Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani confirmed on Sunday that the president and his allies’ attempts to discredit the Mueller investigation — including the most recent so-called Spygate controversy — are part of a public relations campaign aimed at staving off impeachment. “It is for public opinion,” the former New York mayor admitted during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union. And while trying to shape public opinion is the rarely acknowledged goal of any presidential administration, what Giuliani said next was unique to Trump’s: “Because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach.”
Giuliani’s comment came amid pressure from host Dana Bash to acknowledge that he and Trump were using a “very specific, very political strategy to undermine [the Mueller] investigation,” highlighting how a recent poll revealed a 15 percent drop in the number of Republicans who wanted Trump to testify in the probe. Bash and Giuliani had already talked about the unfounded Spygate allegation by Trump and his allies that the FBI had installed a spy in the Trump campaign to set up for collusion charges. (The FBI had actually warned Trump that Russia was trying to infiltrate his campaign.)
Asked to confirm that these efforts to discredit the Mueller probe were just a political tactic, Giuliani first demurred, insisting that he and Trump have just been calling attention to the suspicions, not creating them. Then Bash specifically cited the Spygate claims and how no evidence had been offered to support them, and noted to Giuliani that he was both an experienced politician and a lawyer who clearly understood that the Trump team could feel free to attack the Russia investigation, since Mueller and his team would not be able to publicly defend themselves.
Appearing somewhat flummoxed, Giuliani tried to explain that he was only able to go on the attack because “they’re giving us the material,” meaning the missteps or alleged misconduct of federal law enforcement officials — though actually referring to Trump’s allies in Congress and in the conservative media. Then, surprisingly, he veered toward transparency:
Of course we have to [be aggressive in these attacks] to defend the president. We’re defending … um — to a large extent remember, Dana, we’re defending here … It is for public opinion. Because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. And so our jury is — as it should be — is the American people. And the American people, yes, are … Republicans, largely, independents, pretty substantially, and even some Democrats now question the legitimacy of [the Mueller investigation].
“Democrats, I suggest, from their own self interest: this is not a good issue to go into the congressional elections with,” he added, again confirming that the attacks on the Mueller investigation were not a legal strategy, but a political one. He went on to recite more talking points about how disreputable and partisan Mueller’s team was. Giuliani also tried to both not attack Mueller personally, while still insisting that the special counsel, who is a Republican, was an agent of the opposition party. Earlier in the interview, he said that he and the other members of Trump’s legal team (who don’t appear on television every day) have concluded that the investigation is “rigged.”
The whole interview was a ranging, befuddled affair, as most of Giuliani’s media appearances now tend to be regardless of how much oversharing he does.
Before acknowledging the PR angle, Giuliani clearly tried to reference Spygate as much as possible, using the word six times, and acting as though he was astonished by the allegations. He also tried to repeat Trump’s lie that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has admitted the FBI placed a spy in the Trump campaign — which Bash corrected him on.
Other times, the former U.S. attorney acknowledged he didn’t really know who was guilty and who was not. At one point, Giuliani said he “can’t be confident” there was no collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, but claimed that the allegations came as a surprise to him and the president and others at the top of the campaign:
You go out to the outer orbit [of the campaign], how do I know what is going on? But I don’t think that would matter. You can’t — if there is collusion with a guy 50 rungs down on the campaign — not that I’m saying it happened, but, if it did, I don’t know — I don’t know what that means.
He also suggested the Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 presidential election was “phony” and was only meant to impress the media. Asked by Bash if he considered the Mueller investigation to be legitimate, Giuliani made it sound as though he, too, had been convinced by all the attacks on the probe. “Not anymore,” he claimed.