I hardly know the gentleman.
Photo: Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images
Yesterday, multiple news outlets reported that Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is under federal investigation for a wide array of crimes, including but not limited to, obstruction of justice, money laundering, conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and serving as an unregistered representative of a foreign country. This evening, Trump predictably distanced himself from Giuliani’s work.
Asked by Bill O’Reilly, “What was Rudy Giuliani doing in Ukraine on your behalf?” Trump denied all responsibility. “Well, you have to ask that to Rudy,” he replied. “You know, Rudy has other clients, other than me … He’s done a lot of work in Ukraine over the years.” O’Reilly followed up, “You didn’t direct him to go there on your behalf?” “No,” said Trump.
For weeks, Republicans have been signaling their intention to cut Giuliani loose and portray him as a rogue agent. “This is an impeachment of Rudy Giuliani,” asserted Mark Meadows earlier this month. “But last time I checked, he’s not the president.” Trump of course has used the same tactic to distance himself from E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland (“I hardly know the gentleman”) and Giuliani partner Lev Parnas (“I don’t know them, I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do but I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know”).
Still, however well-signaled it is in advance, actually experiencing this fantastical defense emerge from the president’s lips is a vertigo-inducing experience. The notion that an unpaid attorney holding no government job or foreign-policy experience took control of American policy in a crucial region to the extent that diplomats in two countries spent months attempting to placate him — and did this all on his own — is so preposterous that merely to describe the scenario is to debunk it. Obviously, obviously, Giuliani was acting on Trump’s behalf.
But, just in case this little exercise in gaslighting takes hold, a few reminders are in order. Giuliani had been advertising his role in Ukraine for months. He boasted about it in Trump’s favorite newspaper: He “basically knows what I’m doing, sure, as his lawyer,” he said in one of two May New York Times front-page stories detailing Rudy’s efforts to push Trump’s interests in Ukraine. And he repeated his boasts in frequent appearances on Trump’s favorite television show. If Giuliani was somehow doing all this without Trump’s permission, Trump might have said something.
Sondland and Kurt Volker both testified under oath that Trump personally directed them to work with Giuliani to resolve Trump’s demands for Ukrainian investigations. Parnas, a Giuliani partner, had many publicly recorded encounters with Trump, including a reported meeting to discuss Ukraine policy. According to Parnas’s lawyer, he was pulled aside at last year’s White House Hanukkah party by Trump, who specifically directed him and Giuliani to carry out his agenda in Ukraine. Parnas’s lawyer has reportedly turned over audio, video, and photographs of Parnas, Giuliani, and Trump.
And, oh yeah, there’s a transcript released by the White House of a conversation between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, the established premise of which is that Giuliani is representing Trump’s business in Ukraine. After Trump asks Zelensky for a “favor,” he replies: “I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.” Trump tells him:
Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.
And then — just to ensure that there is zero confusion that Giuliani does speak for Trump — he goes on to tell Zelensky, “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call,” and then again, “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”
Giuliani has also refused to testify in Trump’s impeachment hearings, citing “attorney-client, attorney work-product, and executive privileges.” Of course, that defense makes no sense unless Giuliani was working on Trump’s behalf.
In his interview with O’Reilly, Trump simultaneously denied that Giuliani was following his orders while not very subtly urging him to keep his mouth shut in conversations with the Feds: “No, I didn’t direct him, but he is a warrior, he is a warrior,” he said. A warrior! You’d think his shocked discovery that Giuliani had somehow commandeered his Ukraine policy, turning it into an extortion racket that embroiled Trump in a presidency-shaking scandal while lining his own pockets in the process, all without Trump’s permission, would make him just a little bit angry.