Trump allies felt Giuliani’s free-wheeling monologues were hurting the president. And that was before the ex-New York mayor’s business associates got arrested.
For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.
And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.
Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.
The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.
Giuliani has been Trump’s attack dog since he was hired as an unpaid personal attorney April 2018. But the president’s personal lawyer has now found himself at the center of an unfolding controversy over the president’s attempts to get the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter.
To numerous Trump advisers, though, the appearances have hurt more than they’ve helped the president.
“Rudy right now needs to focus on himself and not Ukraine,” said an outside Trump adviser.
For now, Trump is sticking with Giuliani, or “My Rudy,” as Giuliani said the president sometimes calls him. “Nothing has changed on that,” said Giuliani’s own attorney, Jon Sale. Trump plans to keep using Giuliani on everything but Ukraine matters because they know he’s a witness if this goes to impeachment, according to a source familiar with the legal team’s strategy.
Trump said late Friday he didn’t know if Giuliani was still his attorney. “I haven’t spoken to Rudy,” he said. “I spoke to him yesterday, briefly. He’s a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.”
That’s good for Trump, Giuliani argued.
“I’m not a puppy — I know what I’m doing,” he said. If he didn’t represent Trump, Giuliani added, “they would let him be a punching bag.”
In a text on Saturday morning, Giuliani replied to the two most pressing questions he’s facing. “No knowledge of any probe. Still President’s counsel in same way as before…no change,” he wrote.
In a Saturday morning tweet, Trump wrote: “So now they are after the legendary “crime buster” and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani. He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer.”
At least one Republican suggested Giuliani would not leave even if Trump wanted him to. Either way, Giuliani is not going away, given his central role in the budding Ukraine controversy.
Giuliani fed Trump the information that largely led the president in a phone call to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The former New York mayor had spent months trying to make contact with Ukrainian officials to collect evidence and convince them that they should be looking at Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian gas company and Joe Biden’s Obama-era efforts to have a Ukrainian prosecutor removed over corruption concerns. There is no public evidence that either Joe or Hunter Biden broke any laws.
House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry after Trump’s request was revealed, spurring Giuliani to blanket the airwaves with his bulldog defenses of the president. Democrats have also subpoenaed Giuliani for documents and testimony related to his Ukraine activities, setting off a battle that’s likely to drag on for weeks.
Don Goldberg, who helped respond to congressional investigations in the Clinton White House, said Giuliani shouldn’t be helping Trump when he’s facing his own problems.
“It’s so messed up,” he said. “You’d think a president would want to have competent counsel if you’re talking about fighting for your political life. We’re so far not seeing that with the caliber he’s been using.”
Giuliani suggested in an interview this week that his television appearances could be reduced now that Trump’s legal team is expanding.
Some also speculated that the recent addition of former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to the Trump impeachment legal team was an attempt to reduce Giuliani’s appearances on the airwaves.
Although Gowdy — who led the congressional investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks — won’t start as a Trump attorney until January, he could appear as a surrogate on television in the meantime.
Democrats initially launched an investigation into Trump on Sept. 24 after learning about his call with Zelensky.
And Giuliani has been talking — a lot.
On Sept. 19, he denied he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, only to admit it 30 seconds later.
On Sept. 24, he blew up at radio host Christopher Hahn during a joint television appearance, calling him a “moron” and an “idiot.”
On Oct. 6, he yelled at TV host Howard Kurtz, putting his fingers to his lips to shush him in the middle of the interview.
And in a series of phone interviews, Giuliani described himself both as a “hero” and the real “whistleblower” in the Ukraine saga, questioning why anyone would praise the person who initially raised concerns about Trump’s call.
“If I get killed now, you won’t get the rest of the story,” he warned POLITICOlast month.
Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who has written books on impeachment, said Giuliani’s primary legal role is to appear on television.
“That’s helping facilitate the political arguments the president is making,” he said. “But at some point, if impeachment gets any traction, you’re going to need somebody that can speak more clearly and more powerfully with respect to the different points of the impeachment articles that may be drafted and ratified.”
Giuliani said he and Jay Sekulow, another Trump attorney, are still working for Trump because they successfully represented Trump during Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
“Jay and I got us through the last one, not the peanut gallery,” Giuliani said. “The president has made his views quite well known.”
It’s not the first time prominent Republicans have complained to Trump about Giuliani. But those same allies say the situation has grown dire since the House opened its impeachment inquiry.
“I think he’s massively hurting,” said a person close to the Trump campaign. “His TV appearances are so confused and contradictory, he’s creating an impression of internal chaos.”
“He’s inarticulate,” said a Republican who speaks to the president. “Rudy hurts the president with inconsistent, confusing messages.”
One former senior administration official described it this way when asked what Trump’s strategy against impeachment should be: “Hopefully Rudy will be on the space shuttle.”
So far, Trump has not heeded the advice.
“As long as Giuliani is doing battle with the president’s perceived critics and opponents, that’s what matters to the president,” said Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who worked for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “The efficiency of the performance isn’t as important as the willingness to do battle.”
