Trump changes his story about dispatching Giuliani to Ukraine

Did Trump personally dispatch Giuliani to Ukraine as part of a dubious political scheme? The president's new line now contradicts his old one.
Donald Trump,Rudy Giuliani
President-elect Donald Trump, right, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pose for photographs as Giuliani arrives at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse on Nov. 20, 2016, in Bedminster, N.J.Carolyn Kaster / AP file
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By Steve Benen

In September, when Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal first started coming into focus, a reporter asked the president to explain why his administration delayed military aid to Ukraine two months earlier. "I didn't delay anything," Trump said in response.

We now know, of course, that the answer was a lie, and the president was directly responsible for the illegal extortion scheme.

But it was hardly Trump's only notable lie as part of the controversy. Two months after he falsely denied withholding military aid, the president was asked if he directed Rudy Giuliani to "do anything" in Ukraine. Trump said at the time, "No, I didn't direct him."

That, too, was a lie, as Trump himself made clear yesterday. When Geraldo Rivera asked the president yesterday if it was "strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine" and if he regretted the decision. As Matt Stieb explained, Trump said, "No, not at all."

"Here's my choice: I deal with the Comeys of the world, or I deal with Rudy," Trump said, referring to James Comey, who gave him a "very bad taste" of the capabilities of American intelligence after the former FBI director maintained the independence of the agency in the early days of the administration. Thus, Trump had to "use" Giuliani to solicit foreign interference in an American election.

Ordinarily, "Trump lies about a thing" isn't exactly an important headline, but this one struck me as notable for a few reasons.

For one thing, if the president's Ukraine scandal were as innocuous as he likes to pretend, it's curious that he's felt the need to lie about it.

For another, Trump probably feels emboldened in the wake of his impeachment trial, to the degree that he can now admit damaging revelations more freely, but yesterday's comments served as a reminder that new information about what transpired is still coming to light -- a trend that's unlikely to end anytime soon.

And finally, note how the president framed his explanation for using Giuliani: Trump didn't want to have to "deal with the Comeys of the world." Or put another way, the sitting American president dispatched a partisan operative to eastern Europe to dig up dirt on a domestic opponent, which those rascally officials at the FBI wouldn't have agreed to do.

University of Michigan law professor Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney and an MSNBC legal analyst, recently explained on Twitter, "We have actual public servants to investigate crime. They are bound by rules and public disclosure requirements and may not work for anyone else. Giuliani is not a government employee, and not bound by the rules. He is a private attorney for Donald Trump and other paying clients."

Quite right. And for the president, this is a selling point: no rules, no accountability, no problem. And if that means lying to the public about the nature of the scheme, so be it.