Having Rudy Giuliani in the news mix is almost as good as having two Donald Trumps.
When the former mayor of New York City joined the president’s legal team his assignment was to deal with the Russia mess, specifically with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. He was going to iron out the terms for a Trump interview by the special counsel and barring that he was going to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions to kill the probe. But before the ink could dry on Giuliani’s new business cards, he entered a different theater of political war—the Stormy Daniels dispute—and napalmed whatever credibility he still had as a counselor, a tactician and broker by shooting his mouth off to the press about the case.
Prior to Giuliani’s arrival, the Stormy Daniels story was a confusing mess of secret payouts, denials, lawsuits, and Michael Avenatti apperances on CNN. But thanks to his efforts to set the record straight in interviews on Hannity and interviews with BuzzFeed, the Washington Post, NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and elsewhere, the official Trump account of the Daniels saga has coiled and recoiled on itself like so many knotted strands of DNA that nobody can claim to understand what happened. In his new timeline of events, Giuliani explicitly stated that the Daniels payment was timed to influence the election. “Imagine if [the Daniel tryst allegation] came out on Oct. 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani told the Fox & Friends gang on Thursday.
The president, who had previously denied all knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payments—“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” he said on Air Force One on April 5—intervened on Friday morning to erase the Giuliani confusion by feeding the press corps Jell-O shooters of fresh perplexity.
“Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly,” Trump told the press. “Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago,” he explained, making his lawyer, who actually started two weeks ago, sound like a summer intern. “But he really has his heart into it. He’s working hard. He’s learning the subject matter.” Further signaling that Giuliani was full of beans, Trump promised, “He’ll get his facts straight.”
But when will Trump get his facts straight? On Friday evening, the New York Times broke news—surprising nobody—that he had lied lied lied about not knowing about the payouts to Daniels. He had known for “months” before he made the now-famous Air Force One denial.
Giuliani attempted a bit of “fact-straightening“ with a Friday afternoon statement that couched and snipped what he had already said. “There was no campaign violation,” he stated unequivocally because the payment to Daniels would have been made whether Trump had been a candidate or not. He retreated from his earlier omniscience, now asserting that he spoke not of the “President’s knowledge” of the Stormy Daniel episode—even though he talked to Trump about it—but only his “understanding of these matters.”
Rudy didn’t completely neglect the Russia business, but by week’s end Trump wished that he had. In a bit of rowback, Giuliani told Sean Hannity that Trump had fired FBI Director James B. Comey “because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation.” (Recall that Trump himself told NBC News’ Lester Holt in May 2017 that he fired Comey because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” Presumably chastised by Trump’s people for this “mischaracterization,” Giuliani issued a “clarifying” statement, averring that the justification for the sacking was Article II of the Constitution, the one that gives the president the power to appoint whom he wants.
Nobody came closer to singing the “Two Trumps” theme to the top of the charts than the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, who looked up from tangled mess of assertions, abjurations, and buffoonery to warble, “Giuliani is a uniquely Trumpian blend of confidence and lack of discipline.”
Giuliani’s belly flop won’t be more than a footnote when they write the history of the special counsel’s investigation of Russian meddling, but it deserves our savoring if only because it demonstrates the rigor with which Trump addresses his legal problems, his political crises and the historical record. Trump and his allies seem incapable of telling a consistent story—or even of sticking to the stories they tell. Remember how Trump tried to explain away the Trump Tower meeting of June 2016 as being a session about “Russian adoption.” Or recall how his account of the number of his days he spent in Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant, days chronicled in the Steele Dossier, keeps shifting. Or think about how his aides routinely dismiss as “jokes” the startling things he says from the podium—such as his request during the campaign that Russia hack and release Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Even Trump’s supporters in conservative media have begun to question his gyrations. On Fox News Channel, anchor Neil Cavuto tore into himthis week stating, “You’re the president. You’re busy. I’m just having a devil of a time figuring out which news is fake. Let’s just say your own words on lots of stuff give me, shall I say, lots of pause.” The editorialists at the Wall Street Journal let him have it with the other barrel, predicting that Trump’s continued lies “increase the likelihood that few will believe him during a genuine crisis,” like a clash in North Korea or the findings of Robert Mueller.
Trump and Giuliani’s scheming has turned a tiny turd of embarrassment into an epic dunghill. This inability to resolve the Stormy Daniels matter peaceably—an indiscretion his supporters would forgive and overlook if he asked them—predicts maximum chaos when the strong meat of Mueller’s report lands. Prepare yourself for the greatest Trumpian contradiction, rowback, obfuscation and distortion ever recorded.
About That “Expensive Painting” … In last week’s “Swamp Diary,” I noted that the House Intelligence Committee's found that oligarch Aras Agalalov gave an “expensive painting” to Trump and asked readers to speculate on what it might depict. Scores of readers guessed that it was of prostitutes peeing on the Moscow hotel bed while Trump watched, a scene reported in the Steele Dossier. Here follows an assortment of more original speculations: Dennis Benjamin: A portrait of a smoking gun; Angie: Hillary behind bars; Robert Epstein: A water color of beautiful Russian showers; Rajiv Pandey: Trump kissing Putin’s feet; David Langlois: A shirtless Putin giving a naked Trump a piggyback ride; Benjamin Contreras: Trump in Putin’s pocket; Jonathan Granoff: A copy of “The Scream”; Ann Hobbs: Putin presenting Trump with Hillary Clinton’s head on a silver platter.
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