It was a whirlwind 24 hours for Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s top personal lawyer. It began Thursday evening, when Giuliani told the New York Times he was going to Kiev on behalf of his client, and it ended Friday night when he said on Fox News that he was not headed to Ukraine after all.
In the intervening time, Giuliani set off a flurry of questions from the media and condemnations from Trump’s political opponents.
The entire ordeal captured in a bottle Giuliani’s unique role in Trump’s loose inner circle: both public advocate and provocateur, floating theories and schemes designed to sow doubt about the truth, all in the service of Trump’s own interests. It was also a showcase for Giuliani’s freelance, catch-as-catch-can approach to being a Trump attack dog.
Why was Giuliani going to Ukraine? He planned to meet with the country’s president-elect to encourage him to pursue two matters of interest to Trump: restarting an investigation into a Ukrainian company linked to the son of leading 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden, and looking into whether Ukrainians worked with Democrats to prompt the FBI investigation into Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort.
Wasn’t this encouraging a foreign power to influence a US election?
Nonsense, Giuliani told CNN Friday morning, because the 2020 election was still 18 months away. And besides, he told the Times: “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.”
Why did Giuliani cancel his trip? He told CNN on Saturday that “the meeting would have accomplished little and may be in the hands of those who might misrepresent it.” He complained throughout the 24-hour period that the media refused to cover his version of events and that this contributed to his decision to cut the trip short.
News of the cancelation came hours after Trump told Politico in an interview that he planned to speak with Giuliani about the trip.
The Biden campaign called Giuliani’s now-scrapped trip an “attempt at a blatantly political smear.”
They pointed CNN to a long list of Democrats, including Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Chris Murphy, who have pushed back on Giuliani and the Biden-Ukraine story in general.
“It’s great to see all these strong progressive voices stand up to this attempt at a blatantly political smear which in and of itself reflects the urgent need for change and to restore the soul of the country,” a Biden campaign official told CNN.
Changing his story
One hallmark of Giuliani’s work for Trump is his shifting explanations, which can make following his story difficult. A week ago, for instance, Giuliani claimed to CNN he was done looking into any potential wrongdoing by Biden in connection to the Ukrainian company.
“I’m not working on this anymore. I stopped working on it a month ago,” he said.
But in the following days, he continued to discuss with CNN his questions about Biden’s role in 2016 in pushing for the ouster of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, who had been investigating the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat from 2014 to early 2019.
Giuliani produced no evidence beyond this that the former vice president had done anything wrong but suggested the trip to Ukraine could help encourage the government there to restart its investigation. He also continued to urge the Justice Department to conduct its own investigation into Biden.
“If he’s not guilty or it’s not provable, they should get it out of the way now,” Giuliani told CNN last week.
Just asking questions
But there’s plenty to suggest Giuliani was more interested in raising the potential issue of Biden’s wrongdoing than providing evidence for it. Asked several times in the past week to show CNN transcripts of his interviews with Ukrainian officials and documentation he says shows the Ukrainians were actively investigating the younger Biden and his company in 2016, Giuliani declined.
And by pushing a circumstantial but incomplete story – first through a May 1 article in the New York Times, then in his revelation of his now-aborted trip to Ukraine a week later – Giuliani had succeeded in keeping the topic alive. By Friday afternoon, Trump was even discussing the possibility of asking the attorney general to look into it, telling Politico that “certainly it would be an appropriate thing to” discuss.
He also said he had not yet spoken to Giuliani about his lawyer’s plans to go to Kiev, which Giuliani would cut short a few hours later, but that he was interested in the trip.
“I will speak to him about it before he leaves. I’m just curious about that,” Trump said, adding he has “not spoken to (Giuliani) at any great length” on the subject.
Whether he was chastised by the President, scared off by the charge he was seeking to meddle, or had never intended to go to Kiev in the first place, Giuliani won’t say. He tells CNN that his other reason for traveling there – for a long-planned private speech – has been postponed.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.