This is an odd case for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to have made in defense of President Trump and his 2016 campaign.
“When I ran against them,” Giuliani said, presumably referring to the Clintons, “they were looking for dirt on me every day. I mean, that’s what you do. It’s — maybe you shouldn’t, but you do it. Nothing illegal about that.”
“And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn’t matter,” he continued. “And they never used it, is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.”
Sure, it’s certainly questionable to suggest as Giuliani does that if a foreign adversary offers incriminating, stolen information about an American candidate that should be treated as equivalent to research done by campaign staffers running background checks. But Giuliani’s attempt to assert the campaign’s innocence based on not having used intelligence from Russia is another thing entirely.
The Trump campaign publicly and obviously both embrace the idea that Russia might be able to aid their efforts and benefited from Russian interference efforts.
To the first point, consider the subject to which Giuliani was speaking: that meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower in which Donald Trump Jr. was told he’d be given dirt on Hillary Clinton provided by the Russian government. We tend to lose sight of how extraordinary that sentence alone is, given that we’ve been living with it for 10 months, but it’s extraordinary. It’s why Giuliani makes the claim that he does, waving away such a willingness to accept Russia’s help as the norm. It’s not the norm.
More broadly, though, Trump himself was enthusiastic about and promoted Russian assistance. There was his news conference at the tail end of the Democratic convention in July 2016 — his third most-recent solo news conference — during which he encouraged Russia to release any emails it might have hacked from Clinton’s private email server. That the Russians were involved in the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s server was reported a month before, a hack that apparently fueled WikiLeaks’ release of DNC documents about a week before Trump’s request. He was asking the Russians to do to Clinton what they did to the DNC. He was using Russia’s help.
Not to mention his embrace of WikiLeaks directly. On multiple occasions after the organization began releasing files stolen from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, Trump celebrated and promoted those releases. Trump Jr. interacted with WikiLeaks directly over Twitter, with the former pitching ideas for things Trump Jr. or the campaign might do and him occasionally responding — and, less frequently, acquiescing.
At one point, Trump pronounced, “we love WikiLeaks!,” talking frequently about the Podesta leaks as they trickled out. The candidate embraced those leaks.
That overlaps with the second point: Perhaps more than anything else that influenced Trump’s narrow margin of victory in the 2016 election besides James B. Comey’s last minute announcement, that steady, attention-grabbing flow of Podesta emails helped his campaign. The WikiLeaks releases buried the “Access Hollywood” tape on cable news.
Yes, the Russians were also active on social media, buying advertisements, promoting public events and building communities meant to promote political division. Those things were also helpful to the Trump campaign, but didn’t rise to the level of attention that warranted Trump’s embrace. Trump promoted the WikiLeaks releases actively and enthusiastically.
Even though the day that the Podesta leaks began the government had warned about Russian efforts to influence the election. Even though, as the releases continued, there was already solid reporting suggesting the leaks were a function of Russian hacking. Trump used Russian interference and could or should have known that it was Russian interference.
He did what Giuliani says he would have done had there been collusion.
Giuliani’s argument is so bad, though, that none of the evidence above points to Trump having obviously actually colluded with the Russians. There’s almost no public evidence to suggest Trump or anyone at the upper levels of his campaign had any role in Russia’s hacks or WikiLeaks’ releases.
But that’s precisely why Giuliani’s argument fails so spectacularly. It’s like my saying, “If I’d robbed that jewelry store, my wife would be wearing a ring on her finger!” Well, my wife is wearing a ring on her finger, but it has nothing to do with robbing a jewelry store. It tries to prove innocence by weirdly arguing that the crime would have led to a result that actually exists.
There’s no evidence that the Trump team colluded with Russia as a result of the Trump Tower meeting — but only because both the Trump side and the Russian side agree that nothing useful was offered! At least Trump Jr. — and almost certainly Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — came to that meeting expecting to participate in a conversation that would have led to collusion with the Russian government. Had the Russians actually come to Trump Tower with a flash drive of all of the Podesta emails, there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that the result would have been anything other than what Giuliani says would have happened: They’d have used it.
If that’s meant to be exculpatory, you’ll forgive me if I just don’t see it.