It’s important that everyone facing criminal investigations have competent legal counsel. Whether Donald Trump currently enjoys this benefit is open to some debate.
Among the many areas of potential legal jeopardy for the president is the issue of obstruction of justice. According to contemporaneous notes from former FBI Director James Comey, Trump applied some not-so-subtle pressure on the bureau chief during the federal investigation into former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Rudy Giuliani, a member of the president’s legal defense team, has commented on Trump’s behind-closed-doors discussions with Comey on multiple occasions. Just two weeks ago, for example, the former New York City mayor appeared on Fox News and said, in reference to the president, “He didn’t tell [Comey], ‘Don’t investigate [Flynn], don’t prosecute him.’ He asked [Comey] to exercise his prosecutorial discretion.”
Yesterday, however, Giuliani appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and, in a head-spinning reversal, insisted that Trump never spoke to Comey about Flynn. Host Jake Tapper’s incredulity was rooted in fact.
TAPPER: But, Mr. Mayor, you said, you told ABC News last month that the president told Comey, “Can you give him a break?” Now you’re saying that they never had a…
GIULIANI: No, I never told ABC that. That’s crazy. I have never said that. What I said was, that is what Comey is saying Trump said.
It’s actually not “crazy” at all. Last month, Giuliani really did appear on ABC News and said, in reference to the president’s conversations with Comey about Flynn, “What he said to him was, ‘Can you give him a break?’”
George Stephanopoulos reminded the presidential attorney that the former FBI director took Trump’s comments at the time as direction. Giuliani added , “Well that’s OK…. The reality is, as a prosecutor, I was told that many times. ‘Can you give the man a break,’ either by his lawyers, by his relatives, by friends. You take that into consideration but, you know, that doesn’t determine not going forward with it.”
In other words, Giuliani yesterday described his own words from a month ago as “crazy,” and pretended he hadn’t said what a national television audience heard him say.
So, Tapper played the clip of the ABC interview and asked for some kind of explanation.
Giuliani, after having insisted moments earlier that he’d never made the comments, switched gears. “Yes, I said it,” the president’s attorney said, “but I also said before it that I’m talking about their version of it. Look, lawyers argue in the alternative. I know it’s complicated.”
It’s really not.
Sometimes, during an interview, a person may paraphrase their opponents, and when those comments are removed from context, it may give the impression that the person was conveying the opposite of the intended point.
But that’s not what happened here. Last month, Giuliani explicitly said, in no uncertain terms, that the president encouraged the then-director of the FBI to give “a break” to a disgraced former White House official who was under a federal investigation. Giuliani made similar comments on Fox News three weeks later.
And yet, there was Giuliani yesterday, pretending that he never said what he’s on video saying.
No matter what one thinks of Donald Trump, it’s important that he have capable legal counsel, especially given the seriousness of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the threat it poses to his presidency. All of which suggests Trump is kidding himself if he thinks Giuliani is helping his cause.