Giuliani Raises More Questions About President Trump, Michael Cohen

May 7, 2018
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The book by former FBI Director James Comey includes a description of Rudolph Giuliani. Comey worked for the onetime U.S. attorney in New York. He writes, quote, "Giuliani's confidence was not leavened with a whole lot of humility." Comey cites colleagues who said the most dangerous place in New York is between Rudy and a microphone. We mention this portrayal at a moment when Rudy Giuliani is again before the microphones and cameras as a lawyer defending his client, the president of the United States. In a long interview on ABC News over the weekend, Giuliani tried to clarify statements he'd made in an interview on Fox News. He also raised more questions about the president and another Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS BROADCAST)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Michael Cohen make payments to other women for the president?

RUDOLPH GIULIANI: I have no knowledge of that. But I would think, if it was necessary, yes.

INSKEEP: He left open the possibility there that President Trump's payments for the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels were not the only payments he made. On Friday, the president waved off some of Giuliani's comments.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it's been said wrong or it's been covered wrong by the press.

INSKEEP: Although it appears the two have been talking and meeting as Giuliani has made his television appearances, so what's going on here? NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been trying to figure it out.

Hi there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: I suppose one way to think of Giuliani's loquaciousness - if that's the word - would be that he's a lawyer and a kind of political adviser for a guy with a lot of awkward information to get out, and he's just trying to disclose it all very quickly.

LIASSON: That's right. And as the president also said, Rudy doesn't have his facts straight, and he's just getting started. But you're right. He's trying to get the president out of legal jeopardy by making explanations and divulging facts that weren't known before. But as he does that, he opens up other areas of potential legal jeopardy. And this is also just Rudy Giuliani and Trump. Other White House officials, staff and lawyers have been blindsided by this. And it's possible that this is a case where the president is not his own best communications director.

INSKEEP: And this is a case where Giuliani has contradicted past statements by the president. And certainly, it's not the first time the president has been contradicted or caught in an untruth. But he's being criticized in some unlikely quarters this time.

LIASSON: That's right. That's what was so interesting about this whole episode. Usually, everyone goes to their own corners. The president's supporters defend him. The president's critics attack him. But now you're hearing people like Laura Ingraham on Fox News, The Wall Street Journal editorial page - everyone is saying the same thing, which is that the president needs to get his story straight and that he is damaging his own credibility. We're now in the fifth day of a mess entirely of Trump's own making.

INSKEEP: Do you feel at the end of those five days - or at the moment we're at now, anyway - that you understand what the president's legal strategy is?

LIASSON: Actually, that's probably one of the few things that seem to be clear in this whole mess. It sounds like the president has decided to fight Bob Mueller, the special counsel, not to cooperate. Here is what Rudy Giuliani said yesterday on ABC to George Stephanopoulos.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS BROADCAST)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident the president will not take the Fifth in this case?

GIULIANI: Oh, how could I ever be confident of that when I'm facing a situation with the president and all the other lawyers are, in which every lawyer in America thinks he'd be a fool to testify?

LIASSON: So it sounds like the president and his new, more-aggressive legal advisers have decided that taking the Fifth or fighting the subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court, even being held in contempt - all that would be less risky, less of a political price to pay than the legal risk - the potential legal risk of sitting down with Robert Mueller and talking to him.

INSKEEP: Well, that's extraordinary because elsewhere in the program today, we have Matt Olsen. He's a former adviser to Robert Mueller when he was FBI director - very experienced lawyer, a very experienced prosecutor who was able to cite a Supreme Court case and tell us, if it ultimately gets down to it, if Mueller insists, Trump has to testify. So it's remarkable to hear you say they'd be willing to fight, and fight, and fight and fight, even though the odds would be against them.

LIASSON: Fight and fight and fight is Trump's credo. This is what he's done his entire life. And I think that's - it sounds like that's what his instincts are in this situation.

INSKEEP: Although there's also this question - the rest of Giuliani's statement that we heard there - if we'd played the tape just a little bit longer, we would've heard one more phrase, Mara Liasson. Every lawyer in America thinks he would be a fool to testify, says Rudy Giuliani. But then he goes on to say, but I have a client who wants to testify.

LIASSON: That's what the president says. But it's possible what he's trying to communicate when he says that is that he's tough and he's not afraid of sitting down with Mueller because whenever he says that he wants to talk to Mueller, he always adds a caveat, which is, of course, but that depends on what my lawyers tell me.

INSKEEP: Ah, ah, I understand. One other thing to ask about, Mara, before I let you go - The Wall Street Journal had a story over the weekend pointing out that there's an election coming up, and at some point, Robert Mueller maybe will have to stop or go dark or something.

LIASSON: That's right, because the Department of Justice rules say that you can't investigate or certainly report the results of an investigation close to an election. This is a rule that was honored in the breach by James Comey in 2016. But it's possible that Bob Mueller, if he can't wrap up everything very, very soon, will have to take a break till after November.

INSKEEP: Mara, a pleasure talking with you, as always.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.