Last Friday, as President Trump was leaving the White House and then again while he was preparing to board Air Force One, he took a few questions from the gathered media horde. It sure sounded as though he was distancing himself from his new mouthpiece, Rudy Giuliani, after the latter’s wild TV appearances and other media interviews on Wednesday and Thursday. Presumably once the aghast White House staff, Trump’s other attorneys and every TV pundit in the land pointed out what a mistake it all was, Trump abandoned his BFF, claiming that “everybody loves Rudy” but he really didn’t have his facts straight yet because he’d only been on the job for one day. (In reality he had been hired two weeks earlier, but time operates strangely in the Trump administration.)
Trump on Giuliani: “He is a great guy. He knows it’s a witch hunt. That’s what he knows. He has seen a lot of them… Rudy knows it’s a witch hunt. He started yesterday. He will get his facts straight. But what he does is he feels it’s a very bad thing for our country.” pic.twitter.com/oFIzSy87kt
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 4, 2018
Trump dismisses Giuliani’s string of disastrous interviews, says, “when Rudy made the statement, he had just started and wasn’t totally familiar with everything. And Rudy, we love Rudy, he is a special guy. What he really understands is this is a witch hunt.” pic.twitter.com/yudr8Uswp5
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 4, 2018
It seemed as though Giuliani might be sidelined the way Anthony Scaramucci was after his disastrous appearances last summer. After all, this is serious business: Trump is in the middle of two separate investigations by two different federal prosecutors. Letting his pal go on TV and stick his foot in his mouth repeatedly is counterproductive. It’s also redundant. The president can do that job very well all by himself.
Apparently Trump was satisfied with Giuliani’s garbled “clarification” and undeterred by the whirlwind, because the former mayor was all over the place this weekend. Even after being chastised for going on TV and announcing that three Americans held from North Korea would be released that day — something the president’s personal attorney has no business knowing, much less talking about in public — on Saturday he gave a speech to a Iranian-American group and told its members that the president is “committed to regime change” in Tehran. Why the president’s attorney is giving foreign policy speeches at all, and whether he has authorization to speak for the president, is unclear. Giuliani desperately wanted to be secretary of state after Trump’s election, and it looks as if he’s decided to take on the role anyway.
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Then the man once known as “America’s mayor” appeared on Fox News with Jeanine Pirro, and things got really weird:
Giuliani claimed that he isn’t yet an expert on the facts but is an expert on campaign finance law because he ran for president. He clearly is not. Just ask Kellyanne Conway’s husband, the Martha Mitchell of the Trump administration:
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) May 3, 2018
Finally, Giuliani went on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos and put on a show that will probably be remembered as one of the more bewildering Sunday-morning TV appearances ever. He said he didn’t want Trump to sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller and that he couldn’t be confident the president would not invoke the Fifth Amendment. “I’ve got a client who wants to testify,” he said. “I hope we get a chance to tell him the risk that he’s taking.” I think he just did.
Stephanopoulos brought up Giuliani’s interview with BuzzFeed last week, in which Giuliani said that Michael Cohen had complained after the election that he hadn’t been paid back for the Stormy Daniels hush money. At some point he told Trump about it, in Giuliani’s account, and they agreed on the $35,000-a-month retainer or reimbursement that was paid personally by the president last year. Stephanopoulos logically followed up on Trump’s Air Force One assertion that he hadn’t known about the payment by asking Giuliani, “So the President did know about this after the campaign?”
Giuliani sputtered, “Can’t say that. At some point, yes, but it could have been recently, it could have been a while back. Those are the facts that we’re still working on and that, you know, may be in a little bit of dispute. This is more rumor than anything else.” (The man could ask his client. He would know.)
Stephanopoulos pointed out that Giuliani had given a pretty clear account of what happened. He replied, “Well, maybe I did. But right now, I’m at the point where I’m learning. And I can’t prove that. I can just say it’s rumored. I can prove it’s rumor. But I can’t prove it’s fact. Maybe we will.” When pressed further, Giuliani responded, “How do you separate fact and opinion? When I state an opinion, I’ll say this is my opinion. When I state a fact, I’ll say this is a fact.”
Later on he provided a completely different story, saying that Cohen and Trump had a longstanding agreement for Cohen to take care of Trump’s apparently endless need to pay out hush money. Giuliani even admitted that there may very well be more such arrangements out there.
Let’s just say, Rudy isn’t helping.
Then the Washington Post published a story on Sunday that raised a lot of eyebrows. It was about Trump’s unexpected turn a few years back, when he went from being known as the “king of debt” in the real estate world to paying for risky properties in cash at a time when borrowed money was cheap. It was also around the same time Trump hired Cohen, whose “shadowy business empire”was profiled this weekend in the New York Times. These people were clearly up to something and that something looks a lot like money laundering, something that’s been suspected for some time. Steve Bannon, as you may recall, apparently said this to Michael Wolff, as quoted in Fire and Fury:
You realize where this is going. This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f***ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner. … It’s as plain as a hair on your face. It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those . . . guys up and say play me or trade me.
It’s possible that Trump sent out Giuliani to try to keep Cohen in the family, but it looks like the stakes may be much higher than hush money and campaign finance violations, and Rudy now appears completely clueless.
MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch reported that he spoke with Michael Cohen last week and Cohen told him that Giuliani “doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Look, there’s two people that know exactly what happened, myself and the president, and you’ll be hearing my side of the story.” I’m sure Trump is thrilled to hear that.