It looks like President Donald Trump is finally tiring of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Gone are the days when he casually directed the leaders of foreign governments to “talk to Rudy” about matters of pressing national security policy.
This week’s sudden split was a long time coming. In October, federal prosecutors nabbed Giuliani henchmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman as they attempted a one-way trip out of the United States. In the weeks since their arrest, Parnas provided audio and video recordings to the House Intelligence Committee that implicate Giuliani in corrupt foreign dealings. A federal criminal indictment against Giuliani appears imminent.
At the same time, three rounds of highly credible witnesses testified at House impeachment hearings that Giuliani put American foreign policy at risk by conducting an unofficial, Trump-approved intimidation campaign against American-allied Ukraine. The goal? To deliver damaging political dirt on political rival Joe Biden. Trump mega-donor and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland asserted under oath that Giuliani’s behavior amounted to a corrupt quid pro quo.
Now, at last, Trump is pulling the plug on another failed business venture. In a bizarre interview with disgraced former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, the president disavowed ever sending Giuliani to Ukraine. Giuliani, he argued, must have been operating independently.
“I didn’t direct him,” Trump told O'Reilly.. “But he’s a warrior. Rudy’s a warrior. Rudy went. He possibly saw something… Rudy has other clients, other than me.”
Even by the standards of Trump’s well-known disloyalty, his comments to O’Reilly represent a stunning willingness to throw even his closest advisors to the wolves. Of course, the idea that Giuliani acted on his own is risible — the official transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky includes a direct instruction to “talk to Rudy.” Trump’s comments are an act of desperation, a last-ditch attempt to cut off the cancerous limb that is Giuliani’s ineptitude.
Friendship with Donald Trump is a fleeting affair filled with reputational risks. Just ask Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, currently serving three years in federal prison for his role in covering up Trump’s hush-money payments to porn stars and mistresses. By the end,of Cohen’s sordid saga, Trump claimed to barely know a man he had worked with for more than a decade.
Or take former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, who went from Trump confidante to personal nemesis in the span of only 11 dizzying days. Or former Senior Advisor Steve Bannon, who guided Trump’s campaign and occupied a plush White House office until Trump fired him. Trump spent weeks dragging Bannon in the press as “sloppy” and a crybaby who couldn’t handle the pressures of government.
For all his laughable incompetence, Giuliani represents a far more dangerous challenge for Trump than Bannon, Scaramucci or even Cohen. Giuliani is every bit as transactional as Trump. On one occasion last week, Giuliani claimed he had an “insurance policy” to ensure Trump didn’t turn on him — evidence that, for all their camaraderie, Giuliani knows the best way to handle Trump is through mutually assured destruction.
With pressure mounting on Giuliani to testify under oath about his shady dealings in Ukraine, Trump has every reason to put miles between himself and his personal attorney. Trump’s claim that Giuliani was just a freelancer don’t hold water. It is too cute by half to assert that Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine just happen to match one-for-one with the quid pro quo Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted to on live television.
It doesn’t help that Giuliani has admitted on multiple occasions in rambling Fox News interviews that he acted at Trump’s direction — a self-serving effort to shield himself from legal fallout in much the same way Trump now seeks to shield himself from Giuliani. In a White House governed by opaque dealings, the Trump-Giuliani relationship is one of the few transparent elements.
President Trump is trying his best to wash his hands of Rudy Giuliani’s lethal radioactivity. Unfortunately for Trump, Giuliani is a fellow expert in the fairweather friendships of high-level politics. How Giuliani responds to Trump’s latest incitement will determine whether the White House survives the gathering impeachment storm.
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