Political News

Giuliani’s Bark May Come Back to Bite Trump

Posted May 3, 2018 8:56 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Rudolph W. Giuliani may be ill suited to be President Donald Trump’s legal frontman for all of the reasons that the bombastic former mayor appealed to Trump in the first place.

Giuliani is loose-lipped, intemperate, confrontational and supremely confident that he knows better than anyone else. Like Trump himself, the man once known as “America’s Mayor” for overseeing New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has always faced down his critics with relish.

And yet, suddenly on Wednesday night, Giuliani seemed reduced to America’s grouchy dinner guest. He found himself undermining his new client — the president of the United States — and the very law enforcement officials he once oversaw as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

In one of his first interviews since joining Trump’s legal team, Giuliani appeared to briefly stun Sean Hannity of Fox News by asserting that the president had reimbursed his personal lawyer for a $130,000 hush payment to Stephanie Clifford, a pornographic film actress — a contradiction of the president.

“I want to clarify something,” Hannity said, offering a do-over to Giuliani, an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate and longtime friend of Trump’s. Instead of taking a mulligan, Giuliani repeated the assertion.

As his host tried to throw him several lifelines, Giuliani dug in, insisting that Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, had tried to keep Clifford from going public with the alleged affair before the 2016 election.

He also called agents for the FBI who raided Cohen’s office “storm troopers,” a reference to Nazis that offended others in the law enforcement community who once held Giuliani in largely high regard. Giuliani’s appearances infuriated others in Trump’s orbit, who had been kept in the dark about his plans. At the White House, many of the president’s associates were particularly angry over an odd swipe that Giuliani took at Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

“Jared is a fine man, you know that,” Giuliani said, before adding, “Men are disposable.”

What he meant by disposable is unclear, but Kushner’s friends in the West Wing were equally puzzled by Giuliani’s comments about Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s wife. Giuliani called her “a fine woman” and predicted that “the whole country” would turn on Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor in the Russia investigation, if Mueller went after Ivanka Trump.

“A fine woman like Ivanka?” he said. “Come on.”

A veteran of the no-holds-barred world of New York tabloids that Trump inhabited for decades, Giuliani was an early and vocal supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign — a potential entree back into the limelight of national politics after his failed 2008 bid for the White House.

During Trump’s campaign, he was a forceful critic of Hillary Clinton, a longtime political rival and Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential race, and indulged in some non-truth telling that was as puzzling as it was brazen.

For example, he suggested that Hillary Clinton had not visited ground zero in the immediate period after the 9/11 attacks, even when reporters covered their joint trips there and ample photographic evidence to the contrary instantly emerged.

Giuliani also said during the campaign that the FBI gave him the inside track into investigations into Clinton’s emails. His private security consulting firm often attracted scrutiny and dinged his chances at joining the Trump administration.

An energetic speech he delivered in 2016 at the Republican National Convention and his repeated defense of Trump after Trump was heard making crude comments on an “Access Hollywood” tape prompted talk of Giuliani’s being appointed secretary of state or, perhaps, of his leading the Department of Homeland Security.

Those aspirations never materialized. Giuliani was passed over for both jobs — not once, but twice for each position.

Still, Giuliani has never wavered in his support for his fellow New Yorker. And when Trump was seeking a new lawyer — a high-wattage TV combatant who would not wilt under the pressures of the news media or legal adversaries — Giuliani seemed a natural pick.

But Giuliani is not used to having his words carefully managed. His comments on Fox News on Wednesday set off a frenzy on Twitter. Almost instantly, people were reposting video of Trump on Air Force One last month saying he knew nothing about the payments.

Asked about his remarks after finishing the interview, Giuliani said that what might have seemed to some — including, perhaps, Hannity — like a slip of the tongue, was actually a planned disclosure.

“That removes the campaign finance violation, and we have all the documentary proof for it,” Giuliani said, explaining that the president was aware of what Giuliani intended to say on the program. He insisted he had spoken with Trump before and after the interview on Fox News. Giuliani also dismissed the social media furor.

But late Wednesday, Common Cause, a government watchdog group, said Giuliani’s remarks bolstered its lawsuit accusing the president and his campaign of breaking the law by failing to disclose a contribution to his campaign.

“Giuliani seemingly thought he was doing President Trump a favor — but instead made Trump’s legal problems much, much worse,” said Paul S. Ryan, the group’s vice president for policy and litigation.

Whether or not that proves true, Giuliani is likely to have an opinion about it. And a combative one, at that.