Don’t worry about Donald Trump’s defense — he has top men working on it. Top. Men. For instance, here’s Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lead attorney, on CNN last night with Chris Cuomo apparently admitting that some “collusion” might well have taken place. “I never said there was no collusion,” Giuliani tells Chris Cuomo, only that it didn’t involve Trump personally:
President Trump’s legal spokesman Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday night appeared to grant the possibility that members of Trump’s campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.
And in the process, he contradicted dozens of previous denials that both the Trump team (and Trump himself) have offered.
“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, before getting cut off.
“Yes, you have,” Cuomo said.
Giuliani shot back: “I have not. I said ‘the president of the United States.’”
The CNN clip picks up in the middle of the argument over “collusion,” by which Cuomo apparently means “contact” as the argument unfolds. Rather than initially pointing out the difference, Giuliani initially agrees to the definition and then blurts out the eye-popping line. Later in the interview Giuliani does make the distinction by explaining that the “collusion” charge has to do with whether any crime was committed — in this case, participation in or encouragement of the hack on the DNC. By that time, though, the damage is done, and the rest of the ten-minute clip goes in and out of various rabbit holes, such as whether Giuliani is demanding the right to rewrite Robert Mueller’s report (no, just to see it before its release).
Was there contact between members of the campaign and Russians? Of course there was, and not just involving Manafort. Family members Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner (along with Paul Manafort) made the incredibly stupid decision to meet personally with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in their father’s building, for Pete’s sake, for the purpose of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya turned out to have some interesting connections within the Putin regime, too. However, that meeting took place well after the DNC hack, and there’s no indication that anything of substance occurred in the meeting other than the idiotic decision to meet with her in the first place.
The recent revelations about Manafort that have Cuomo so exercised seem a lot less exciting than he makes them out to be, too. Internal polling isn’t really much of a secret, and Cuomo’s suggestion that the campaign shared them with Russia for the purpose of targeting their fake-news campaign doesn’t make much sense. By the time Manafort offered to share that data, the Russian disinformation campaign was well under way, and there was plenty of public polling data to use for such targeting. (In fact, they could have simply used one of their shell companies to contract with commercial data firms that produce much better targeting data.) Don’t forget that the Trump campaign’s internal polling wasn’t all that sophisticated in the first place; they were way behind on data and didn’t take that kind of research seriously until after the convention, when Manafort was already out. Manafort’s offer to share that data likely has much more to do with his debts to Russian oligarchs than “collusion” with a disinformation campaign, and has even less to do with the DNC hack.
But now, of course, the headlines will all be that Rudy Giuliani tacitly admits that “collusion” took place, thanks to his strange impulse to get on television and have these arguments. What exactly was Giuliani hoping to do, and why? The Mueller investigation is almost over, so perhaps he’s pre-spinning what Giuliani and his legal team think Mueller might reveal. If that’s the case, then the Mueller report may not be the nothingburger that some have predicted. But if this is just Rudy being Rudy on TV, then perhaps Trump might want to consider benching his Top Man before he gets buried by him.