President Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, began a Fox & Friends interview on Monday morning by asserting that collusion is not a crime.
“I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime,” Giuliani said. “Collusion is not a crime.”
Later during the interview, Giuliani acknowledged that collusion may have happened — but insisted that if it did, Trump wasn’t involved.
“They have have colluded… but [the president] wasn’t involved in it,” Giuliani said.
Trump’s lawyer used the same talking point during an interview with CNN a short time later.
“I don’t even know if that’s a crime — colluding [with] Russians,” Giuliani said. “Hacking is the crime. The president didn’t hack! He didn’t pay them for hacking!” (Special counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictment suggests Trump’s public comments encouraged Russian hackers, however.)
“If you got the hacked information from the Russians here at CNN, and you played it, would you be in jeopardy of going to jail? Of course not.”
Giuliani’s equivocating about collusion — downplaying it as something that may have occurred, but that didn’t break the law — represents a significant moving of the goalposts.
“Of course not,” Vice President-elect Mike Pence said just days before the inauguration, when asked whether there was any contact between the Trump campaign and Kremlin agents. “Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?…This is all a distraction, and it’s all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this presidency. The American people see right through it.”
A few months later, Trump campaign surrogate-turned-Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged that he had met on numerous occasions during the campaign with Russian ambassador Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Sessions downplayed those contacts, saying he and the Russian ambassador didn’t discuss any campaign-related topics, but evidence emerged suggesting he wasn’t telling the truth. Sessions has since adopted a strategy of saying he can’t recall exactly what he and Kislyak discussed, or if he met with other Russians.
Then, after the New York Times broke news about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, team Trump retreated to the position that while they may have been curious about collusion, it didn’t actually happen.
But we’ve since learned more information that throws that narrative into question, too. For instance, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who seemed to have some foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ publication of emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, was in direct contact with Russian hackers in the summer of 2016.
Giuliani’s new talking point — which has been used by members of Trump’s legal team in the past — takes the retreat a step further.
Last month, Trump tweeted that he believes he has “the absolute right to PARDON myself.” Last week, his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, indicated he’s willing to testify that Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. While Trump has denied having such knowledge, remarks he made two days before the meeting happened — in which he teased an upcoming speech detailing dirt he had about Hillary Clinton — suggests he hasn’t been telling the truth.
During a Fox News interview on Sunday, Giuliani argued that even if Cohen is telling the truth and Trump has been lying all along about knowing about the Trump Tower meeting, it wouldn’t be a crime.
UPDATE (7/30, 2:45 p.m.) — Later on Monday, Giuliani called into Fox News’ Outnumbered program for yet another interview.
Giuliani insisted that Trump didn’t collude with Russia — but even if he did, that’s okay.
“My client didn’t do it, and even if he did it, it’s not a crime,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani is calling into Fox News right now to clarify his collusion comments from this morning: "My client didn't do it, and even if he did it, it's not a crime." pic.twitter.com/4Lem500Wuj
— Aidan McLaughlin (@aidnmclaughlin) July 30, 2018