Rudolph W. Giuliani has been all over TV in recent days– making damaging concessions, opening up the possibility President Trump used a slush fund to pay off many women and, worst of all, floating the idea Trump doesn’t need to respond to a subpoena because he is president. (The Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon and Clinton v. Jones thought differently). Outside the Fox News cocoon, with real interviewers, the Trump team, we can all see, devolves into gibberish, suggesting there is no accurate and exculpatory story to tell.
No appearance was as catastrophic, however, as his outing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. It started out here and went steadily downhill:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The president said you didn’t get the facts straight, so let’s try to get some facts on the table to begin with. The president does acknowledge meeting Stormy Daniels, correct?
GIULIANI: You know, I’m not really involved in the — in the Daniels thing. So I don’t — I don’t know. I mean, he denies that it happened. She has written a letter denying it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well we do have a picture of them together, so the — the president…
GIULIANI: Well, it depends on kind of what you mean by met her. Right?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, yes, there’s the picture right there.
Giuliani continually contradicted himself and pleaded to ignorance of the facts:
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.
Around and around they went, Giuliani struggling to claim Trump did not know what his $35,000 payments to Michael Cohen entailed. Looking like someone who will say anything in the moment hardly seems to be part of some grand strategy on Giuliani’s part. Along the way, Giuliani was asked if Trump used a pool of money to pay off other women. “I have no knowledge of that. But I — I — I — would think if it was necessary, yes.” Thunk.
On special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, Stephanopoulos repeatedly corrected Giuliani. No, the questions weren’t leaked by the prosecutors; they were Jay Sekulow’s notes; no, there are questions about collusion on the list.
Worst of all, Giuliani couldn’t explain how an interview with Mueller would be a perjury “trap” unless Trump was lying.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mayor, if the president has done nothing wrong, as you say, again and again, and he tells the truth.
GIULIANI: He hasn’t done anything wrong, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know — and if he tells — and he tells the truth, as you would advise him to do, what is the danger in answering Robert Mueller’s questions?
GIULIANI: Because, they’re trying to trap — you can’t — you couldn’t put a lawyer on this show, who wants to keep his law license, to tell you he should testify.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it’s only a trap if the president doesn’t tell the truth.
GIULIANI: No, it isn’t. It’s only prosecutable if they have some built up, manipulated evidence to prove the president didn’t tell the truth. How often has that happened?
STEPHANOPOULOS: If you have evidence that proves he doesn’t tell the truth, then the president didn’t tell the truth.
GIULIANI: No. People do things like lie. People lie. Could [James B.] Comey be lying? You’re damn right he could be lying, George. And we’re going to walk ourselves into a trap like that? I couldn’t…
STEPHANOPOULOS: If Mr. Comey lied to the special counsel then he is the one who is vulnerable to perjury. . . . But you believe the president is telling the truth. If you believe that, if you have that conviction, you’re his attorney. Why don’t you say go in, talk to Robert Mueller. Tell the truth.
GIULIANI: Because I wouldn’t be an attorney if I did that, George, I’d be living in some kind of unreal fantasy world that everybody tells the truth. . . . I’m going to walk him into a prosecution for perjury like Martha Stewart did? I mean, she’d tell you…
STEPHANOPOULOS: She didn’t tell the truth.
All of this would be nearly comedic if it did not entail the president’s contempt for the truth and the rule of law.
Then came this exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: What happens if Robert Mueller subpoenas the president? Will you comply?
GIULIANI: Well, we don’t have to. He’s the president of the United States. We can assert the same privilege as other presidents have. President Clinton negotiated a deal in which he didn’t admit the effectiveness of the subpoena. They withdrew it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, but he did testify — yeah, but he did testify before the grand jury. Is the president willing to do that?
GIULIANI: But only for two-and-a-half hours, only with an arranged format. Would we be willing to do that? I would rather have the Hillary Clinton treatment. . . .
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident the president will not take the Fifth in this case?
GIULIANI: How can I ever be confident of that? When I’m facing a situation with the president and all the other lawyers are, in which every lawyer in America thinks he would be a fool to testify, I’ve got a client who wants to testify, please, don’t — he said it yesterday.
For starters, if Hillary Clinton had lied in an FBI investigation, she would have been prosecuted. Second, she did not take the Fifth as Trump now contemplates. Moreover, she was not then president of the United States and had not taken an oath to “take care” to enforce the laws, nor was she facing huge liability for a course of conduct that arguably amounts to obstruction of justice. The Trump team’s insistence on hiding behind Clinton’s pantsuit is the ultimate whataboutism, which carries no weight in court. Rather, it suggests desperation.
In all his bumbling, Giuliani may be feeding Trump’s insatiable need for affirmation, but he is making his client seem awfully guilty. There’s rampant speculation about Giuliani’s mental acuity and expertise (after decades without courtroom experience), but Trump hired him. It’s Trump’s problem if he is too dense to recognize Giuliani’s gross incompetence.
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