Trump admires Giuliani’s brand, his loyalty and his Trump-like style, according to people familiar with their relationship. He has both political and legal experience at the national level, and has known the president for decades.
“They have a brotherly relationship,” said a second Republican who speaks to the president. “He likes his combative style.”
Giuliani’s reputation soared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when he was dubbed “America’s Mayor.” These days, he’s regularly mocked on late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live.” His favorable ratings dipped to their lowest point in 2018 since Gallup began their polling on him in 2004.
Still, Trump supporters credit him with helping the president survive the Mueller investigation — and now exposing the Biden allegations.
At the White House Friday, senior aide Stephen Miller forcefully defended Giuliani. “You should all be grateful Rudy Giuliani is helping to shine a light on the endemic corruption that occurred while Joe Biden was vice president,” he told reporters, alluding to unsubstantiated claims that Biden got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son.
Republican strategist John Feehery said Trump loves what he is doing. “If this were any other president, Rudy would be a disaster,” he said. “There is a method to the madness. The goal is to always stay on offense and not be defensive.”
But there was at least one sign that Trump might be tiring of Giuliani.
On Thursday, the president told reporters he didn’t know the two Giuliani associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — charged with sending foreign money to U.S. political campaigns. Then, he turned the attention squarely back to Giuliani.
“You’d have to ask Rudy,” he said.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, responds to whistleblower complaint on “This Week.”
The president’s two highest-profile lawyers are struggling to get on the same pageWASHINGTON—Attorney General William Barr called President Trump in April with a question: What was Rudy Giuliani doing?
Mr. Trump had just avoided criminal charges with the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian electoral interference. But Mr. Giuliani was on television attacking former White House counsel Don McGahn, a longtime friend of the attorney general who had testified to investigators about some of the most notable incidents in the report, including Mr. Trump’s efforts to seek Mr. Mueller’s dismissal.
Why, Mr. Barr wanted to know, was the president’s private lawyer making a spectacle of himself rather than declaring victory in the Mueller investigation and moving on, according to a person who paraphrased the conversation. Mr. Barr wanted the president to tell Mr. Giuliani, in effect, to knock it off.
Five months later, Mr. Trump’s two highest-profile lawyers are again struggling to get on the same page, this time in the face of an impeachment inquiry launched by congressional Democrats last week. The president’s relationships with his private lawyer who once aspired to be his attorney general and the man who currently has that post are complicating White House efforts to build a legal and public-relations strategy to keep Mr. Trump in office.
Mr. Trump is receiving advice from two very different lawyers: Mr. Giuliani, who blankets the airwaves morning and evening with combative interviews and is prone to exaggeration; and Mr. Barr, a more measured figure but one who has drawn criticism for appearing overly close to Mr. Trump. As Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani’s job is to defend the president; as attorney general, Mr. Barr’s is to defend the Justice Department and the institution of the presidency.
Yet Mr. Trump at times refers to the two men almost interchangeably. In a July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Mr. Trump pressed his counterpart to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, Mr. Trump didn’t draw a distinction between the roles of Messrs. Giuliani and Barr, saying repeatedly that he would have both of them call to discuss the possible Biden investigation and other matters.
“When he was in private life, Trump was accustomed to having lawyers where he was the client, he would give directives and they’d do their best to fulfill his directives,” a former senior administration official said. “The government works a little bit differently. That was something he didn’t know, didn’t appreciate and I’m not sure if he’s ever fully come to terms with.”
Mr. Barr was surprised and angry to discover weeks later that the president had lumped him together with Mr. Giuliani on the phone call with Mr. Zelensky, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Justice Department said Mr. Trump never asked Mr. Barr to contact the Ukrainians.
House committees on Monday subpoenaed Mr. Giuliani for documents related to his efforts to pressure Ukraine to probe Mr. Biden. Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a question about whether he would comply.
Democrats have used the Trump-Zelensky phone call to raise questions about Mr. Barr’s own conduct. “I do think the attorney general has gone rogue,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Friday on CNN. “Since he was mentioned in all of this, it’s curious that he would be making decisions about how the complaint would be handled.”
Some argued he should have recused himself from legal decisions surrounding a whistleblower complaint about Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky and other matters which ultimately led House Democrats to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.
The Justice Department initially blocked the complaint from being turned over to Congress, advising the director of national intelligence in early September that it didn’t constitute an urgent concern that required reporting to the intelligence committees. Justice Department lawyers then said they didn’t find enough evidence to warrant opening a criminal investigation into possible campaign-finance violations.
Mr. Barr didn’t believe it was necessary to recuse himself from deliberations given that he didn’t know until later that the president had invoked his name on the call, but nonetheless didn’t oversee the review, an official said.
In the days since House Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry, Mr. Giuliani has been a near-constant fixture on TV, declaring himself a whistleblower and confirming he would deliver a paid speech at a Kremlin-backed conference, only to reverse himself hours later. Mr. Barr, in contrast, departed for Italy for a previously scheduled trip and hasn’t spoken publicly.
