President Trump’s defense in the Russia investigation has been a study in goal-post moving — constantly watering down previous denials and raising the standard for what would constitute actual wrongdoing.
But rarely has it been so concentrated in one morning.
Trump’s lawyer/spokesman Rudolph W. Giuliani appeared on Fox News’ and CNN’s morning shows on Monday to downplay the idea that colluding with the Russians would have even been illegal and to argue against strawmen.
The most notable portion of the interviews was when Giuliani rekindled the idea that collusion isn’t even a crime. Trump’s defenders have occasionally noted that the word doesn’t appear in the criminal code — which is a misnomer — but Giuliani took it a step further: He basically suggested Trump would have had to pay for Russia to interfere on his behalf.
“I don’t even know if that’s a crime — colluding with Russians,” Giuliani said on CNN. “Hacking is the crime. The president didn’t hack. He didn’t pay for the hacking.”
Giuliani added on Fox: “I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime.”
In case you forgot, Trump himself has been arguing for more than a year not that collusion wasn’t a crime, but that there simply was “no collusion.” Just like Trump’s legal team has taken to arguing that a president can’t legally be guilty of obstructing justice, it’s now arguing that the other side of the investigation that has to do with Trump — the collusion side — is also a bogus standard. Or at least that seems to be where this is headed.
Giuliani also, at one point, seemed to offer a very narrow denial of what happened with the Trump Tower meeting. While discussing Michael Cohen’s allegation that Trump knew about the meeting, Giuliani focused his defense on arguing not necessarily that Trump didn’t know about it — but that he wasn’t physically at the meeting. And he did it on both shows.
“I’m happy to tell [Robert S.] Mueller that Trump wasn’t at the Trump Tower meeting,” Giuliani said. Asked how he can say that, he said: “Because Cohen is a liar, and Don Jr. says he wasn’t there.”
“He did not participate in any meeting about the Russia transaction,” Giuliani said. “And the other people at the meeting that he claims he had without the president about it say he was never there.”
The idea that Trump wasn’t there isn’t the question, though. Trump has denied having knowledge of it, and Donald Trump Jr. has said under oath that his father didn’t know about it.
Of course, Cohen’s allegation has thrown all of that into doubt. The president’s former lawyer says there are other people who can vouch for the fact that Trump knew about the meeting in real time. With that potentially damning revelation emerging, Giuliani seems to be guarding against the idea that Trump actually did know about the meeting — but arguing that he wasn’t in the room and even that working with the Russians wouldn’t be criminal.
That’s a pretty remarkable distance from where all these denials began.