Wednesday evening and all day Thursday as President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was digging his client’s grave, the usual TV talking heads were praising the brilliance of the strategy. (Former Trump campaign official Jason Miller said, “This is PR 101.” Apparently Miller failed the course.)
On Friday, Trump threw Giuliani under the bus and for the zillionth time made all those flacking for him look foolish. Trump told reporters at a press gaggle at Andrews Air Force Base: “I will tell you this: When Rudy made the statement – Rudy is great – but Rudy had just started, and he wasn’t totally familiar with every – you know, with everything. And Rudy – we love Rudy, he’s a special guy. What he really understands is that this is a witch hunt. He understands that probably better than anybody.”
Giuliani recanted Friday afternoon, effectively admitting that the statements he had made over the past 36 hours or so were incriminating.
First, someone must have told him the Stormy Daniels payment would be a campaign violation even if paid with private funds so long as it was related to the campaign. So, presto, Giuliani now says its wasn’t related to the campaign at all! In a terse written statement, he says that it “would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.” (Note that Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, has claimed to have evidence the payment was rushed so that it would silence Daniels before Election Day.)
Second, Giuliani backpedals on what Trump knew about the payment and when he knew it. He now says he really wasn’t talking about when Trump knew about the hush-money payment but of “my understanding of these matters.” This makes no sense since he was asked about what Trump knew and when he knew it. He even said that, when told about the payment, Trump said, “Oh my goodness, I guess that’s what it was for.” That apparently was untrue. Obviously, confessing that Trump did know about the payments but only recently wasn’t helpful to Trump.
Lastly, now Giuliani insists Trump had the absolute power under Article II to fire James Comey, an effort to limit the damage from his revelation that Trump fired his FBI director for refusing to exonerate him (which would amount to obstruction of justice). Giuliani is floating a discredited legal theory that the president can never obstruct justice when exercising his presidential powers. (Does he mean Trump could fire Comey in exchange for a bribe? That Trump could order the FBI to shoot unarmed civilians?) Giuliani is now trying to argue Trump – and any president – is above the law.
Giuliani made such hash out of Trump’s defense one finds it hard to believe he won’t be fired. But where does that leave us?
Well, any lawyer who comes near Trump is going to be undercut, contradicted and, at critical times, ignored. Emmet Flood, who reportedly did not know about the Giuliani-Trump strategy, should think long and hard about taking the White House counsel job, where he apparently is heading. That job does not enjoy an attorney-client privilege with the president, and everything he says and does will come under scrutiny of the special counsel’s prosecutors who continue to work on a massive obstruction of justice case. Regardless, any Trump cheerleader who defends a particular strategy or event almost certainly will be forced to eat her or his words.
Finally, Sarah Huckabee Sanders might get lucky – maybe Trump will come back around to the story he told her and the public in early April, namely, that he knew nothing about the Stormy Daniels hush money. You never know.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a center-right perspective.