During an interview on This Week, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, softened the hardline denials Trump World has made about contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Giuliani didn’t rule out that confidante Roger Stone looped in Trump ahead of time about WikiLeaks’s dumps of emails given to them by Russian hackers. And he backtracked on the claim that Trump didn’t continue to pursue a lucrative real estate deal in Russia throughout the entire presidential campaign.
Giuliani’s verbal gymnastics suggest Trump hasn’t been forthcoming about his Russia contacts with the public; his own part; and, perhaps most important, Robert Mueller.
In particular, Giuliani’s comments about Stone on This Week were less categorical than what Trump reportedly told Mueller in his written responses to the special counsel’s questions. Late last month, CNN reported that Trump “told special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks.”
As the Mueller investigation drip, drip, drips with more plea deals and indictments, the shift in language in Trump World is a sign that despite their many denials and accusations of a witch hunt, they have reason to be worried.
“Uh, I don’t believe so”
During the interview on Sunday, Giuliani didn’t rule out that longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone looped in Trump ahead of time about WikiLeaks’s dumps of emails the aforementioned hackers purloined from Democratic targets.
“Did Roger Stone ever give the president a heads-up on WikiLeaks leaks concerning Hillary Clinton and the DNC?” Stephanopoulos asked.
Giuliani replied by saying “No he didn’t,” but then quickly backtracked.
“Uh, I don’t believe so,” he said. “But again, if Roger Stone gave anybody a heads up about WikiLeaks leaks, it’s not a crime ... collusion is not a crime.”
ABC: "Did Roger Stone give the president a heads up on WikiLeaks' leaks concerning Clinton & the DNC?"— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2018
GIULIANI: "No he didn't... uh, *I don't believe so*. But again, if he did, it's not a crime." pic.twitter.com/nHd1uTtNCL
If Stone did in fact loop Trump in about WikiLeaks’ dumps, it would involve him in a conspiracy involving Russian hackers. Giuliani’s comments don’t foreclose that possibility.
Trump Tower Moscow
In another telling exchange, Giuliani didn’t foreclose that negotiations for a Trump Tower Moscow project continued throughout the entire 2016 presidential campaign.
“Did Donald Trump know that [longtime Trump lawyer] Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?” host George Stephanopoulos asked Giuliani. Giuliani responded by indicating talks about a deal prosecutors say could have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Trump may have gone on even longer than that.
“According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of 2016,” Giuliani said. “The president didn’t hide this.” (By the “answer that he gave,” Giuliani is referring to Trump’s submission of responses to some of special counsel Robert Mueller’s questions last month.)
Stephanopoulos then pointed out to Giuliani that the previous claim put out by Cohen — and never contradicted by Trump’s team — was that “those conversations stopped in January 2016.” Cohen has since admitted that those discussions continued later than that, at least into June 2016 — the same month as the infamous Trump Tower meeting between top Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised to provide them with dirt on Hillary Clinton. Now, Giuliani is suggesting they may have gone on past June.
Asked why the story had changed, Giuliani responded with the equivalent of a verbal shrug. “I don’t, I mean the date, I mean there were a lot — until you actually sit down and answer the questions, you’re not going to know what happened,” he said.
If talks about a possible Trump Tower Moscow went on throughout the campaign, that means Trump was pursuing a business deal in Russia even after Russian hackers were publicly linked to attacks on the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign.
Later during the interview, Giuliani sought to discredit Cohen by saying “he has changed his story four or five times.”
“The president is not under oath”
Stephanopoulos replied by pointing out that “so has the president.” Indeed, since early 2017, Trump’s story has shifted from “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS” all the way to acknowledging late last month that his company was in fact trying to build a project in Moscow during the campaign but falsely claiming “everybody knew about it.”
Giuliani suggested that shift is insignificant because “the president is not under oath.”
“The president is trying to do the best he can to remember what happened during a time in which he was the busiest man in the world,” Giuliani added.
GIULIANI: "[Cohen] will say whatever he has to say. He has changed his story 4 or 5 times."— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2018
ABC: "So has the president."
GIULIANI: "The president is not under oath." pic.twitter.com/MBVkvoaSsE
In addition to moving the goalposts about Russia, Giuliani also tried to walk back his previous rationale about why Trump made hush payments to women in the months leading up to the 2016 election.
GIULIANI, today: Trump paid Stormy Daniels because he "was very concerned about how this was going to affect his marriage"— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) December 16, 2018
GIULIANI, 5/3/18: "Imagine if that came out of October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Clinton…Cohen made it go away. He did his job"
The reason for this change appears to be that Trump needs to come up with another motivation for the payments that is unconnected to the election, to get him off the hook for potentially violating campaign finance law.
Last week, Giuliani he made a desperate attempt to downplay Trump being implicated in felonies for illegal hush payments to women by a judge, prosecutors, and Cohen.
“Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed ... This was not a big crime,” Giuliani told the Daily Beast.