Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani spent his Sunday “defending” Donald Trump and “advocating” for the President’s innocence as it relates to the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
He did an extremely poor job of it – creating any number of problematic storylines for the President, including an acknowledgment that Trump’s team had conversations with Russians about a business venture in Moscow far longer into the 2016 election than had been previously known.
But this exchange – between Giuliani and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos – really took the cake for me. It begins with Giuliani bashing former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen, who is now a cooperating witness in the probe, as a liar:
GIULIANI: “And the Southern District says you can get out of jail if you do this, you’ve got three years now. There’s a real motivation to sing like crazy. He’s got to do a lot of singing to get out of the three years and he will say whatever he has to say. He’s changed his story four or five times.”
STEPHANOPOULOS: “So has the President.”
GIULIANI: “The President’s not under oath. And the President tried to do the best he can to remember what happened back at a time when he was the busiest man in the world.”
This doesn’t work on so many levels.
Let’s start with the fact that Giuliani is admitting that Trump lied. Repeatedly. And that it’s all OK because he wasn’t under oath. Uh, what? This is the President of the United States we are talking about. Making a legalistic argument – he didn’t lie when there was a criminal penalty for doing so! – isn’t exactly a good pushback on the idea that Trump has a problem telling the truth.
Think of it this way: Giuliani is, in essence, arguing that Trump’s lies don’t matter because he didn’t say them under oath. And that, presumably, if/when he was under oath, Trump would tell the truth – and that truth would be different than all of the false things he has said publicly.
Which is, um, a remarkable thing.
Then there’s this: Wouldn’t Cohen be incentivized to tell the truth given that he has been under oath – several times – in this process? Isn’t the threat of a more severe criminal punishment a likely disincentive for Cohen to lie? And isn’t it also true that Trump doesn’t have that same disincentive to lie? Lying to the media or your supporters might carry some sort of political penalty. But it doesn’t hold any legal penalty. Trump can say almost anything, as long as he isn’t under oath, and get away with it.
Again, take it out of the Trump, and even politics, context. Pretend your life depends, literally, on someone answering a single question truthfully. Would you rather have that person be under oath when giving you their answer or no? Obviously, you would prefer the under-oath version because, well, actions having consequences tends to bring out the truth.
And last but certainly not least is Giuliani’s explanation for why Trump has not told the truth so many times. He did “the best he can to remember what happened back at a time when he was the busiest man in the world.” So because Trump was running for the nation’s highest office, he can’t possibly be expected to remember – or recollect truthfully – what happened during the campaign? Because he was super busy?!
But Giuliani is asking for even more than that. He’s saying that not only should no one blame Trump for, uh, misremembering events surrounding, among other things, payoffs to two women alleging they had affairs with him, but also that the conclusions reached by federal prosecutors that Trump directed and coordinated these payments should be discounted.
Remember: This is not, despite what Giuliani is trying to do, ultimately a he-said, he-said battle between Trump and Cohen. Yes, Cohen said, under oath, that Trump directed and coordinated the payouts. But the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York didn’t just take his word for it! They knew – like we know – that Cohen has a history of not telling the truth. They corroborated his charges and found them to be accurate. So this is about a federal prosecutor vs. the President. Not Michael Cohen.
Like I said: There’s a lot wrong with what Giuliani told Stephanopoulos. A lot.