Michael Cohen’s ongoing testimony before Congress and the evidence of criminal wrongdoing he is providing to lawmakers, prosecutors, and the media, must be making President Donald Trump, his former client, increasingly nervous.
So Rudy Giuliani, the president’s current lawyer, is frantically trying to spin a defense as the case spirals out beyond his control.
In a new report from the New York Times published Wednesday night, for example, Giuliani said that multiple lawyers for defendants in the Russia investigation have sought potential pardons. Giuliani claimed, though, that he has consistently rebuffed the request. Giuliani is an unreliable narrator in the best of times — he repeatedly mangles known facts when they benefit Trump. But in this case, his claims are even more dubious, because they clearly look like damage control; multiple reports have recently found that there were discussions of a possible pardon for Cohen, though it’s not clear who brought up the idea.
Giuliani seems to be trying to get ahead of the story.
The question of whether a pardon was offered and when is important because many legal analysts, including Trump’s new attorney general William Barr, have argued that exchanging a pardon for silence could be a crime.
According to the Times, Cohen has told federal prosecutors about discussions he had involving Giuliani and another lawyer regarding pardons after the FBI raided his properties.
Giuliani, the Times reported, “said he always insisted to defense lawyers that Mr. Trump would not consider granting pardons until the investigations were long over.” Of course, this might not be much of a help to Trump, because as the Times noted, previous reporting found that the president’s lawyers were raising the prospect of possible pardons to defendants in the Russia investigation before Giuliani came aboard.
And even earlier on Wednesday, Giuliani gave a different, much more definitive response about the possibility of pardons.
“We have unequivocally always said only one thing, and anything else would be entirely false,” Giuliani told ABC News. “We have said the president is not going to issue any pardons and is not considering any pardons at this time.”
The answer to ABC News, though, was in direct contradiction to known facts. Giuliani has previously said Trump “reserves the power to [pardon] if and when it’s appropriate.” Trump himself has said on the subject of pardons, “I’m not taking anything off the table.”
Giuliani’s desperate efforts to defend his client in public without regard to any concerns about coherence extended to another subject entirely on Wednesday: the criminal hush money payments Cohen has pleaded guilty to. Cohen has implicated Trump in this scheme, and he has recently produced several checks he says show the president reimbursed him for one of the illegal payments.
On Twitter, Giuliani tried to argue, as he has previously, that the crime itself wasn’t actually a crime, despite Cohen’s guilty plea:
This includes the payments Cohen has lied about which are not campaign contributions if they had any personal purpose. Cohen may not remember it but he slipped in his perjury laden testimony and supplied ample evidence that they had a personal purpose. So do his tapes. https://t.co/ErZW1bvxE5
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) March 6, 2019
But as legal experts have painstakingly explained, Giuliani is just plain wrong about what the law in question means.
“This is not an accurate statement of the law,” said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “Based on the jury instructions given to the jury in the John Edwards case, if there was a ‘campaign purpose’ for the hush money payments, they were not legal.”
With investigators encircling him on all sides and the evidence looking worse and worse, Trump will need the best legal help he can get. As the meandering, contradictory, and factually mistaken statements above show, Giuliani is certainly not that.