A huge week in the Russian collusion front, and if there is one thing everyone in America can agree on, it's that Rudy Giuliani is absolutely horrible at his job of defending Donald Trump somehow not being a criminal Russian asset.
President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani backtracked on Thursday from a surprising assertion he had made a night earlier that left open the possibility that Trump campaign aides might have coordinated with Russia in its election interference in 2016.
“There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Giuliani said in a statement on Thursday, reiterating the president’s longstanding defense against accusations that his campaign secretly coordinated with Moscow to help swing the election. “Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.”
He added, referring to discredited conspiracy theories that the president and his allies have long cited, “The only knowledge I have in this regard is the collusion of the Clinton campaign with Russia, which has so far been ignored.”
Mr. Giuliani was seeking to clarify an interview on Wednesday night in which he stopped short of defending Trump campaign aides, drawing speculation that he might have inside knowledge of possible coordination with Russia.
“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” he told CNN. He added: “I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack” the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Giuliani’s backpedaling was the latest in a series of conflicting comments he has made about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The evolution of his statements have suggested shifts in the president’s defense strategy, often following developments in the investigations. On Tuesday, prosecutors for the special counsel filed a 200-page, mostly redacted court document related to the case against Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Among the little information that was not blacked out were details about his relationship with a Russian whom prosecutors have said has ties to Russian intelligence.
The special counsel’s document was in response to a recent filing by Mr. Manafort’s legal team, which inadvertently disclosed that Mr. Manafort had provided his Russian associate with American polling data — details that offer the clearest example yet that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russia before the 2016 election.
Mr. Giuliani has previously denied that there was coordination by Trump campaign aides.
“When I say the Trump campaign, I mean the upper levels of the Trump campaign,” Mr. Giuliani said during a July interview with Fox News. “I have no reason to believe anybody else did. The only ones I checked with obviously are the top four or five people.”
Mr. Giuliani also went a bit further on the collusion defense, telling Fox, “Even if he did it, it’s not a crime.”
This week has been abysmal for Trump, as of course the Manafort court filing last week and Mueller's court filing earlier this week absolutely shows collusion, and Giuliani has given the game away on national television. Greg Sargent explains what comes next.
Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under former president Barack Obama, told me that Giuliani “must have some continuing hope” that Mueller cannot prove Trump knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort attended in the expectation of gaining dirt on Hillary Clinton produced by the Russian government.
Yeah, Mueller's smarter than that. Rudy clearly isn't.
If Mueller determines that the Trump Tower meeting constituted conspiracy, or if more comes out about that meeting or about other collusion we’ve already seen, or if still other conspiring that we don’t know about yet surfaces, Trump’s team will have to build a wall between that and Trump himself — which Giuliani is now doing.
“The insulation of Trump from the campaign is meant to remove him from the circle of any illegal conspiracy,” Bauer told me, adding that Giuliani is moving “to narrow the defense against collusion by arguing that the president is not responsible for what his campaign did.”
But this is a weak defense. It still remains to be seen what Trump knew about all the collusion, whether or not he actively participated in it. And we still don’t know what else Mueller has established. Giuliani’s defense signals he might be worried that still more is coming.
“If you’re the head of an organization, and you’re aware that your associates are conspiring, even if you weren’t the one doing the conspiring you could face criminal liability for it,” Katyal said. “Right now we have only the tip of the iceberg from Mueller. Giuliani may be starting to float a new defense in the event that there’s more damaging information on the conspiracy front coming out.”
Giuliani’s new comments also signal the coming political defense for Trump. Whether or not Mueller ends up indicting, should he clearly establish conspiracy by members of Trump’s campaign, it could prove politically devastating. Giuliani has now signaled this is a real possibility. He is “drawing a tight line around Trump,” Bauer noted. “Since Mueller is unlikely to indict, the defense is against impeachment.”
We'll see if that's true. Because last night, BuzzFeed News dropped this bombshell.
President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.
And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to "minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — "in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”
Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.
The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.
This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
But Cohen's testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.
This is what we all expected would come from Cohen's testimony and cooperation with Mueller, Cohen basically copping to a conspiracy to lie to Congress at the minimum, and if that's the case, then things are going to get very nasty soon. Straight up, no-frills, full-stop obstruction of justice, period.
I know I keep saying how bad things are for the Trump regime, and how each new week seems more awful for them than the last, but this week is starting to look like a backbreaker. Mueller certainly has the documents and evidence to back up this assertion, so expect today to be quite the ride. This isn't just impeachable, it's outright indictable.
And Trump's Attoney General nominee, William Barr, was nailed on this exact scenario earlier this week by Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Senator Amy Klobuchar quizzing William Barr on exactly what he would consider an act of obstruction. pic.twitter.com/tibx2ud2ed— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 18, 2019