Rudy Giuliani shifted the goalposts on Trump-Russia collusion in a big way after Mueller's latest move

Rudy GiulianiRudy Giuliani.AP Photo/Charles Krupa

  • As evidence continues to spill out about the myriad contacts between people associated with President Donald Trump's campaign and individuals or entities linked to the Russian government, Rudy Giuliani is once again shifting the goalposts.
  • "I never said there was no collusion between [Trump's campaign] - or between people in the campaign - [and Russia]," Giuliani told CNN on Wednesday night. "I said the President of the United States [did not collude]."
  • Last July, Giuliani told Fox News, "When I say the Trump campaign [did not collude], I mean the upper levels of the Trump campaign ... top four or five people."
  • Giuliani's decision to shift the goalposts this week and constrain his denial of collusion to just Trump is curious - it comes just after the special counsel Robert Mueller outlined the extensive contacts between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a former Russian intelligence operative in a new court filing.
  • Later in the interview, Giuliani tacked on another caveat: "If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago."

Rudy Giuliani can't seem to get his story straight.

The latest shift in his narrative came Wednesday night, during an interview with CNN.

"I never said there was no collusion between [President Donald Trump's campaign] - or between people in the campaign - [and Russia]," Giuliani told CNN.

"Yes, you have," CNN host Chris Cuomo interjected.

"I have no idea if - I have not," Giuliani replied. "I said the President of the United States [did not collude]. There is not a single bit of evidence the President of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here: conspired with the Russians to hack the [Democratic National Committee]."

Giuliani is representing Trump as the FBI investigates whether the Trump campaign secretly worked with Moscow to tilt the 2016 US election in his favor, and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired FBI director James Comey in 2017.

Since he joined Trump's legal team last year, Giuliani has offered several differing explanations as the public learns more about the contacts between people working for the Trump campaign - including those at the highest levels - and individuals associated with the Russian government.

Last July, Giuliani told Fox News, "When I say the Trump campaign [did not collude], I mean the upper levels of the Trump campaign ... top four or five people."

At the time, over a dozen people associated with Trump or the campaign were discovered to have been in contact with people associated with the Russian government, including the former campaign chairman, former deputy campaign chairman, former national security adviser, former attorney general, Trump's former lawyer and longtime fixer, and several Trump family members.

Read more: Trump and his allies' explanations for the campaign's Russia contacts have seen a stark evolution as new evidence has spilled out

After Trump blasted out a tweet in August admitting he knew that the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between top campaign officials and Russian government operatives was to get damaging information on the Hillary Clinton campaign, Giuliani fell back on another strategy: arguing that collusion is not a crime.

"I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime," Giuliani told Fox News. "Collusion is not a crime."

Trump echoed Giuliani in a series of tweets. "Where's the collusion? They made up a phony crime called Collusion, and when there was no Collusion they say there was Obstruction (of a phony crime that never existed)," he wrote.

"I don't even know if that's a crime - colluding with Russians. Hacking is the crime. The president didn't hack. He didn't pay for the hacking," Giuliani also told CNN last year.

Paul ManafortDrew Angerer/Getty Images

Giuliani may 'have gotten wind of' Mueller's next move

The timing of Giuliani's decision to shift the goalposts this week and constrain his denial of collusion to just Trump is also curious.

It comes just after the special counsel Robert Mueller outlined the extensive communications between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik in a new court filing.

According to the filing, prosecutors are interested in conversations Manafort and Kilimnik had about a certain topic from August 2, 2016 until March 2018. Much of the information about their interactions about this topic was redacted in the filing.

But Manafort has previously acknowledged that he met with Kilimnik in May and August of 2016. Many of his interactions with Kilimnik involved discussing the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to whom Manafort was financially indebted while he served as Trump campaign chairman.

Manafort is known to have offered Deripaska "private briefings" about the Trump campaign beginning in April 2016 and continuing until at least July. Former intelligence officials told INSIDER the offer appeared to be part of an effort by Manafort to resolve his financial dispute with Deripaska.

Manafort and Kilimnik met in person on August 2, 2016. Manafort said they discussed the Trump campaign and the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee during the meeting. Kilimnik, meanwhile, said they did not discuss the campaign but talked about "current news" and "unpaid bills."

Shortly after the August 2 meeting, a jet linked to Deripaska arrived in the US and landed in Newark, New Jersey. It was in the US for less than 24 hours.

Sean Hecker, a white-collar criminal defense attorney at Kaplan, Hecker & Fink said the timing of Giuliani's latest shift may not be a coincidence.

"Suspect he's gotten wind of" Mueller's unredacted filings in the Manafort case, Hecker wrote. "No longer tenable to claim no collusion by campaign in ways that may well have affected election outcome, whether [Trump] knew it (or was reckless in not knowing it) or not; and he obstructed efforts to find out."

Read more: Mueller dropped an intriguing hint about where the Russia probe is headed in a new court filing

Cuomo referenced Manafort in his interview with Giuliani on Wednesday.

"The guy running [Trump's] campaign was working on an issue at the time of the [Republican National Convention]," Cuomo said, referring to Manafort's suspected role in pushing for a change to soften the GOP's position on assisting Ukraine in countering Russian aggression.

Trump "didn't say nobody [colluded]," Giuliani said. "He said he didn't. He said he didn't. He didn't say nobody."

Later in the interview, he tacked on another caveat.

"If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago," Giuliani said.

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