President Trump’s legal spokesman Rudolph W. Giuliani spent much of the long weekend cleaning up a mess he created. After suggesting that the effort to secure a Trump Tower Moscow went beyond the June 2016 date indicated in Michael Cohen’s plea deal, Giuliani walked that back and commenced arguing that he didn’t actually mess it up in the first place.
What is most remarkable about the whole thing, though? This isn’t even the first time he has done this on this exact subject.
Giuliani’s uneven performance on this key question again suggests a lawyer who has not particularly honed his talking points for Trump and does not seem to be clued in to what his client actually did, and when. It also seems that Giuliani may not trust Trump enough to offer firm answers.
To sum up: Giuliani said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the conversations about the Moscow project “went on throughout 2016.” He later seemed to confirm to the New York Times that they lasted until late 2016, even as Trump was securing the presidency. Giuliani told the Times that Trump told him they were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won” — i.e. November 2016.
Then came the walkback. In a statement to The Washington Post, Giuliani said, “My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow ‘project’ were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the President.” He also told the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner that he did not actually say what the Times reported.
So the president’s legal spokesman is saying things without consulting his client? And the Times literally made up a quote? It all boggles the mind. But it boggles the mind more when you consider that Giuliani has gone down this road before.
Back in December, Giuliani told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s answer to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on when Trump Tower Moscow was shelved “would have covered all the way up to . . . November of 2016.” He added in a CNN interview, “Up until November 2016, they could have had a conversation about Trump Tower Moscow, and it went nowhere.”
Giuliani’s point then was more of a narrow legal one: He was saying the talks could have persisted through Election Day, and Trump’s answer to Mueller would still have been accurate.
But even at the time, these comments caused a stir — leading plenty of people to ask whether Giuliani was planting a seed for something to come, as he has done before. Given that backdrop, you’d think Giuliani would have honed this answer and avoided any confusion. Instead he seemed to lean in even more to the idea that the talks continued into late 2016 — and then professed to be surprised when people interpreted it as such.
About as befuddling is this exchange with Chotiner:
GIULIANI: But I can tell you, from the moment I read the [BuzzFeed] story [on Trump instructing Cohen to lie], I knew the story was false.
GIULIANI: Because I have been through all the tapes, I have been through all the texts, I have been through all the emails, and I knew none existed. And then, basically, when the special counsel said that, just in case there are any others I might not know about, they probably went through others and found the same thing.
CHIOTINER: Wait, what tapes have you gone through?
GIULIANI: I shouldn’t have said tapes. They alleged there were texts and emails that corroborated that Cohen was saying the president told him to lie. There were no texts, there were no emails, and the president never told him to lie.
CHOTINER: So, there were no tapes you listened to, though?
GIULIANI: No tapes. Well, I have listened to tapes, but none of them concern this.
So Giuliani suggests he has reviewed the extensive evidence on this subject and can categorically say that Trump never told Cohen to lie. But at the same time he says he doesn’t know enough to give a firm timeline of when the Trump Tower Moscow effort concluded? He even told Todd that he didn’t know whether Trump’s three children — Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump — were involved.
How is it possible to have reviewed so much information and yet claim to know so little about the fundamentals? And how do you float this idea of extended Trump Tower Moscow talks for the second time and then express surprise that people are as shocked as they were the first?
There is plenty of confusion here. The question is whether Giuliani himself is confused or is simply seeking to sow other peoples' confusion. Both are entirely plausible.