Giuliani Speaks for Trump. Except When He Doesn’t.
Posted June 7, 2018 8:35 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump hired Rudy Giuliani to speak for him. But no less than Trump’s wife and his chief diplomat spent Thursday explaining that Giuliani does not always know what he is talking about.
Melania Trump, the first lady, let it be known that Giuliani has no idea how she feels about Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actress who goes by the name Stormy Daniels and says she had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump, while Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, made clear that Giuliani has nothing to do with North Korea policy. Their pushback came in response to the latest in a series of seemingly off-script moments by Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has joined the legal team representing Trump in the special counsel’s investigations into his campaign and associates.
Giuliani has been something of a loose cannon, making public comments that surprised other advisers, were later contradicted or touched on matters beyond his ostensible mandate. At a conference in Israel this week, Giuliani said Melania Trump accepted her husband’s denial that he had any sexual liaisons with Clifford. “She believes her husband and she knows it’s untrue,” Giuliani said.
That drew a sharp retort from the first lady’s office. “I don’t believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani,” the first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said in an email to The New York Times.
The unusually pointed response from a first lady who rarely engages in conflicts the way her husband does may have spoken to a sensitivity that goes beyond Giuliani. As she rejected Giuliani as a spokesman for her feelings, Melania Trump did nothing to affirm that she did accept her husband’s explanation of what happened with Clifford.
Also left uncertain was the degree to which Giuliani is freelancing when he says such things or reflecting what the president wants him to say. In a telephone interview Thursday, Giuliani did not say his client had told him about Melania Trump’s feelings. But the president has frequently instructed his lawyer on what to say about topics related to Clifford and the special counsel investigation.
Trump may not have had qualms about Giuliani’s public denunciation of Clifford. At the same conference, Giuliani said she was not credible because of her career in the sex industry. “I’m sorry, I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman and as a person and isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation,” he said.
Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said Giuliani was the one with the credibility problem. “My client @StormyDaniels should be celebrated for her courage, strength and intelligence,” he wrote on Twitter. “She is one of the most credible people I have ever met regardless of gender. Period. I would be put her character up against Mr. Giuliani’s any day of the week.”
As for Pompeo, he looked pained when asked at a White House press briefing Thursday about Giuliani’s foray into North Korea diplomacy. While in Israel, Giuliani said Trump agreed to resume plans for a summit meeting only after Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, pleaded with him to do it.
“Kim Jong Un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in,” Giuliani said.
Pompeo, who has met twice with Kim and led Trump’s efforts to set up a meeting to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, made clear that he did not find Giuliani’s intervention helpful.
“I know Rudy,” he told reporters at the White House after a meeting between Trump and Japan’s prime minister. “Rudy doesn’t speak for the administration when it comes to this negotiation and this set of issues.”
The often prickly North Koreans did not immediately respond to Giuliani’s portrayal of what happened, and Pompeo sought to play it down as a joke. “I took him as being in a small room and not being serious about the comments,” he said. “I think it was a bit in jest. We’re moving forward. We’re focused on the important things.”
Giuliani also ventured into Middle East peace as Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has developed a plan to resolve the decades-old dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Giuliani suggested that the Palestinians should, like Kim, get down on their knees and beg. “That’s what needs to happen with the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “They have to be seeking peace. You’ve got to change the dynamic and put the pressure on them.”
The former New York mayor told Israeli reporters that he had seen Kushner’s secret peace plan and that it made “all the sense in the world.” But Giuliani called The Wall Street Journal afterward to say he only knew what had been in news reports. “I have not seen any secret plan or been told about one,” he said. “I based my comments on the publicly available discussion of the plan.”