Rudy Giuliani: When I Said There Was ‘No Collusion’ I Didn’t Mean There Was No Collusion
Once again, Rudy Giuliani is contradicting his client.
Last night, President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared to contradict both himself and the President on the issue of whether or not there was collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia:
Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that he never denied President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign, only that the President himself was not involved in collusion.
In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Cuomo Prime Time,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor and Trump’s attorney, said he doesn’t know if other people in the campaign, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, were working with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential race.
“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or people in the campaign,” Giuliani said.
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 can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack the DNC.”
It’s another remarkable statement from Giuliani, given that the President and his supporters have repeatedly denied any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. A person familiar with the matter told CNN last week that Manafort, while serving as Trump’s campaign chairman, tried to send internal polling data from the Trump campaign with two Kremlin-supporting Ukrainian oligarchs through his associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who is linked to Russian intelligence.
When Cuomo asked if Manafort sharing such data with foreign agents constituted collusion, Giuliani said Trump never shared the polling data himself and only found out about it recently in the news.
“Donald Trump wasn’t giving polling data to anyone,” Giuliani said, adding, “he did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article.”
Giuliani attempted Thursday morning to clean up his remarks, telling CNN’s Dana Bash that he did not intend to send any new signals regarding the Trump legal team’s understanding of the investigation.
“The President did not himself, nor does he have any knowledge of collusion with Russians. If anyone was doing that, he is unaware of it and so am I,” Giuliani said. “But neither he nor I can possibly know what everyone on the campaign was doing.”
Giuliani said collusion is not a crime and the term is now being used broadly to describe contact with Russians.
“I can’t possibly say no one had contact about something or in some way,” he said
Giuliani then went on to say that the President himself never said that there was no collusion between anyone on the campaign and Russia, but as The Washington Post notes, that simply isn’t true:
In December 2017, Trump adamantly told reporters outside the White House that there was “absolutely no collusion, that has been proven.”
On Twitter, the president has been even more passionate when defending himself and his campaign, repeatedly using words such as “hoax” and “witch hunt” to describe the accusations and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing probe.
Just last month, the president tweeted, “‘Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun…No Collusion.'”
The Post’s Aaron Blake details a number of other incidents in which the President or other members of his Administration denied that anyone, whether it was the President or anyone connected to the campaign, colluded or conspired with the Russians during the campaign, as does the original CNN report. In any case, it’s simply incorrect for Giuliani to deny that the President has never said that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, such denials have been at the forefront of his “defense” against the Mueller investigation and the basis for his charge that the investigation is, in fact, a “witch hunt.” In fact, in response to the entire allegation, the President has often alleged that the “real” collusion was between the Clinton campaign and the Russians, a bizarre campaign for which there is, of course, no evidence except perhaps in the President’s own mind.
The most significant thing about Giuliani’s comments, of course, is that he is essentially admitting that there was or at least may have been collusion or coordination between Trump campaign officials and Russians. Given all the previous denials, this is certainly a surprising revelation from the public face of the President’s legal team, but given what we already knew it’s not really surprising at all. Most recently, for example, we learned that while he was Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data from inside the campaign with Ukrainian oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin. As many analysts have suggested, this is the kind of data that Russia itself would have found very useful in its efforts to target areas of the country and demographic groups as part of its online campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 campaign, something for which Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted twelve Russians and a number of Russian companies last February.
Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, example of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russians, though, came in June 2016 when, as the The New York Times first reported campaign insiders including Donald Trump Jt., Jared Kushner, and Manafort and a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney who had previously been linked to the Russian government and who has since admitted to being an informant for the Russian Government. As we learned several days later when Trump Jr. made the emails he had exchanged with campaign officials prior to the meeting public, the meeting was scheduled after Trump Jr. and others in the campaign were told that Veselnitskaya had access to damaging information about Hillary Clinton. In one of those emails, Trump Jr. responded “That’s great” when informed that the lawyer had access to damaging information about Clinton and the Democrats. Later, Veselnitskaya said in interviews that Trump Jr. offered a quid pro quo in exchange for information about Clinton.
When the meeting was first reported, though, both Trump Jr. and the White House claimed that the meeting’s purpose was to discuss issues such as the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans as well as sanctions imposed by Russia in the wake of its seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. That claim was made most prominently in a statement released by the White House while the President was returning from a visit to Europe. It soon became apparent, though, that this claim was false. This is significant because we learned soon after news of the meeting broke that the President himself participated in drafting that initial statement on the way home from a trip to Europe on Air Force One. On its surface, that statement seemed questionable since it didn’t make sense that three of Trump’s closest campaign advisers would take a meeting on such an esoteric topic. The fact that we now know it was false makes the President’s involvement in what may constitute an attempted cover-up extremely significant. It is worth noting that Trump had previously stated that the meeting’s initial purpose was “opposition research,” however that admission came before we knew about the President’s role in drafting the White House statement that attempted to cover-up the motivation for the meeting.
So, yes, we do have evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russians, and one presumes that Robert Mueller has even more evidence. Despite that evidence, though, it had previously been consistent policy from people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump Administration to deny that such collusion, which would be called conspiracy under the United States Code, took place. The reasons for that are obvious. Admitting even the possibility of collusion between some people working for the campaign and Russians would obviously lead to the question of what the President knew and when he knew it. This is most especially the case with regard to the Trump Tower meeting given the fact that we already know that the President’s son was in contact both before and after the meeting with someone who had a blocked cell phone number and that Trump has long been known to have such a blocked number. The question of who Trump Jr. called and what was communicated before he took the meeting and afterward is, of course, something that Mueller and his team would be interested to find out. Giuliani’s comments last night, which he has since attempted to walk back, go a long way toward undercutting the denial strategy that Trump, his Administration, and the other members of his legal team have been engaging in.
Of course, this isn’t the first example of a time when Rudy Giuliani contradicted previous statements by the campaign or the Administration. Last May, Giuliani, who had at that point only recently joined the President’s legal team, appeared on Fox News Channel and revealed, to the surprise of many, that not only did the President know about the payoff to Daniels but that he had reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 that was paid to Daniels. A week later, the President released an updated financial disclosure in which he acknowledged having reimbursed Cohen beginning late in 2016 and continuing into the beginning months of his time as President. These reports were later substantiated by the report that Cohen had recorded his conversations with the President regarding a separate payoff to Playboy model Karen McDougal, which took place at roughly the same time as the Daniels payment. Subsequently, of course, we learned that all of this and more was true thanks to Michael Cohen’s guilty plea.