/5 reasons Trump cannot easily scapegoat Rudy Giuliani for the Ukraine ‘drug deal’ gone bad

5 reasons Trump cannot easily scapegoat Rudy Giuliani for the Ukraine ‘drug deal’ gone bad

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump signaled Tuesday that he may try to throw his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani under the bus as part of an impeachment defense strategy. During an interview with Bill O’Reilly, the president suggested that Giuliani wasn’t working at his behest. “No, I didn’t direct him,” Trump said. “Rudy has other clients, other than me. He’s done a lot of work in Ukraine over the years.” Asked what Giuliani was up to, Trump replied: “You have to ask that to Rudy.”

We’ve seen this movie before. Trump’s M.O. is to cut people loose when he concludes that they’ve outlived their usefulness to him, whether they’re fixers or former national security advisers. He has a well-documented pattern of saying he “hardly knows” former confidants once they become liabilities, so much so that it has become a punchline. Trump downplayed his ties to Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos after each of these former advisers became embroiled in serious legal troubles.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are now scrutinizing Giuliani, the former mayor and onetime U.S. attorney who oversaw that office. Two of Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are contesting campaign finance charges. Investigators are reportedly examining Giuliani’s consulting business as part of a broad probe of possible crimes, including wire fraud and foreign lobbying violations. He categorically denies any wrongdoing.

Trump hasn’t cut off Giuliani, whom he twice described as a “warrior” in last night’s interview, but several of the president’s allies think it’s only a matter of time. Many who are closely following this saga suspect that Trump will seek to make his lawyer the fall guy for what former national security adviser John Bolton notoriously likened to a “drug deal.

But it was Trump who ordered the freeze on military assistance for Ukraine and, according to a new report, didn’t release the money until after White House lawyers alerted him to the whistleblower complaint.

Here are five other reasons why it would be untenable for Trump to pin the blame on Giuliani:

1) Trump told several U.S. government officials they needed to “talk with Rudy” about Ukraine, according to sworn testimony.

Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, then-special Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) went to the Oval Office on May 23 to brief Trump about a meeting they had just returned from in Ukraine with Volodymyr Zelensky. They wanted to assure Trump that the new guy in Kyiv was a reformer whom the United States could work with. But Trump wasn’t interested and told the men they should “go talk to Rudy” about Ukraine as he cut the meeting short, Sondland testified last week during a public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry.

“When the president says, talk to my personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, we followed his direction,” Sondland said. “We followed the president’s orders.”

Sondland added that the shadow foreign policy was not a rogue effort being orchestrated by Giuliani. “Everyone was in the loop,” he said.

Sondland testified that Giuliani told him that a promised White House meeting was being withheld until Zelensky publicly committed to announce probes of whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as the energy company Burisma, which paid former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden to sit on its board for five years. Sondland said he deduced that nearly $400 million of military aid Congress had appropriated for Ukraine was also being withheld as leverage. He said Trump and Giuliani did not tell him that directly, but neither dissuaded him.

“In response to our persistent efforts to change his views, President Trump directed us to ‘talk with Rudy,’” Sondland said in his opening statement. “We weren’t happy with the president’s directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. … Nonetheless, based on the president’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the efforts to schedule the White House phone call and White House visit between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, which was unquestionably in our foreign policy interest — or we could do as President Trump had directed and ‘talk with Rudy.’ We chose the latter course, not because we liked it, but because it was the only constructive path open to us.”

A Department of Energy spokeswoman said in a statement responding to Sondland’s testimony that Perry “spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the president’s request.”

2) Trump told Ukraine’s president to talk with Rudy, as well.

Giuliani’s name appears five times in the rough transcript of the July 25 call that was released by the White House.

Trump told Zelensky to deal with his personal attorney. “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call,” Trump said, according to that transcript.

When Trump asked for a “favor,” Zelensky replied: “I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.”

Trump answered: “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”

A few days later, Giuliani met with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, in Madrid to follow-up on the call. “I talked to him about the whole package,” Giuliani told The Washington Post in September.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and other witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee testified that the Ukrainians saw Giuliani as the more direct conduit for them to reach Trump.

3) Giuliani has repeatedly said that he was acting on Trump’s behalf vis-a-vis Ukraine over the course of several months, and the president never challenged this.

“He basically knows what I’m doing, sure, as his lawyer,” Giuliani told the New York Times in May. In that interview, Giuliani said he was going to encourage the Ukrainians to pursue an investigation that “will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Giuliani has also claimed, “attorney-client, attorney work-product, and executive privileges” related to representing Trump in Ukraine to justify not answering questions, providing documents or otherwise complying with a subpoena from the House. If Giuliani indeed wasn’t working on Trump’s behalf, the president should probably alert the bar and the Congress at once about an attorney misrepresenting himself in an official proceeding.

