By now, it’s hardly a secret that Rudolph W. Giuliani’s latest political act is essentially one of a glorified hype man and bare-knuckle provocateur — someone who just says a bunch of stuff and promotes baseless claims (about Ukraine, about the 2020 election, etc.) in service of his client, former president Donald Trump. It’s now landed him in potential legal jeopardy.
But there was a time when Giuliani’s penchant for spouting off actually made him look, well, prescient. We’re talking about when he seemed to kind of maybe predict FBI Director James B. Comey’s announcement late in the 2016 campaign that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
We’ve now found out that Giuliani told an inspector general probing the situation that he was indeed just saying things.
But his explanation leaves plenty to be desired. And it leads to questions about whom he was being more dishonest with: the American public or the IG.
First things first: Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report is hardly a shock. The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett wrote all about this episode last year in his book, “October Surprise.” Essentially, the IG report belatedly affirms Barrett’s reporting that there’s no evidence that Giuliani had inside knowledge — something that would be very problematic given that it would involve the FBI leaking investigative details to a political actor about his opponent late in a presidential campaign.
Nothing, because it was utter nonsense. As detailed in my book, nonsense fueled by Rudy’s braggadocio, and the paranoia of senior FBI officials searching for a scapegoat for their own bad decisions. Sadly the IG embraced the leak hunt mania https://t.co/I66KVLsmJP— Devlin Barrett (@DevlinBarrett) January 28, 2021
But what’s notable about the IG report isn’t so much what we did or didn’t learn, but how Giuliani explained it in his official interview about the situation.
Here’s a quick recap of the situation:
- Oct. 26, 2016: Giuliani tells Fox News of Trump, “I think he’s got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.”
- Oct. 28: Comey informs Congress that the FBI is reopening the Clinton email probe. That came after the discovery of more emails on a computer seized during an investigation into former congressman Anthony Weiner.
- Later on Oct. 28: Giuliani tells a radio show that he had been hearing “rumors” about the Clinton email investigation. He added that he heard one from “former agents” and “even from a few active agents, who obviously don’t want to identify themselves.”
When it was rightly noted that this was not an ideal situation, given the potential leaks involved, Giuliani tried to clean it up. He insisted that he didn’t actually have inside information and that his comments about “surprises” were referring to a Trump advertising campaign or a speech. He suggested that what he had heard about the FBI pertained to unhappiness with the investigation and not new developments.
But even at the time, Giuliani kept suggesting that he knew something was going to happen, somehow.
“I had expected this for the last — honestly to tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be about three or four weeks ago,” he said.
He added, “I did nothing to get it out, and I had no role in it.” But then he quickly added, “Did I hear about it? You’re darn right I heard about it, and I can’t even repeat the language that I heard from the former FBI agents.”
Fast forward to today, and Giuliani’s cleanup effort is detailed briefly in the IG report, which found no evidence of leaks to him.
For one, Giuliani says he didn’t actually speak to “active” agents, as he claimed in that radio interview on the day of Comey’s announcement.
“He stated that his use of the term ‘active’ was meant to refer to retired FBI agents who were still actively working in security and consulting,” the IG report says.
This doesn’t pass the smell test. Giuliani, as a former prosecutor, knows what the phrase “active agents” means: someone currently serving. It’s not how you talk about people who left the bureau but still work in security and consulting, which is what lots of former agents do.
What’s more, he differentiated this from his previous mention of “former agents.” And if the “active agents” were actually just more “former agents” somehow, why would he feel the need to say that they “obviously don’t want to identify themselves”?
The second element of Giuliani’s defense in the report involves the specificity of what he was hearing.
The report says that Giuliani said “the extent of his conversations with former agents was ‘gossip’ about Comey’s decision-making in 2016.”
This, again, doesn’t really square with what he said at the time. Giuliani said back then that he had been expecting this — whatever this was — and that he expected it to happen weeks earlier. That’s pretty specific. Even the idea that there might be a “revolution” within the FBI — as Giuliani hinted at in 2016 — doesn’t sound like something you’d deduce from the random grumblings of former agents.
None of that answers whether Giuliani was being more dishonest then or now — or even equally so between the two. Nor does it mean Giuliani actually did have inside information. But it’s the latest in a series of decidedly not-proud moments for the former “America’s mayor.”