Rudy Giuliani just changed the playing field on the investigations of Donald Trump–but perhaps not in the way he intended.
It's hardly shocking that the former mayor, now part of the Trump legal team, would go on Fox News and attack the Mueller investigation. (It's a bit surprising that he would attack James Comey as a "very perverted man" and the FBI agents who raided Cohen's home and office as "storm troopers," given that Giuliani once worked for the Justice Department.)
But what was stunning was the almost casual way that Rudy, with Sean Hannity, reversed Trump's and Cohen's previous denials in the Stormy Daniels mess.
Before I go further, I agree with many of you that most Americans don't care if Trump messed around with Daniels more than a decade ago. But I've covered the story when warranted because I knew the mysterious $130,000 payment would inevitably lead to legal problems.
The previous position was a.) Cohen saying he paid Daniels the money in the final weeks of the campaign and was not reimbursed, and b.) the president saying he did not know about the payment.
But Giuliani told Hannity on Wednesday night that the money was "funneled" through a law firm "and the president repaid it."
So much for not being reimbursed.
If Trump covered the payment by his lawyer—as part of a $35,000 monthly retainer—then he must have known about the hush money to the porn star, right?
"He didn't know about the specifics of it, as far as I know," Giuliani said. "But he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this." Things like this.
Giuliani knew what he was doing (and said the president approved the remarks). His main point was to say "that money was not campaign money ... no campaign finance violation.”
Faced with two unappealing alternatives, the Trump team decided to avoid being cited for breaking FEC rules. And that matches what Cohen recently told me in an interview: that he was not trying to influence the campaign, only to spare his friend and client the personal embarrassment of what they say are Daniels' false allegations.
Giuliani proceeded to step in it yesterday on "Fox & Friends," saying, "It was not for the campaign. It was to save the marriage" — here he stopped himself — "save the relationship."
One reaction, from co-host Ainsley Earhardt: "It sounds like the story is changing."
Giuliani also told Hannity—in the course of suggesting that Bob Mueller stay away from the president's daughter—that Jared Kushner is a fine man but "men are disposable. But a fine woman like Ivanka? Come on."
I covered Rudy at DOJ, when he was U.S. attorney, when he first ran for mayor, and during his ill-fated 2008 presidential campaign. He's a media-savvy guy who has answered questions thousands of times. Maybe it's that he's on cleanup duty here, but he committed several unforced errors in these interviews.
I'm sure it was deliberate when he said of Mueller's prosecutors that "what they're really trying to do is trap him into perjury, and we're not suckers," adding that Trump has more important things to do than sit for a "silly deposition."
That's great for a cable commentator and Friend of Donald, but perhaps not the wisest approach for a lawyer negotiating with the special counsel over whether there will be an interview with Trump and what form it would take.
Mueller started out investigating alleged Russian collusion and seems to have little evidence of that. But as Bill Clinton can attest, special prosecutors can end up straying far beyond their original mandate.