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Rudy Giuliani: ‘I never said there was no collusion’ between Trump campaign and Russia

President Trump's lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani is now arguing that even if the president colluded with Russia or directed hush-money payments, it is not a crime. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Rudolph W. Giuliani claimed Wednesday night that he “never said there was no collusion” between President Trump’s campaign and Russia leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

In a remarkable, at times contentious interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the president’s lawyer was accused of contradicting his own past statements about collusion as well as what Trump and his supporters have repeatedly asserted. On Twitter, Trump has used the phrase “no collusion” dozens of times, and a number of those instances were direct denials that his campaign was involved with the Russian government.

Giuliani’s shocking declarations — several of which Cuomo called out as being false — quickly sent the Internet into a tailspin as many wondered what could have prompted the former New York mayor to suddenly change course.

The heated exchange, one of many that occurred during the roughly 20-minute long interview, began shortly after Giuliani raged about the amount of “false reporting” on the Russia investigation.

“Mr. Mayor, false reporting is saying that nobody in the campaign had any contacts with Russia,” Cuomo responded. “False reporting is saying that there has been no suggestion of any kind of collusion between the campaign and any Russians.”

Giuliani jumped in.

“You just misstated my position,” Giuliani said. “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign.”

Cuomo’s face contorted into an expression of disbelief. “Yes, you have,” he shot back.

Giuliani seeks to clarify comments on Trump campaign and Russia, saying he has ‘no knowledge of any collusion’

As recently as July, Giuliani was asked by Fox News contributor Guy Benson, “Regardless of whether collusion would be a crime, is it still the position of you and your client that there was no collusion with the Russians whatsoever on behalf of the Trump campaign?”

“Correct,” Giuliani responded at the time.

But on Wednesday, Giuliani appeared to amend his previous comments on the subject.

“I said the president of the United States,” he protested, arguing that he had only ever said Trump himself was not connected to any Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “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 DNC.”

On CNN, Giuliani and Cuomo then proceeded to tangle over the president’s past statements that “nobody” associated with his campaign colluded.

“He didn’t say nobody, he said he didn’t,” Giuliani said of Trump, which Cuomo immediately noted was not true.

Giuliani said Thursday that his comments on CNN “have been misinterpreted”and that he wanted to clarify them.

“I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign,” he said in a statement, and gave similar remarks in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form. Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.”

The White House would not comment.

President Trump's lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani tried to downplay collusion by saying it isn't a crime and attacked the special counsel on July 30. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

In December 2017, Trump adamantly told reporters outside the White House that there was “absolutely no collusion, that has been proven.”

On Twitter, the president has been even more passionate when defending himself and his campaign, repeatedly using words such as “hoax” and “witch hunt” to describe the accusations and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing probe.

Just last month, the president tweeted, “'Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun . . . No Collusion.’”

During the interview, Giuliani also falsely stated that the news that Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had shared polling data with a man believed to have ties to Russian intelligence came from “leaks,” which he claimed had been done “probably unethically.” The information was inadvertently made public by Manafort’s lawyers in a poorly redacted court filing, The Washington Post has reported.

Rudy Giuliani just obliterated the goal posts on Trump-Russia collusion

Social media instantly exploded with reactions to the interview. Did Giuliani just admit Trump’s campaign had colluded? Were his comments foreshadowing a major development to come in the Mueller probe? Was this yet another attempt by the Trump administration to tone down its collusion denials?

By early Thursday morning, Giuliani’s name was trending on Twitter and some top Democrats in Congress were criticizing his remarks.

“WHOAH! Massive ‘No Collusion!’ shrinkage,” wrote Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said “Rudy is losing it,” saying Giuliani appeared to be flipping on his client, “possibly adding to credible proof of crimes by unindicted co-conspirator Individual #1, the President of the United States.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) called it “the sketchiest response you could come up with.” Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) asked why Giuliani is “hedging his bet on #TrumpRussia” and Rep. Jared Huffman‏ (D-Calif.) said, “How long before they break out the ‘collusion is good’ argument?”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) mocked his “collusion evolution,” referring to the range of defenses.

10 times the Trump team has watered down its Russia collusion denials

Celebrities, attorneys and journalists also expressed their views.

On his show, which aired immediately after Cuomo’s, Don Lemon summed up the exchange for his viewers.

“Man, Rudy Giuliani out-Giulianied himself tonight,” Lemon said.

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