Throughout Monday, President Donald Trump’s lawyer and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani went on a chaotic media tour, with each subsequent interview seeming to atone or clean up for a key element laid out in a previous appearance.
In an interview with The Daily Beast on Monday night, Giuliani appeared to blame the maelstrom he kicked up on inquisitive New York Times reporters who he suggested had compelled him to proactively spin a potentially damaging story that may or may not actually be real. Several veterans of the Trump campaign, like much of the viewing public, were left befuddled.
“I don’t know, man,” one senior 2016 Trump campaign aide simply messaged The Daily Beast when asked to deconstruct Giuliani’s performance.
The day began with a morning interview with Fox & Friends, during which Giuliani insisted that “collusion [with Russian election-meddlers] is not a crime” in the first place. He then headed to CNN where he proceeded to, ostensibly, break a bit of news about the infamous Trump Tower meeting that the president’s son took with a Russian lawyer reportedly tied to Kremlin officials.
Two days before that meeting, Giuliani relayed, former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen claimed that there was a separate meeting; this one, involving five people, including Cohen himself. According to Giuliani, three of the five people in that supposed meeting told him “it didn’t take place.” Not only that, they had done so “under oath on it and the other two couldn’t possibly reveal it because [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller never asked us about it.”
“You get to the other meeting he says he was at, that the president wasn’t at…with Donald [Trump] Jr., Jared [Kushner], [Paul] Manafort…[Rick] Gates and one other person. Cohen also now says that—he says too much—that two days before he was participating in a meeting with roughly the same group of people—but not the president, definitely not the president—in which they were talking about the strategy of the meeting with the Russians,” Giuliani continued. “The people in that meeting deny it, the people who we’ve been able to interview. The people we’ve not been able to interview have never said that about that meeting.”
To numerous observers, this was incredibly confusing and potentially damaging. There had never been reports of a planning meeting. And the Trump team had long insisted that the actual meeting itself was so innocent and irrelevant as to barely even register in their memories—which likely would not have been the case if they had been planning for it.
Yes, Giuliani had denied it took place. But why was he even talking about it in the first place?
In subsequent interviews on Monday, the president’s lawyer claimed that, in fact, he was only speaking off of as-yet unverified details from reporters who had contacted Team Trump to ask about the planning meeting.
Giuliani told The Daily Beast that this included reporters from The New York Times, such as the paper’s star Trump reporter Maggie Haberman, who had reached out about the alleged pre-meeting meeting. So, he added, “Jay [Sekulow] and I spent a great deal of [Sunday] trying to run it down."
Giuliani said that he believes they managed to "shut it down" and help kill the story, and speculated the journalists had also found other reasons not to run the item. Giuliani and Sekulow—according to Giuliani—had to "go to [alleged participants’] lawyers, and they had to go back to their notes, because nowadays no one wants to be inaccurate”—a rather ironic statement.
Giuliani added that he believes it was Cohen who tried to plant the pre-meeting strategy “meeting” in the press, but conceded he had no proof. Lanny Davis, Cohen’s attorney, declined comment on this story.
The entire episode may end up being a largely forgettable bit of drama in a long-running political story rife with controversial, head scratching moments. But it still underscored the unorthodox approach Giuliani has brought to the president’s legal team. Lawyers, especially those serving the most powerful person in the world, don’t normally launch media crusades based off of requests for comment from reporters—if, in fact, that’s what actually sparked this particular episode.
Haberman, one of the reporters who Giuliani fingered as a source for the confusion he himself had created, gave a blunt assessment of the Trump lawyer’s performance on Monday.
“We don’t talk about sourcing, and wouldn’t now—but I have lost the thread of what the former mayor is talking about,” Haberman said. She then referred The Daily Beast to a New York Times spokeswoman, who did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
—With additional reporting by Betsy Woodruff