On Monday, a Justice Department official said Mr. Barr had asked the president to make introductions in several countries that may have information relevant to a federal probe into the origins of the Mueller investigation, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly decried as a “witch hunt.”
One such introduction was to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom Mr. Trump recently called at Mr. Barr’s request, two government officials said. The FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 after the Australian government tipped off the U.S. that another foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign appeared to have foreknowledge of the release of hacked material by Russia.
Despite legal careers that intersected under Mr. Trump, people close to Mr. Barr say he and Mr. Giuliani have never been close and that he is privately mystified by what many in conservative legal circles view as Mr. Giuliani’s meddling in matters that should be handled by officials in government. Mr. Barr has privately told associates that he believes Mr. Giuliani’s behavior in general isn’t helpful to the administration.
Mr. Trump likes and respects Mr. Giuliani but his perception of him is “cyclical” and varies depending on the day, a person close to the president said. The president so far appears to appreciate Mr. Giuliani’s very public defense of their Ukraine strategy. On Wednesday, speaking at the United Nations, Mr. Trump called Mr. Giuliani a “great lawyer” and said: “I’ve watched the passion that he’s had on television over the last few days. I think it’s incredible the way he’s done.”
“The only person that likes Rudy on TV right now is Trump,” said another person close to the president, adding that Mr. Trump “likes people who get on TV and fight for him.”
Mr. Giuliani said he hasn’t heard of any frustrations with him. Asked about criticism of his attacks on Mr. McGahn, he said in an interview that he wasn’t aware of Mr. Barr’s concerns. “Maybe he should notice that McGahn hasn’t testified,” Mr. Giulani said, referring to a subpoena for Mr. McGahn’s testimony from a House committee investigating Mr. Trump’s efforts to curtail the Mueller investigation. “I love when people Monday morning quarterback what you decide as a lawyer.”
Since joining the president’s legal team in April 2018, Mr. Giuliani has developed a reputation for combative TV interviews in which he has made stunning admissions—such as declaring last May that the president had reimbursed his former lawyer for a 2016 payment to a porn star—and has repeatedly had to walk back incorrect statements, such as his assertion in January that negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow had continued through Election Day. Mr. Barr, in contrast, is blunt yet more careful in his public statements.
Mr. Giuliani has known the president for decades, but bolstered his standing with Mr. Trump with his loyal support of his campaign in 2016. Mr. Trump didn’t always return the favor. He often needled the former mayor for falling asleep on long flights, and joked about whether Mr. Giuliani was looking at cartoons on his iPad, a former aide said.
Mr. Trump also berated Mr. Giuliani in front of others at the wedding of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in 2017. The president complained that Mr. Giuliani was spitting while he was talking and ordered him to stand elsewhere, the aide said.
After the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape weeks before the election in which Mr. Trump was captured making lewd comments about women, few advisers were willing to go on the Sunday talk shows to defend the candidate. Mr. Giuliani taped all five shows—after which Mr. Trump attacked him for his performance. “Man, Rudy, you sucked. You were weak. Low energy,” the candidate told him, according to a book by two former campaign aides, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.
After the election, Mr. Giuliani was eager for an administration post—foremost, that of attorney general. He didn’t get it.
Yet Mr. Trump valued his loyalty. In staff meetings at the White House, the president would pre-empt complaints about Mr. Giuliani’s behavior on television by interrupting and making clear that he appreciated how hard the former mayor was fighting for him.
“Everyone shuts up after that,” a White House aide said.
Mr. Trump didn’t know Mr. Barr well before tapping him as the country’s top prosecutor on the recommendation of his legal advisers. Their relationship grew stronger during the final stages of the Mueller investigation, an administration official said, adding that Mr. Trump was pleased with the way his attorney general handled the end of the probe. In the months since, Mr. Trump has often privately praised Mr. Barr, and the two speak regularly.
Mr. Barr unrolled the Mueller team’s findings in a way that favored Mr. Trump, prompting criticism that he appeared overly interested in defending the president and risked the Justice Department’s independence from the White House. It was Mr. Barr who determined, along with then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that Mr. Trump hadn’t obstructed justice, after Mr. Mueller opted not to make a decision on that matter, citing a Justice Department policy barring the indictment of sitting presidents.
Mr. Barr served as attorney general under the first Bush administration and later became executive vice president and general counsel of a telecommunications company and a private lawyer before Mr. Trump tapped him as attorney general in December. Mr. Giuliani, too, was a high-ranking Justice Department official and Manhattan’s top prosecutor in the late 1980s, but had left that post by the time Mr. Barr became attorney general under George H.W. Bush.
In an interview for an oral history of the Bush presidency in 2001, Mr. Barr, who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, alluded to Mr. Giuliani’s reputation for charting his own path. Mr. Barr said the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office was the hardest to coordinate with, but favorably compared his U.S. attorney there to Mr. Giuliani, who held that post until 1989.
“My New York guy wasn’t Rudy Giuliani,” Mr. Barr said of Otto Obermaier, the Manhattan U.S. attorney until 1993. “He wasn’t that independent, but he basically ignored 50 percent of what I said.”