One of many unanswerable questions from the past year in Trump’s funhouse is why Rudy Giuliani continues to go on TV and incriminate the man for whom he’s supposed to be providing legal defense. Whenever news about the president’s potential criminality begins to bubble up, you can bet Giuliani is about to position himself in front of a camera, bulge his eyes and bring it to a boil. His debut came last May, when after less than two weeks as President Trump’s legal counsel, he told Sean Hannity, unprompted, that Trump reimbursed — and thus knew about — the $130,000 payment Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 election. His latest performance came Wednesday night, when Giuliani admitted to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that Trump’s campaign may have colluded with Russia.
“If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago,” he said. “It’s either provable or it’s not. It’s not provable because it never happened … There’s no chance it happened.” Giuliani added that he “never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign” and that he only said the “president of the United States didn’t collude.”
.@RudyGiuliani allows for the possibility of collusion with the campaign while saying it didn't happen.
"If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago. It's either provable or it's not. It's not provable because it never happened…. there's no chance it happened." pic.twitter.com/gZKZGRksdN
— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) January 17, 2019
The gist of this word salad is that yes, the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia, but the president had nothing to do with it. When Cuomo pressed Giuliani about how Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, could have been colluding without Trump knowing about it, Giuliani said Manafort might have had his own agenda. When Cuomo asked Giuliani why, then, did the campaign change the Republican party platform to suit Russia’s interests, Giuliani said, “Whatever.”
Last week, Manafort’s lawyers inadvertently revealed that when their client was running Trump’s campaign, he shared internal polling data with a Kremlin-connected figure named Konstantin Kilimnik, then lied about it. Though this became public after Manafort’s lawyers botched an attempt to redact it from a legal filing, Giuliani on Wednesday claimed it came by way of a leak from Mueller’s office.
On Thursday morning, Giuliani attempted to clarify his remarks. “I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign,” he wrote in a statement to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times. “There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form. Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.”
But this doesn’t exactly jibe with comments Giuliani has made in the past. As many have pointed out, Trump’s defense apparatus has covered a lot of terrain before arriving at their current position of “the campaign may have colluded, whatever.” The now-comical starting point came back in November 2016 when then-communications director Hope Hicks said that there was “no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
1. No contact with the Russians.
2. No election-related contact with the Russians.
3. No unlawful contact with the Russians.
4. No collusion with the Russians.
5. Even if there was collusion, it's not illegal.
6. @realDonaldTrump didn't collude himself.
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) January 17, 2019
Since then, the Trump camp’s arguments have zigged and zagged around a series of damning revelations. When former Trump attorney Michael Cohen alleged last July that the president knew ahead of time that his son planned to meet with Russians at Trump Tower to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton, Giuliani implied that it didn’t matter because Trump himself wasn’t present at the meeting. He also argued that even if collusion took place, it’s not that big of a deal because it might not even be a crime, technically. “I don’t even know if that’s a crime, colluding with Russians,” he told CNN. “Hacking is the crime. The president didn’t hack! He didn’t pay for the hacking.”
The same day of his CNN appearance, Giuliani told Fox News that the “top four or five people” on Trump’s campaign didn’t collude with Russia, a claim he contradicted Thursday by writing that he only knew about whether Trump himself colluded. (Somehow, Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager, did not qualify as one of the most important people in the campaign.)
Regardless of what Giuliani knows, Trump has maintained on multiple occasions that his campaign did not collude with Russia. Aaron Rupar of Vox pointed out three such instances.
TRUMP, JAN 18: "There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign & Russians"
TRUMP, APRIL 18: "There was no collusion between Trump campaign & Russian people"
TRUMP, DEC 18: "There was no collusion whatsoever"
RUDY GIULIANI, JAN 19: There might've been a little collusion! pic.twitter.com/UMvfynnHEv
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 17, 2019
Giuliani’s appearance on CNN comes during what has been a rough few weeks for the “NO COLLUSION!” cohort. In the span of five days, it was reported that after Trump fired Comey in May 2017, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation to determine whether Trump was acting on behalf of Russia; that Trump went to unusual lengths to conceal the nature of his conservations with Vladimir Putin; and that Trump repeatedly suggested the United States pull out of NATO, a move that would have defied advisers and delighted Putin, who has sought to break up the alliance.
Many have speculated that Giuliani fumbling over himself on CNN Wednesday night may be a sign he knows something the public doesn’t about the Mueller investigation, and that he’s trying to get out ahead of the story to protect the president. Then again, it’s difficult to apply much logic to anything Giuliani has done since he decided to mind-meld with Trump. He probably just wanted to go on TV again and couldn’t control himself. It’d been a little while.