On Sunday evening, Donald Trump launched into what might very fairly be described as one of the President’s most pointed attacks on the Robert Mueller probe to date.
Seemingly at wit’s end after spending the afternoon in a highly contentious verbal jousting match with the New York Times, the President took his frustration out on the special counsel investigation, which he called “an illegal Scam!”
“I turned [Mueller] down to head the FBI (one day before appointment as S.C.) & Comey is his close friend”, Trump tweeted, after referring to himself in the third person in the course of imploring the special counsel to “release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump.”
Trump also claimed he “had a very nasty & contentious business relationship” with Mueller, an apparent reference to a years-old dispute over green fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
The Sunday evening broadside capped off a week of potentially serious legal setbacks for the President, including news that Trump Foundation CFO Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury as part of the Michael Cohen criminal probe. Additionally, reports suggest that Cohen himself is prepared to tell Mueller that the President knew of the Trump Tower meeting ahead of time, a contention that, if true, would contradict more than a dozen explicit denials from Trump, his attorneys and surrogates, and would also seem to imply that Don Jr. lied to Congress.
As Trump was busy lambasting Mueller on Sunday, we noted that Rudy Giuliani has been tying himself in knots trying to figure out how to spin all of this. Since joining Trump’s legal team (and thereby condemning himself to the wrong side of history) in April, Giuliani has variously attempted to shape the narrative with dozens upon dozens of appearances on national television.
Just to be clear, Giuliani’s ongoing press junket has been a train wreck, full of bizarre rants and characterized by an unnerving (if you’re Trump) penchant for accidentally pseudo-confessing to crimes. Even Trump realizes it, going so far as to suggest that Rudy “get his facts straight” just two weeks after Giuliani took the job.
For instance, in a late May interview with the New York Times, Giuliani attempted to cite James Comey in the course of explaining why the special counsel probe shouldn’t be allowed to run past September. Here’s the Times, summarizing:
Mr. Giuliani’s comments were an apparent attempt to publicly pressure Mr. Mueller amid their interview negotiations. He urged that the investigation be wrapped up as soon as possible, pointing as a cautionary tale to the revelation by the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey in the last days of the 2016 presidential race that he was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Mr. Comey’s announcement is widely blamed by Democrats for costing her the election. The F.B.I. found no wrongdoing.
That seemed to amount to Giuliani admitting that Hillary Clinton should have won the election. Oops.
In any event, the point is that Giuliani isn’t doing the best job when it comes to shaping public opinion, but for reasons that remain a mystery (apparently job performance isn’t something Trump takes into account when evaluating his attorneys) Giuliani continues to give interviews.
Well on Monday morning, he showed up on Fox & Friends and said this:
It’s hard to decipher exactly what Giuliani was getting at there (other than that he wants you to know that the President didn’t do anything wrong), but even if you accept the message, Rudy clearly isn’t the most effective messenger. For instance, this is just rambling:
They may have colluded, with somebody else, with themselves, a whole bunch of them, 13 of them, 14 of them, kind of, you can watch The Americans, and you can watch the Russians collude, I mean they do it for a living.
But Giuliani’s main goal on Monday seems to be to start laying the groundwork for a defense strategy centering around the idea that collusion, if it happened, isn’t a crime. Here’s what else he told Fox:
Giuliani told CNN “New Day” anchor Alisyn Camerota the same thing. Watch this:
It’s hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to get out ahead of something, although it’s not entirely clear what. One thing I would suggest about what Giuliani says in that clip is that CNN wasn’t running for President, so it’s not clear how it makes sense to compare a television network to a candidate vying for the highest office on Earth when it comes to obtaining hacked documents.
But cutting through the myriad absurdities that spilled forth from a stammering Giuliani on Monday morning, the bottom line is that he has now moved the target (again) on America.
“President Trump’s defense in the Russia investigation has been a study in goal-post moving – constantly watering down previous denials and raising the standard for what would constitute actual wrongdoing, but rarely has it been so concentrated in one morning”, the Washington Post wrote, adding that Giuliani’s appearances on Fox and CNN should be seen for exactly what they were – attempts to “downplay the idea that colluding with the Russians would have even been illegal and to argue against strawmen.”
Again, this seems to presage something foreboding for the President, and that’s not necessarily an attempt to spin an anti-Trump narrative. Clearly it’s not a coincidence that Giuliani is now going out of his way to remind the American public that technically speaking, “collusion” isn’t a crime, just days after reports that Michael Cohen is prepared to tell Robert Mueller what he knows about collusion.
As for the “nasty business relationship” tweet, Giuliani declined to comment on whether that was indeed a reference to the Trump National Golf Club dispute or something else.