President Donald Trump has humiliated his loyal assistants at almost every turn since taking office. Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Michael Cohen were all thought to be indispensable once; they’ve each departed Trump’s company in breathtaking disgrace. But Trump has yet to run out of advisers who wish to be Trump’s most loyal hatchet man and prove themselves through their commitment to corruption and conflict.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has earned Trump’s highest favor. His attempts to ingratiate himself to the president in recent months exceed even those of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Giuliani is so committed to appeasing Trump’s paranoid political instincts that he’s risked Trump’s impeachment by assisting the president’s efforts to compel a foreign leader to investigate his rivals. Giuliani doesn’t serve the U.S. government. He spares no deference to the Constitution. As Trump’s personal attorney and longtime friend, Giuliani offers his disservice exclusively to Trump.
Giuliani planned a visit to Ukraine in May to greet the incoming president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on his client’s behalf but canceled the trip amid criticism from Democratic lawmakers. Giuliani planned to solicit Zelensky’s support in investigating Hillary Clinton as well as Joe Biden’s son Hunter who once sat on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company. Trump hoped to uncover evidence of Ukrainian support for Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 and wanted to disgrace Biden with discredited theories about the former vice president’s intervention in Ukrainian politics under Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, four years ago. “I know we’ve become numb to the corruption of this Administration,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted about Giuliani’s planned trip to Ukraine, “but this story should be the total focus of the political class today.”
Five months later, Murphy has gotten his wish. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened an impeachment inquiry last week to investigate Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to help sway the 2020 presidential election in his favor. The scandalous implications in Trump’s outreach to Zelensky appear to have been lost on Giuliani. He defended Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, the Democratic presidential front-runner, from the very beginning. “We’re not meddling in an election,” Giuliani told The New York Times in May, “we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.” Ukrainian authorities, Giuliani argued, already intended to investigate Biden and Clinton’s respective interests in the country. “I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client,” Giuliani told the Times, “and may turn out to be helpful to my government.” Here, Giuliani underscored his priorities: Trump first, and the U.S. government a distant second.
Giuliani is Trump’s conspiracy theorist on retainer. His steadfast dedication to the president remains well ahead of congressional Republicans, who see Giuliani’s intervention as a political disaster. Giuliani sees the opportunity for renewed polarization. So far, Republicans prefer to criticize Pelosi and California Representative Adam Schiff more than Biden, while trivializing Trump’s coordination with Zelensky. “There’s not something that you have to defend here,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. Since the impeachment inquiry was announced, Giuliani has led Trump’s efforts to reframe the story not as one about a corruption investigation into a Republican president, and instead as about a corruption story about senior Democrats, especially Biden. (Biden has “demanded” that TV news producers stop booking Giuliani for interviews.) On Sunday, Giuliani ridiculed the Biden campaign’s TV news directive as “the usual left-wing censorship.”
Giuliani has granted some disastrous TV interviews with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the most disastrous of which came last week when he offered two wildly opposing answers to the same question in the span of 15 seconds:
Rudy denying he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden followed by Rudy admitting he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden within 30 seconds of each other in this clip is just incredible to watch pic.twitter.com/Vx1fTrEz8Q— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 20, 2019
On Twitter, Giuliani rationalizes the president’s interest in “telling a Pres-elect of a well-known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US.” Trump told reporters that Biden has “done some very bad things.” The White House declassified a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s conversation with Zelensky and released a memo on the call last week. The evidence doesn’t implicate Biden and his son as much as it implicates Trump and Giuliani. In the complaint, the whistleblower underscores Trump’s discussion of Biden on the call with Zelensky. “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” the whistleblower wrote. “The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort.”
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Giuliani to obtain additional documents related to his and Trump’s conversations with Zelensky. The whistleblower complaint implicates Trump administration officials, including U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in the Ukraine outreach and the subsequent efforts to suppress the record of Trump’s dealings with Zelensky. (Strangely, Trump has gone out of his way to implicate Vice President Mike Pence, too.) Hours before the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Giuliani, Trump wondered whether his administration should file criminal charges against committee chairman Schiff, a Democrat, for “fraud and treason.” Not to be outdone by his boss, Giuliani has gone on to implicate almost every senior politician in the Democratic Party. This goes all the way to the top!
Giuliani makes for a poor mastermind. He’s Alex Jones with a law degree and, quite possibly, a security clearance. For the past week, Giuliani has answered Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry with furious legalese and conspiracy-mongering about the Biden family, the Clinton Foundation, Schiff, John Kerry, the FBI, Burisma Holdings, and the Bank of China, which, Giuliani alleges, enriched Biden’s son through a $1.5 billion private-equity deal with his investment company, Bohai Harvest RST. In his hyperpolarized theorizing, resembling QAnon in its surreal inelegance, Giuliani hopes to salvage Trump’s standing among Republican voters, if no one else, as public support for Trump’s impeachment rises. “The Bidens are doing all they can to silence me,” Giuliani tweeted, “this is why!”
The whistleblower anticipated the administration’s efforts to keep the contents of Trump’s call with Zelensky from the public. “I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript,” the whistleblower wrote. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.” Of course, Giuliani defies gravity with every spectacular cable news interview, every breathtaking comment to a reporter, and every counterconspiratorial tweet. A few days ago, he ranted to Maria Bartiromo on Fox News, blaming the FBI, under former president Barack Obama, for suppressing the Ukrainian government’s evidence of Biden, Clinton, and Kerry’s corruption. “Am I supposed to keep silent?” Giuliani asks Bartiromo. He certainly has the right.