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.
A New York Times investigation found that the United States is actively infiltrating Russia’s electric power grid. We look at what that means for the future of cyberwarfare.
Everyone has a code of conduct, whether explicit or unacknowledged. Nearly halfway into President Trump’s first term—which some people hope and others fear will be his only one—the contours of his code have become pretty clear.
Mr. Trump has a consistent way of judging people. Strong is good, weak is bad. Big is impressive, small is defective: “Little Marco.” Winners are admirable, while losers are contemptible. A corollary is that there is neither dishonorable victory nor honorable defeat, which is why Mr. Trump poured scorn during his candidacy on John McCain for having been captured—never mind McCain’s heroic conduct as a prisoner of war.Individuals are either attractive or unattractive. If they don’t look good, it doesn’t much matter what they say or do. Appearance is reality: Plato’s Cave inverted. This is why Mr. Trump’s TV stardom mattered more than his checkered business career.
Finally, people are either loyal or disloyal. Loyalty in this case means their willingness to defend Mr. Trump, whatever the cost to their own interests or reputation. In this vein, Mr. Trump favorably compared former Attorney General Eric Holder’s unswerving support for President Obama with Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
This brings us to the next feature of Mr. Trump’s personal code—his distinctive understanding of how the world works. Here’s how it goes.
With the possible exception of family, all relationships are at bottom transactional. Every man has a price, and so does every woman.
There’s money, and then everything else. Money and morals are unrelated. Even if a Saudi leader ordered the assassination and dismemberment of a prominent dissident, this is no reason to halt arms sales to the monarchy. If American firms don’t get the contracts, someone else will. Why should we be chumps? If promoting democracy or simple decency costs money, what’s the point?
The core of human existence is competition, not cooperation. The world is zero-sum: If I win, someone else must lose. I can either bend another to my will or yield to his.
The division between friends and enemies is fundamental. We should do as much good as we can to our friends, and as much harm to our enemies.
This brings us to President Trump’s handbook of tactics we should employ to achieve our goals:
Rule 1: The end always justifies the means. Asked whether he had spoken disrespectfully about Christine Blasey Ford, he said, “I’m not going to get into it, because we won. It doesn’t matter; we won.” Case closed.
Rule 2: No matter the truth of accusations against you, deny everything. Bob Woodward’s recent book quotes Mr. Trump counseling a friend who had privately confessed to sexual-misconduct charges against him. “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny, and push back hard on these women,” says Mr. Trump. “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.” The corollary to Rule 2 is that the best defense is a good offense. As the president told his friend, “You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be aggressive. Never admit.”
Rule 3: Responding to criticism on its merits is pointless. Instead, challenge the motives and character of your critics. Their criticism isn’t sincere anyway: It’s all politics, the unending quest for dominance. If ridicule works, use it, even if it means caricaturing your adversaries by reducing them to their weakest trait. If Jeb Bush is “low energy,” who cares what he thinks about immigration?
Rule 4: To win, you must arouse your supporters, and deepening divisions is the surest way to do it. Even if compromise could solve important problems, reject it whenever it threatens to reduce the fervor of your base. No gain in the public good is important enough to justify the loss of power.
Rule 5: It is wonderful to be loved, but if you must choose, it is better to be feared than loved. The desire for love puts you at the mercy of those who can withhold it; creating fear puts you on offense. You cannot control love, but you can control fear. And this is the ultimate question of politics, indeed, of all human life: Who’s in control?
Defenders of President Trump’s code of conduct will point to what they see as its unsentimental realism. His maxims are the terms of effectiveness in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. They may not be pretty, but they work. Politics is not like figure skating. You get no points for style. You either get your way or you don’t. Nothing else matters.
Critics of Mr. Trump’s code—I’m one of them—view the distinction between permissible and forbidden means as essential to constitutional democracy, and to all decent politics. What Mr. Trump’s supporters see as the restoration of national greatness, his critics see as the acceleration of national decline.
This, to no small extent, is what next month’s elections are really about.