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Rudy Giuliani won’t rule out Trump pleading the Fifth Amendment in another bewildering interview

In an interview Sunday, the former New York City mayor said that Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payout to Stormy Daniels was a “nuisance” amount and the president might not cooperate with a subpoena from Robert Mueller.

Rudy Giuliani speaking at a conference on Iran in Washington, DC in May 2018.
Rudy Giuliani speaking at a conference on Iran in Washington, DC, in May 2018.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Rudy Giuliani is not helping. The newly appointed lawyer on President Donald Trump’s Russia investigation defense team has been on a befuddling media blitz in recent days; most recently, he said in an appearance on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the $130,000 payout to keep Stormy Daniels quiet was too little and that Trump might not cooperate with a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller. Giuliani wouldn’t rule out the president pleading the Fifth Amendment in the Mueller probe or definitively answer questions about whether another Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, had paid hush money to other women.

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, has made an Anthony Scaramucci-like splash this week with a series of media interviews that aren’t particularly helpful to his — or the president’s — cause. In a sit-down with Fox News’s Sean Hannity this week, Giuliani said Trump had reimbursed Cohen for his $130,000 payout to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep her from speaking out about an alleged affair they had in 2006, in a misguided attempt to say the payment didn’t violate campaign finance laws. (Legal experts, including apparently Kellyanne Conway’s husband, believe it probably did.)

Trump and Giuliani have since tried to walk that back — Giuliani issued a statement to “clarify” his remarks on Friday, and the president said he’s new to the job and still has to “get his facts straight.” Giuliani (and Trump), however, still has some work to do.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday asked Giuliani how the president plans to deal with Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — would the president cooperate with a subpoena from special counsel Mueller? “Well, we don’t have to,” Giuliani replied. “He’s the president of the United States.”

Stephanopoulos also asked whether he was confident Trump wouldn’t plead the Fifth Amendment, which protects individuals from self-incrimination. “How can I ever be confident in that?” Giuliani said. “When I’m facing a situation with the president and all the other lawyers are, in which every lawyer in America thinks he would be a fool to testify.”

The Washington Post reported this week that Mueller told Trump’s legal team earlier this year that he could issue a subpoena for the president to appear before a grand jury if he refused to cooperate with federal investigators. Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer who is under federal criminal investigation, has said he would plead the Fifth in the ongoing lawsuit with Daniels. Trump has said in the past that only guilty people take the Fifth. “The mob takes the Fifth,” he said at a rally in Iowa during the presidential campaign. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

During Giuliani’s interview with Stephanopoulos, the former mayor also implied the $130,000 Cohen paid to Daniels to keep her from speaking out about her affair with Trump wasn’t much, given Trump’s alleged billionaire status. “I never thought the $130,000 — I know this sounds funny to people at home — I never thought $130,000 was a real payment. It’s a nuisance payment,” he said. “When I settle this, when it was real or a real possibility, it’s a couple million dollars, not — not $130,000.”

Giuliani said he has “no knowledge” about whether Cohen paying women for Trump was a regular arrangement — but said he definitely would. “I would think if it was necessary, yes,” he said. “He made payments for the president; he conducted business for the president.”

Why the White House keeps letting Giuliani on television is anybody’s guess

It’s not entirely clear why President Trump and those around him continue to think Giuliani’s press tour is a good idea. Giuliani’s comments to Hannity this week that Trump reimbursed Cohen do not mean the Daniels payment wasn’t a campaign finance violation — legal experts say the remarks likely harmed Trump’s case. And his attempts to fix the mess — including saying that Trump has paid Cohen in installments adding up to more than $400,000 for the hush money — haven’t gone much better, as shown by the Stephanopoulos interview.

On Saturday evening, Giuliani appeared on Fox News with Jeanine Pirro to talk about the Mueller investigation and explain that he’s “still learning” the facts about the Daniels payment. Trump in April denied knowing anything about it, although the New York Times reported on Saturday that he’s known about it for months. Giuliani said he’s sure Trump didn’t violate any campaign finance laws, but he’s still getting everything that happened straight.

“This is, you know, 1.2 million documents. I’ve been on the case for two weeks — virtually one day in comparison to other people,” he said. “So I’m not an expert on the facts yet. I’m getting there.”