What is Rudy Giuliani thinking?
- Rudy Giuliani's media blitz over the last week has prompted former White House officials and Justice Department veterans to ask one overarching question: what is he thinking?
- Last Wednesday, Giuliani refused to say no one on President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow. Then he said that "if the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago."
- A few days later, Giuliani scuttled over a year of messaging from Trump and his associates when he quoted Trump as saying that talks to build a Trump Tower Moscow were "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."
- On Sunday, Giuliani suggested during a CNN interview that Trump spoke to Michael Cohen about his false testimony to Congress. The statement represented another departure from the Trump team's claim that Trump never discussed Cohen's testimony with him or instructed him to lie.
- The next day, Giuliani threw another curveball when he told The New Yorker he had listened to "tapes" that proved Trump never told Cohen to lie. When pressed on the comment, Giuliani hastily walked it back and said there were "no tapes."
- "How on Earth is he still representing the president?" one former White House official familiar with the legal team's thought process told INSIDER. "This is a s---show."
It's been a roller coaster week for Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's lead defense lawyer in the ongoing Russia probe.
Following a series of bizarre and potentially legally problematic public remarks, the biggest question in people's minds is this: what is Giuliani thinking?"How on Earth is he still representing the president?," one former White House official familiar with the legal team's thought process told INSIDER. "This is a s---show."
Giuliani has been stoking controversy since he first joined Trump's defense team last year following the resignation of white-collar defense attorney John Dowd.
Though he first struck a conciliatory tone toward the special counsel Robert Mueller, Giuliani quickly turned his legal strategy into a PR strategy centered around discrediting Mueller and the Russia investigation.
But in recent days, Giuliani has embarked on a media tour that legal scholars say likely did more to damage Trump's case than help it.
'If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago'
It started last week, when Giuliani moved the goalposts on Trump-Russia collusion in a big way, telling CNN, "I never said there was no collusion between the campaign - or between people in the campaign - [and Russia].""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]."
The statement represented a remarkable shift in the Trump team's narrative on whether there was collusion between the campaign and Russia.
Trump "didn't say nobody [colluded]," Giuliani told CNN last Wednesday. "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.
After the interview sparked a firestorm, Giuliani qualified his comments and said he represents Trump, not the campaign.
Giuliani revealed that Trump Tower Moscow talks continued until Election Day 2016The day after the CNN interview, BuzzFeed News dropped a big, controversial story alleging that Trump instructed his former lawyer and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project in 2017.
BuzzFeed reported that Mueller learned about Trump's alleged instruction to Cohen through "multiple witnesses," documents, internal emails, and text messages from members of the Trump Organization, and then from Cohen.
On Friday, less than a day after BuzzFeed's story was published, Mueller's office released an unprecedented statement disputing the story on the record.
Giuliani, who has made headlines over the last year questioning Mueller's reputation and accusing the special counsel of lying, applauded Mueller for disputing the story.
But on Sunday, Giuliani added fuel to the fire when, in an interview with The New York Times, he quoted Trump as saying the Trump Tower Moscow discussions were "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."
The comment represented a significant departure from Trump's and his aides' previous denials that the project ever moved beyond its earliest stages. When Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, prosecutors revealed in a charging document that discussions about the project - many of which involved senior Trump Organization executives and Trump family members - continued until June 2016.
Giuliani's statement to The Times indicated that those talks went on for far longer than previously disclosed, until at least November 2016.
Around that time period, Trump was pushing for closer ties to Russia and cooler relations with NATO, a key foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shortly after Trump won, his incoming national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, also secretly discussed US sanctions on Russia with Russia's ambassador to the US. At the time, the Trump transition team was also considering a Ukraine-Russia "peace plan" that favored Moscow and called for lifting sanctions on Russia.Shortly after the interview was published, Giuliani walked back his statements, saying they were a "hypothetical" and "not based on conversations I had with the President."
'Rudy is the gift that keeps on creating issues'
The same day that the Times interview was published, Giuliani made another explosive comment, this time on CNN's "State of the Union" with host Jake Tapper.
Initially, Giuliani told Tapper, "As far as I know, President Trump did not have discussions with [Cohen], certainly had no discussions with him in which he told him or counseled him to lie."
Then, he appeared to acknowledge that Trump may have discussed Cohen's false testimony with him.
If it happened, Giuliani said, it "would be perfectly normal, which the president believed was true."
"So it's possible that that happened, that President Trump talked to Michael Cohen about his testimony?" Tapper asked.
"I don't know if it happened or didn't happen," Giuliani replied. "And it might be attorney-client privileged if it happened, where I can't acknowledge it. But I have no knowledge that he spoke to him. But I'm telling you, I wasn't there then."
In a sentencing memorandum Cohen's lawyers filed on his behalf in December, they said he was in "close and regular contact" with White House staff and Trump's lawyers as he was drafting his false congressional testimony in 2017. They added that he was "fully aware" of Trump's repeated disavowals of ties to Russia, as well as his and his allies' claims that any contacts with Russians by Trump, his campaign, or the Trump Organization ended before February 2016.One former senior Justice Department official who worked closely with Mueller at the FBI told INSIDER they were flummoxed by Giuliani's interview with Tapper.
"There is no discernible legal strategy here," they said. "What was the purpose of this interview? How did Rudy think him going on national television and saying all these things would benefit the president? This is a goldmine for prosecutors."
Another prominent criminal defense lawyer who is currently active in the Mueller investigation echoed that sentiment, telling Axios, "Rudy is the gift that keeps on creating issues that do not otherwise exist. He should have taken the Mueller statement [denying the BuzzFeed story], embraced it and not said another word."
A cryptic allusion to 'tapes' and a hasty walkback
On Monday evening, The New Yorker jumped into the fray with a new interview in which Giuliani told the magazine that even if Trump did collude with Russia, "it wouldn't be a crime."
Perhaps the most perplexing part of the interview came when the former New York mayor said he had listened to "tapes" that proved Trump never instructed Cohen to lie to Congress.When pressed on his revelation, Giuliani hastily walked back his previous comments.
"I can tell you, from the moment I read the story, I knew the story was false," Giuliani said of BuzzFeed's report. "I have been through all the tapes, I have been through all the texts, I have been through all the e-mails, and I knew none existed."
"Wait, what tapes have you gone through?" asked New Yorker staff writer Isaac Chotiner.
"I shouldn't have said tapes," Giuliani said. "They alleged there were texts and e-mails that corroborated that Cohen was saying the President told him to lie. There were no texts, there were no e-mails, and the President never told him to lie."
"So, there were no tapes you listened to, though?" Chotiner asked.
"No tapes," Giuliani said. "Well, I have listened to tapes, but none of them concern this."
Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
It's "impossible to find a consistent position with Rudy over the past few weeks," Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, told INSIDER.
It's possible "he honestly doesn't have a clue as to the truth about Trump and his Moscow connections, relevant dates, business opportunities, lies," and more, Cramer said. It's also possible "he's a confused man who just spouts off what comes to mind and then walks it back when he sees the reaction."A third, less likely possibility, Cramer added, is that Giuliani has "been fully briefed by Trump as to the truth and is lining up various defenses depending upon any potential charges: 'Trump didn't talk to Cohen before the congressional hearing. Even if he did, it isn't a crime. Even if it is a crime, you can't indict the president.'"
At a minimum, Giuliani's comments indicate that "Trump was trying to line up a Trump Tower Moscow with the Russians to line his pockets while running to be the President of the United States," Cramer said. "It also seems at a minimum that Trump is taking actions that benefit the Russian government."