“I think our audience is going to be a little confused,” said “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd on Sunday in his first question to President Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Todd was referring to viewers being perplexed by news that White House counsel Donald McGahn has been cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. But Todd could just as easily have been predicting viewers’ reactions to Giuliani’s appearance: The president’s lawyer took deliberate obfuscation to a new level, including one phrase that will join “alternative facts” and “no collusion” in the pantheon of the Trump presidency.
First, in discussing whether the June 2016 meeting of Trump campaign officials and Russians could be evidence of collusion between the two camps, Giuliani contradicted himself in back-to-back responses:
GIULIANI: Well, because the meeting was originally for the purpose of getting information about, about Clinton. The meeting turned into a meeting —
TODD: Which in itself it’s attempted collusion. I understand —
GIULIANI: No it’s not.
TODD: You just said it. The meeting was intended to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a criminal lawyer.
GIULIANI: No, it wasn’t. No, no.
TODD: That was the intention of the meeting, you just said it.
It seems the former New York City mayor was trying to argue that the original purpose didn’t matter. Instead, he just tied himself in knots and admitted that the president’s initial claim about the meeting — that it was about the adoption of Russian children — was a lie. (Left unanswered again was the question of why the president misled the country in the first place if he had nothing to worry about.) Yet that wasn’t the most remarkable part of the interview. That came when Giuliani explained why he feared rushing Trump into an interview with Mueller:
GIULIANI: I am not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury. And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth. He didn’t have a, a conversation —
TODD: Truth is truth. I don’t mean to go like —
GIULIANI: No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth.
Lest viewers think “truth isn’t truth” was some postmodernist argument about whether we can really know anything, Giuliani continued, “Donald Trump says ‘I didn’t talk about Flynn with Comey.’ Comey says ‘You did talk about it,’ so tell me what the truth is.” Well, either Trump did or didn’t. Both can’t be right.
Giuliani is not the first Trump associate to claim a Mueller interview would be a “perjury trap” — when a prosecutor, without any legitimate investigative purpose, subpoenas someone for the purpose of catching them in a lie and then charging them with perjury. But Giuliani likely knows that, as former federal prosecutor Randall D. Eliason explained in a Post op-ed, the “perjury trap” excuse does not apply here, given that Mueller has numerous understandable reasons to interview the president. Just to pick one example, a sit-down could help determine whether Trump or former FBI director James B. Comey is telling the truth. To make the “perjury trap” claim work, therefore, Giuliani is trying to argue that this truth and others simply can’t be determined, and therefore a Trump-Mueller meeting is pointless. Which, of course, is utterly false.
Like Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” “truth isn’t truth” will almost certainly become an enduring phrase from this presidential scandal. In three words, Giuliani perfectly captures his boss’s view of facts — and by extension, the views of his flacks and die-hard fans. When something as black-and-white as “did Trump talk about Flynn with Comey” is open to interpretation, nothing can be proved and no one can be found guilty. And that’s just the way Trump likes it.