The absurdity of Trump trying to distance himself from Giuliani’s work on Ukraine

By | November 27, 2019

Philip Bump writes:

President Trump certainly wouldn’t be the first employer to retroactively try to designate a staff member as an independent contractor, but he might be the first to do so to aid his fight against being impeached and removed from the White House.

His assertion to former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani was acting independently on Ukraine, perhaps for other clients, has an obvious goal. Giuliani was the point of contact or agitation for numerous people within the administration over the course of the year, empowered, in their view, to execute Trump’s agenda. He wasn’t exactly embraced; Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, once lamented that Giuliani always “[messes] everything up” — although Sondland used a punchier word.

Nonetheless, Sondland worked with Giuliani on Ukraine. Asked why during a public hearing earlier this month, Sondland said that Trump had told him to do so in late May.

“Well, when the president says ‘Talk to my personal attorney’ and then Mr. Giuliani as his personal attorney makes certain requests or demands,” Sondland said, “we assume it’s coming from the president. I don’t — I don’t — I’m not testifying that I heard the president tell Mr. Giuliani to tell us, so if that’s your question.”

That gap is precisely what Trump is hoping to exploit, of course, that distinction between hearing from Giuliani and hearing from Trump himself. What Trump presented to O’Reilly was a scenario in which Giuliani was simply pressing forward on his own volition.

“So you didn’t direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on them?” O’Reilly asked.

“No, I didn’t direct him,” Trump said. “But he’s a warrior. Rudy’s a warrior. Rudy went. He possibly saw something.”

“I know that he was going to go to Ukraine, and I think he canceled the trip,” Trump added, referring to an aborted trip in early May. “But Rudy has other clients, other than me.”

This is a ludicrous argument.

It’s a ludicrous argument in part because we’ve seen this pattern so many times before. Over and over and over, Trump has tried to distance himself from people he clearly knows and often knows well. He did it to Sondland just last month. He did it to associates of Giuliani’s with whom he had met at the White House. He has even done it to a past personal attorney, namely Michael Cohen. Any claim from Trump that he doesn’t know someone or that they were operating at a distance should be treated with skepticism by default — if not suspicion about what that other person might have been up to. [Continue reading…]

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