Rudy Giuliani has a growing list of enemies in the White House — which now includes his boss, President Donald Trump.
Trump was apoplectic after a pair of weekend media interviews by his personal lawyer, in which Giuliani said that the president had been involved in discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow through the end of the 2016 campaign — a statement that enraged Trump because it contradicted his own public position, according to two sources close to the president.
Giuliani’s statement was the latest in a series of remarks over several months that has required walk-backs or reversals, and Trump spent much of Sunday and Monday fuming to aides and friends about his lawyer’s missteps. Most of those people share Trump’s frustration, noting that the former New York mayor often appears to lack a mastery of the facts of Trump’s legal headaches.
Giuliani’s public remarks — typically made in sporadic clusters of freewheeling media interviews — have long exasperated White House aides, including the president’s in-house lawyer handling the Russia investigation, Emmet Flood. The latest fracas comes at a time of maximum vulnerability for the president and his legal team. Special counsel Robert Mueller has no deadline for finishing his work, but many outside observers see him as nearing the end of his probe into 2016 Russian election meddling and whether it was coordinated with Trump or his campaign.
Asked who in the White House is responsible for handling Giuliani’s missteps, a White House aide said, “Handling Rudy’s f— ups takes more than one man.”
Giuliani, who represents the president pro bono, pushed back on the notion that Trump is frustrated with him. “We’ve known each other for 30 years. And I haven’t heard him complain,” he told POLITICO. “And nobody in the White House would complain to me. They just do it behind my back.”
He also dismissed talk that he doesn’t grasp the facts. “I do have a mastery of the facts, which is why I can spin them honestly, argue them several different ways,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani blamed the media for the confusion, saying reporters are confused by his reliance on hypothetical arguments and take them literally.
“The problem is people don’t understand, or people don’t want to understand, alternative arguing, which is what you do in court all the time. People who want to understand it, do,” he said.
Arguing in the alternative is a legal concept involving the use of hypotheticals, although The New York Times gave no indication that is what Giuliani was doing when it reported on Saturday that he said Trump told him discussions about Trump Tower Moscow were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won.”
It’s not clear what Trump’s anger means for Giuliani’s long-term standing. The mercurial president cycles through highs and lows with his advisers, banishing them only to seek their counsel again.
And Trump has more in common with Giuliani than with many of his other advisers. Both men are wealthy, media-savvy Manhattanites in their 70s who came to prominence during the 1980s and have long captivated the New York tabloids.
But Trump has also abruptly fired numerous senior aides and has parted ways with several senior lawyers who have advised and represented him on the Russia investigation.
Despite his frustrations with Giuliani, Trump associates say the president understands his value as an attack dog against Mueller. Because legal advisers have told the president that he cannot be indicted while in office, Trump has put a greater emphasis on the politics of the Mueller probe and fending off a potential impeachment by Congress rather than on contesting specific allegations the special counsel seems to be pursuing.
“I think that the president has been persuaded that he needs to treat this as a political matter and so this is primarily going to be a messaging battle, and Rudy much of the time has been a very effective messenger,” said a former White House aide.
And even in cases where Giuliani has seemed to reveal damaging facts about his client — including his May acknowledgment that a $130,000 payment from Trump to his then-fixer Michael Cohen was reimbursement for hush money to pornography actress Stormy Daniels — some have seen a calculated effort to dump bad news in order to dampen its potential effect if disclosed by investigators or leaks.
Public approval of Mueller’s handling of the investigation has slipped since Giuliani joined the president’s legal team last summer, from 48 percent approval in October to 43 percent approval in December, according to a CNN poll. Some Trump allies credit the drop, in part, to Giuliani’s aggressive criticism of the special counsel.
Democrats have attacked Giuliani for giving cover to Trump’s alleged lies about suspected collusion with Russia. But in a Monday interview with The New Yorker, the president’s lawyer sounded untroubled by such talk.
“I am afraid it will be on my gravestone. ‘Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump,’” he said. “Somehow, I don’t think that will be it. But, if it is, so what do I care? I’ll be dead. I figure I can explain it to St. Peter.” Giuliani added that the apostle “will be on my side.”
Trump and his allies have raised questions about Giuliani’s effectiveness before. They were revived over the weekend when Giuliani told NBC’s “Meet the Press” and The New York Times that Trump told him he may have spoken to his former lawyer Cohen about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow as late as October or November 2016 — months later than Trump or Cohen had previously admitted. Giuliani also said that Trump may have spoken to Cohen before his former lawyer gave what he has since confessed was false testimony to Congress.
On Monday, Giuliani issued a statement saying his remarks were hypothetical. “My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow ‘project’ were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the president,” Giuliani said.
The flap came just days after Giuliani raised hackles by telling CNN he could not say that no members of Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russia — a statement he was forced to clean up the following day.
“I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign,” Giuliani said.
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told POLITICO that Giuliani “continues to be an important part of the president’s legal team.”
Since the start of the Mueller probe, the president’s team of lawyers has been in a state of near constant tumult. Trump has already cycled through two other lead personal attorneys: Marc Kasowitz, who spent just a couple months working for the president on the Russia probe before stepping down in July 2017, and John Dowd, who resigned last May amid differences with the president over legal strategy. Trump has maintained contact with both lawyers even though they no longer represent him.
Inside the White House, Trump is now onto his second set of lawyers helping manage the response to the Russia investigation following the departure of Don McGahn and Ty Cobb. Now running the operation are White House ounsel Pat Cipollone and Flood, the associate counsel with primary responsibility handling the Mueller investigation.