Giuliani lawyer Robert Costello said that there’s nothing inconsistent about the president’s comments to O’Reilly and Giuliani’s past representations of his work. “President is correct,” Costello emailed Bloomberg News. “Giuliani never went to Ukraine for any probe. The information he received was given to him in U.S. by Ukrainians while [the Bob] Mueller probe was still ongoing and before Biden was even announced.”

4) Trump had multiple personal interactions with the Giuliani associates who have been indicted.

Parnas has told associates that he and Fruman told Trump during a dinner at the Trump hotel in April 2018 that they thought that the then-Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was unfriendly to the president and his interests. “According to Parnas, the president reacted strongly to the news: Trump immediately suggested that [she] should be fired,” my colleagues Rosalind Helderman, Matt Zapotosky, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey reported on Nov. 12. “The president was updated regularly by Giuliani on what he was learning about Parnas’s and Fruman’s efforts in Ukraine, according to a former senior administration official … ‘It’s just not true that he had no idea who these guys were. He knew Lev particularly,’ the person said.”

The day after Parnas and Fruman were arrested last month, Trump said he didn’t know them. “Now it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody,” he said. But social media posts show the men also encountered Trump at a Florida fundraiser in 2016 and during a visit to Mar-a-Lago.

“At one point,” Philip Bump noted, “Giuliani even provided a dossier of documents to the State Department including notes from interviews he and his associates (the indicted ones) had conducted with various Ukrainian officials and news stories promoting his theory of the case. The documents came to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an envelope with a return address of ‘The White House.’”

5) Giuliani says he has an insurance policy that will deter Trump from turning against him.

When asked on Nov. 14 during an interview with the Guardian if he was afraid Trump was going to throw him under the bus, Giuliani said no. “But I do have very, very good insurance, so if he does, all my hospital bills will be paid,” he added. Giuliani’s lawyer interjected to say he was “joking.”

But Giuliani brought up the insurance policy again on Fox News over the weekend. “You can assume that I talk with him early and often,” he said, referring to Trump. “I’ve seen things written like he’s going to throw me under the bus. … When they say that, I say, ‘He isn’t, but I have insurance.’”

The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott reports this morning that a lot of people in the president’s orbit don’t think Trump willfully turn against Giuliani. Partly this is because the lawyer knows too much, they tell her, but she says the two men are also genuinely friends and Trump gives Giuliani a long leash because he appreciates the way he stood by him in the immediate aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” video.

It’s easy to forget how much cachet Giuliani brought to the Trump effort in 2016. At this point 12 years ago, he was still considered the frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. He earned the nickname “America’s mayor” after his response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Plott spent her week calling GOP pooh-bahs to ask when Trump would distance himself from Giuliani. “Their responses were eerily similar: ‘Can it be two years ago?’ asked one White House official,” she relays. “‘Ideally three years ago,’ responded a senior House GOP aide. Finally, a senior Senate GOP aide: ‘Can he do it yesterday?’ … But they also agree on something else: Giuliani isn’t going anywhere. According to another senior House GOP aide, ‘We’re so far beyond that at this point.’ … ‘The damage is done,’ added a Republican National Committee official. ‘Rudy’s been like this forever, and Trump has never wanted to dump him. Plus at this point, it’s like, doesn’t he know too much?’’”

— To be sure: Giuliani appears to have many side hustles, previously did business in Ukraine and has continued to represent clients other than Trump. For example, when he was in Madrid in August for his meeting with Yermak, the Zelensky aide, to press for the political investigations sought by Trump, Giuliani also met with a previously unidentified client with very different interests.

“While in Spain, Giuliani stayed at a historic estate belonging to Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López, who had hired Trump’s personal attorney to help him contend with a Justice Department investigation of alleged money laundering and bribery,” Helderman, Devlin Barrett, Zapotosky and Hamburger scooped on Tuesday. “A month later, Giuliani was one of several lawyers representing Betancourt in Washington. The lawyers met with the chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government attorneys to argue that the wealthy Venezuelan should not face criminal charges as part of a $1.2 billion money-laundering case filed in Florida last year … Giuliani — who says he was serving as Trump’s attorney pro bono — has used his work for paying clients to help underwrite his efforts to find political ammunition in Ukraine to benefit the president. …

“In response to questions about his relationship with Betancourt, Giuliani wrote in a text, ‘This is attorney client privilege so I will withstand whatever malicious lies or spin you put on it.’ Eric Creizman, an attorney for Giuliani, declined to comment. Jon Sale, an attorney for Betancourt, said his client denies any wrongdoing. … A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the meeting. Justice Department officials were unaware of the Madrid meeting when Giuliani came to meet them, according to a senior Justice Department official…”