“He”ll get his facts straight,” President Trump said Friday of his new personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. “I say, You know what? Learn before you speak. It’s a lot easier.” Yet there Giuliani was Sunday morning, speaking on ABC News’s “This Week” with host George Stephanopolous. The result was a fiasco.
The former New York City mayor and current wrecking ball got off to a flying start: Asked whether the president has met adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, Giuliani disputed this easily provable fact: “You know, I’m not really involved in the — in the Daniels thing. So I don’t — I don’t know.” Stephanopolous immediately put on the screen a photograph of the two together, at which point Giuliani tried to change the subject to Daniels’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
Then there was his argument as to why the $130,000 Trump reimbursed his then-lawyer Michael Cohen for paying off Daniels was all above board legally:
“Number one, it was not a campaign contribution because it would have been done anyway. This is the kind of thing that I’ve settled for celebrities and famous people. Every lawyer that does that kind of work has. And number two, even if it was considered a campaign contribution, it was entirely reimbursed out of personal funds, which I don’t think we’ll even get to, because the first one’s enough.”
But if it wasn’t a campaign contribution, and you’re sure of that, you don’t add “even if it was considered a campaign contribution.” That’s just asking for people to believe it was a campaign contribution. Already in a hole, Giuliani dug deeper:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well let’s — let’s — the other day you also told BuzzFeed, though, that at some point after the 2016 election, Michael Cohen had complained to some people that he hadn’t been paid by Donald Trump. And then — so then you said Cohen met with Trump and told him and Giuliani said that we’ll cover your expenses, they work out this $35,000 a month retainer after that. So — so the president did know about this after the campaign?
GIULIANI: Can’t say that. I mean, at some point, yes but it could have been recently, it could have been a while back. Those are the facts that we’re still working on. And that — you know, may be in a little bit of dispute. This is more rumor than it is anything else. But…
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that’s what you said. You said that to BuzzFeed.
GIULIANI: But here’s the — but here’s the — well, yes, I mean that — that’s one of the possibilities and one of the rumors. The reality is …
STEPHANOPOULOS: You stated it as fact.
GIULIANI: Well, maybe I did. But I — right now, I’m at the point where I’m learning, and I can only — I can’t prove that. I can just say it’s rumor. I can prove it’s rumor, but I can’t prove it’s fact. Yet. Maybe we will.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But — but you’ve said as — it — you’ve said as a matter of fact on Hannity and BuzzFeed, you talked to the Washington Post about it.
GIULIANI: I don’t know — I don’t know how you separate fact and opinion.
“I don’t know how you separate fact and opinion.” It’s hard to think of a more farcical dodge.
Then Giuliani admitted that it was “not uncommon” for Cohen to make hush payments on Trump’s behalf. Asked if that included payoffs to other women, Giuliani replied, “I have no knowledge of that but I would think if it was necessary, yes.” Another own goal.
There were too many remarkable utterances during the interview, including refusing to say whether the president would comply with a subpoena and opining that “I happen to think [James] Comey is Judas,” to break down every single one. But there are two things to learn from the latest Giuliani train wreck. First, regardless of the legal questions, the line the president and his team are trying to walk narrows daily. What was once “Trump doesn’t know Stormy Daniels” became “he met her but didn’t know about the payoff” and is now “he knew, but he also didn’t know because he makes so many of these payoffs.” The alleged affair with Daniels may not carry the legal danger of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, but politically speaking it’s more and more likely Trump won’t be able to make this story (and possibly others to come) go away.
Second, Giuliani’s continued presence on TV, even after Trump tried to walk back his comments, proves there’s no cavalry coming over the hill to save the president. It was bad enough for the president that he had to settle for Giuliani after other more capable legal minds such as Theodore B. Olson turned him down. It’s even more embarrassing that, after Giuliani’s other disastrous interviews, this White House was still fine with him representing the president on a major talk show. With the talent pool around Trump this shallow, no wonder the president can’t stop tripping over himself.