Infighting and an attempted 'coup': Trump team erupts into chaos as Giuliani takes over legal efforts

Giuliani filed to appear in court on behalf of the campaign Tuesday.

November 17, 2020, 2:26 PM

As President Donald Trump’s legal efforts challenging the election results continue to hit dead ends, his campaign and legal teams have descended into chaos behind the scenes as many brace for the end of the post-election fight, multiple sources tell ABC News.

Since launching a long-shot effort to overturn the election results through baseless claims of voter fraud, President Trump has suffered a dizzying barrage of court losses and setbacks around the country, leading him late last week to install Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, to lead the legal efforts going forward.

But Giuliani’s ascent has led to an explosion of infighting and disillusionment among the president’s longstanding legal team and top campaign officials, resulting in dueling factions emerging from inside the president’s dwindling campaign, multiple sources tell ABC News.

PHOTO: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to President Donald Trump, gestures during a press conference in Philadelphia, Nov. 7, 2020.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to President Donald Trump, gestures during a press conference in Philadelphia, Nov. 7, 2020.
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, FILE

Over the weekend, Giuliani and his own team of lawyers, which also includes Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis, attempted what was described to ABC News as an internal campaign "coup"— an attempt to wrestle power away from the current longstanding Trump campaign leadership by claiming the president had given them full control moving forward, multiple sources said.

Giuliani’s team has taken over office space in the Trump campaign’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters and Ellis, who White House aides have previously expressed concern about, began telling Trump campaign staffers they now report to her.

Ellis told the remaining campaign staff that they should only follow orders from people named "Rudy or Jenna" and to ignore any other directives from campaign leadership, sources familiar with the episode said.

The directive sparked outrage from senior campaign aides including Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior adviser Jason Miller, sources said.

The attempted power grab hit a boiling point on Saturday when Miller, who’s been the campaign's chief strategist for months, and Ellis got into what sources said was a "screaming match" in front of other staffers. They both threatened to call the president to settle who he wanted to be in charge, sources said. At one point, Miller berated Ellis and called her “crazy,” multiple sources said.

Advisers fear that Giuliani and Ellis' heightened influence over Trump will continue to result in the president giving in to his worst impulses, sources said.

"To the dismay of the fake news, there’s no division here. I have full confidence in Jenna’s abilities as a lawyer and as an effective communicator on behalf of the President, and I look forward to working with her to help deliver the win for President Trump," Miller said in a statement to ABC News.

"This is yet another fake news distraction from the real story of election fraud," Ellis said in a statement. "ABC refuses to give our legal or communications team air time to talk about our litigation, but they’ll run with anonymous gossip alleging people are calling me names and trying to undermine our team. That should tell you everything you need to know about the media’s priorities."

The chaos inside the campaign parallels the president’s ongoing efforts in court, which have been met with increasingly frustrated judges around the country.

"At what point does this get ridiculous?" said one exasperated judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, before ruling against the Republicans in Nevada.

Many on the president’s team continue to view their ongoing legal efforts as meritless and destined to fail. But they are now eyeing this week’s potential ruling in Pennsylvania as Trump’s last gasp at a prolonged legal fight, sources said.

And on the eve of a major court hearing in Pennsylvania, multiple lawyers representing the Trump campaign asked to withdraw from a lawsuit that advisers believe will make or break their future efforts, leading Giuliani to file papers to appear on behalf of the Trump campaign in court on Tuesday.

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