Opinion writer

The Post reports:

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. ...

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.

No, you’ve not lost your mind; Trump really has, more than a dozen times in tweets, denied that his campaign colluded with the Russians.

Now, we already knew “no collusion” was false. Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, son and son-in-law met with Russians in Trump Tower to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Manafort gave polling data to Kremlin-connected Konstantin Kilimnik. Trump publicly called for the Russians to go find Clinton’s emails.

Nevertheless, to hear Trump’s own attorney suggest Trump has been lying — or in the best case, was utterly oblivious to the circle of Kremlin-connected hires on his campaign — shocks even the most cynical Trump watchers.

Giuliani clearly is wrong on one point: He claims Trump can be guilty of a crime only if he conspired to hack Clinton’s emails. That is patently false. If Trump conspired to break campaign finance laws, schemed to cover up the Trump Tower meeting, dangled pardons in front of witnesses or otherwise urged them not to cooperate, leaned on former FBI director James B. Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn or lied in answers to written questions under oath, a variety of legal causes of action might arise, ranging from obstruction of justice, to conspiracy to violate campaign laws, to conspiracy to commit fraud.

“Once you join a criminal conspiracy, you’re all in and you are responsible for the acts of your co-conspirators that are reasonably foreseeable to you,” says former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “If you’re in for a dime, you’re in for a dollar, so to speak.”

Former prosecutor Mimi Rocah concurs. “If he was aware of the general goals of the other actors and did something that helped facilitate those goals either before, after, or during, he has joined the conspiracy and/or is aiding and abetting. Same thing as being the principal actor.”

Giuliani either was confused (even by his standards) or trying to distance the president from the possible criminality of others. As a legal matter, the latter likely will fail. For a man who insists he knows everything about everything, it’s inconceivable that so many people were conspiring with the Russians without his knowledge and/or approval. Even on its own terms, Giuliani’s defense is politically disastrous, however. It paints Trump as a dupe, led astray by what former New Jersey governor Chris Christie called an “evolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons." He doesn’t hire the best people; he hires the worst and cannot keep track of what they are up to, if Giuliani’s “hear nothing, see nothing” theory is true.

The remarkable progression from no collusion/no contacts to “I didn’t know about the meetings” to “Collusion isn’t a crime” to “Well, others might have colluded but Trump was clueless” suggests three things. First, the White House knows of serious criminal charges in the works against one or more associates. Second, we know a sliver of what Robert S. Mueller III knows, and Trump and his legal team don’t know much more. Third, Republicans who parroted his “no collusion” and “witch hunt” claims look foolish, if not duplicitous. They now have to decide to continue blindly following Trump or to finally cut him loose, start looking for a 2020 challenger, and hope voters forget that Republicans aided and abetted Trump every step of the way.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Giuliani’s absurd ‘collusion’ walkback signals serious worry about Trump’s vulnerability

Max Boot: The collusion case against Trump just got a lot stronger

Tom Toles: When Trump said ‘no collusion,’ he meant between himself and the truth

Jennifer Rubin: It’s undeniable: Trump and the Russians are locked at the hip