President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, didn’t do his client any favors during a CNN interview on Wednesday night in which he conceded that Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, may have colluded with Russians.
Giuliani made that concession while being grilled by host Chris Cuomo about a new revelation that special counsel Robert Mueller believes Manafort shared “polling data” that was “related to the 2016 presidential campaign” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former colleague of Manafort’s who allegedly had ties to Russian intelligence.
As Cuomo pointed out, Russia-linked social media accounts that waged a cyber campaign on behalf of Trump ended up targeting some of the same groups as the Trump campaign — African Americans, women, and white liberals. While no smoking gun evidence of collusion has yet emerged, the synchronicity between the Trump campaign’s efforts and efforts made by Russians who Mueller says were working for Trump’s benefit points to some sort of coordination.
“How is that not collusion?” Cuomo asked.
Giuliani had no good answers.
“Polling data is given to everybody,” Giuliani said. “I can’t speak for Paul Manafort ... the most inaccurate stuff is internal polling data.”
Cuomo replied, “They wound up coming to the same conclusions about whom to target and where. If you give people who are trying to interfere in an election information about where to target and whom, you don’t see that as collusion?”
“Not with the president of the United States. Not with Donald Trump,” Giuliani replied.
In his attempt to distance Trump from his former campaign chair, Giuliani claimed, “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign ... I have not. I said the president of the United States.”
"I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign... I have not. I said the President of the United States," Pres. Trump’s attorney @RudyGiuliani tells @ChrisCuomo https://t.co/Jy0gttT6Ac pic.twitter.com/JGISmtgrdy— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) January 17, 2019
Trump, however, has repeatedly said there “was no collusion whatsoever” between “the Trump campaign and Russian people,” including as recently as last month — a position now at odds with the one his lawyer is advancing.
Giuliani’s new talking point is also at odds with what he said last July, when he claimed that “when I say the Trump campaign [did not collude], I mean the upper levels of the Trump campaign … top 4 or 5 people” — a group that presumably would have included Manafort.
“He didn’t know about his own party’s platform?”
Giuliani’s comment about Manafort wasn’t the only time he struggled during the interview with Cuomo. He was also at a loss to explain how Trump couldn’t have known about pro-Russia changes to the 2016 Republican National Committee platform.
“The president had no knowledge of that,” Giuliani claimed, referring to a change in the RNC platform that softened language about America’s commitment to arming Ukrainians trying to repel Russian invaders that alarmed people at the time.
“He didn’t know about his own party’s platform?” Cuomo asked him.
Giuliani burst out in laughter.
“Chris, c’mon, you’ve been around politics enough to know candidates don’t know a damn thing about the platform; they don’t pay any attention to the platform,” he eventually replied.
Ultimately, Giuliani argued that since there’s no evidence Trump was directly involved in the hacking of Democratic targets, he’s done nothing impeachable.
“There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here — conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC,” Giuliani said. (Trump is, however, under investigation for obstruction of justice related to the firing of then-FBI Director James Comey amid the FBI’s active investigation of his campaign, which is a crime. Conspiracy against the United States is also a crime — one Manafort has already pleaded guilty to.)
But as Cuomo pointed out, “crime is not the bar of accountability for a president — it’s about what you knew, what was right and what was wrong, and what did you deceive about.”
Before the interview was over, Giuliani’s tortured position seemed to be that collusion didn’t happen — but if it did, Trump didn’t know about it, and anyway, it was a long time ago and isn’t provable.
.@RudyGiuliani allows for the possibility of collusion with the campaign while saying it didn't happen.— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) January 17, 2019
"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
The Washington Post notes that Giuliani’s comments appear “to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump’s knowledge.”
On Wednesday morning, Giuliani tried to clarify his comments from the night before, releasing a statement that says, “I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign. 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.”
Giuliani concluded the statement by making an unfounded allegations that “The only knowledge I have in this regard is the collusion of the Clinton campaign with Russia which has so far been ignored.”