presidential recount in Florida. Giuliani is “continuing to file cases with no basis in court,” he said, arguing that the legal effort “just makes Donald Trump a loser more times.”It is especially surprising to see such wild claims and poorly supported legal arguments coming from someone who was once New York’s top federal prosecutor, Ginsberg noted. But Giuliani has had better luck in the court of public opinion — or at least among the audiences of Fox News and fringe right-wing news networks like One America News and Newsmax. In bombastic and often rambling appearances, he’s fanned the flames of election conspiracy theories. His mistruths appear to have helped spur thousands of protesters to a pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC, over the weekend. If a significant number of Americans believe Giuliani and come to doubt the validity of the electoral system, that could lead to depressed voter turnout in future elections, broader distrust of the US government, or even outbursts of violence, experts say. And after Biden takes office, his administration could be hounded by false claims perpetuated by Giuliani and his allies, in an attempt to delegitimize Biden’s presidency.

“The nature of democracy is you have consent of the governed. People have to believe that they had a chance to make their voice heard,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat who was appointed by Trump to lead the US Election Assistance Commission, a federal group that advises on elections. “That’s an important piece of the building blocks of any democracy.”Brett Bruen, who served as White House director of global engagement during the Obama administration, said that Giuliani’s messaging echoes claims from foreign countries seeking to undermine the US. Russian state broadcaster RT, for example, has written several articles highlighting Giuliani and Trump’s efforts to discredit the election.”Giuliani has become Moscow’s mayor, peddling their propaganda,” Bruen said. “It’s a disgraceful final chapter for a man who was heralded for his heroism in the hours after the towers fell.”Former federal prosecutor Kenneth McCallion, who specialized in Russian organized crime in New York’s Eastern District when Giuliani led the neighboring Southern District, agreed that he is unwittingly helping America’s adversaries. ”What they’re doing is completely, 100% in the interests of Russia, which is to create as much damage and confusion to the US,” McCallion said. “It is very dangerous and it’s extremely alarming.” Kirtzman, the Giuliani biographer, said that the former mayor has never done anything halfway — and his wholehearted embrace of election conspiracies is a sign of his dedication to Trump.”This is a critical moment in Giuliani’s life,” Kirtzman said. “Both he and Donald Trump are clinging to power by a thread, and he’s throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks — and so far, nothing is doing the trick.” 

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