When Rudy Giuliani comments on the investigation into the Russia scandal, his observations tend to fall into two broad categories: he reflects on things that have happened in the past and things that might happen in the future.
When the former mayor focuses his attention on the latter, his comments are of little value. Giuliani often seems hopelessly lost about where Donald Trump’s legal defense is headed, the status of talks with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, and what the president is likely to do next. By and large, when it comes to future developments, Giuliani routinely appears to be guessing.
But when he comments on things that have already happened, I think there’s a qualitative difference. More specifically, when Giuliani talks about the past, he’s reflecting on things he presumably knows more about: evidence he’s seen, witnesses he’s spoken to, details he’s reviewed, etc.
With this in mind, when Giuliani dramatically changes his story about central questions at the heart of the Russia scandal, it’s worth taking note. Consider this exchange from last night between the former mayor and CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
CUOMO: Mr. Mayor, false reporting is saying that nobody in the campaign had any contacts with Russia. False reporting is saying that there has been no suggestion of any kind of collusion between the campaign and any Russians. Because now you have Paul Manafort giving poll data that winds up leading to this coincidence –
GIULIANI: I – I never said – well, you just misstated my position. I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign –
CUOMO: Yes, you have.
GIULIANI: I have no idea if – I have not. I said the president of the United States.
There a few angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is that Giuliani, in reality, really is on record saying that the Trump campaign – not just the president himself – did not collude with Russia during its attack on the American elections. Giuliani is now changing his story. It seems likely that he learned something new that led him to adopt this new position.
Second, Trump’s lawyer defines “collusion” in a ridiculously narrow way. To hear Giuliani tell it, the president’s campaign may have cooperated with a hostile foreign power during its attack on U.S. elections, but so long as the president didn’t personally help the Kremlin hack DNC computers, there’s no reason to take the controversy seriously. That’s absurd.
And finally, it’s worth appreciating just how many times Trump World has moved the goalposts. In 2016, the original line from the Republican and his team was that Russia didn’t interfere in the elections at all. When that proved untenable, Trump and his team categorically denied that there were any communications whatsoever between the campaign and Vladimir Putin’s government.
At a pre-inaugural press conference, Trump said no one from the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia during the campaign. Just a few days before Inauguration Day, for example, CBS’s John Dickerson asked Mike Pence, “Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” The vice president-elect responded at the time, “Of course not.”
There’s no doubt that those claims were flamboyantly untrue.
The Trump World’s argument has evolved several times since, and it’s arrived at a new location: the president’s political operation and Russia may have colluded after all. That’s not my argument; that’s the president’s lawyer’s argument.