President Trump’s selection of Rudy Giuliani to lead his legal defense in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe was always a curious choice.
After his two most senior and experienced high powered Washington lawyers resigned earlier this year, Trump turned to the former Mayor of New York City who hasn’t practiced law since the late 1980s when he served as a federal prosecutor. It didn’t make any sense.
Despite whatever legal savvy and courtroom expertise his previous lawyers may have had, their restrained, cautious, by-the-book style never suited the more boisterous Trump, who much prefers to be on the attack, even if it’s a suicide mission. Enter Rudy Giuliani.
His first few calamitous interviews confirmed everyone’s suspicions that he was in way over his head. His multiple, embarrassing disclosures and revelations have seriously damaged the president’s legal defense in the special counsel’s investigation and the parallel criminal investigation into Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and self-proclaimed “fixer.”
But many began to suspect that Giuliani’s primary goal wasn’t to craft and execute a legal strategy for his client, but to conduct a very loud and visible public relations campaign to push back against Mueller’s investigation in the press and advance the counter narrative that Mueller’s probe is not only biased, but somehow illegitimate.
For all the mistakes and blunders Giuliani has made since taking over as the president’s lead lawyer, he’s been effective at executing this media offensive, at least to the degree that he and Trump’s minions in the right wing media measure effectiveness.
He’s combined a steady diet of misinformation and conspiracy theory with steadily increasing attacks on Robert Mueller himself. In the process, he’s created the perception, at least, that the president is fighting back, something both his client and his base have much appreciated, whatever its questionable legal merits.
But what end result is all of this theater meant to precipitate? If Giuliani isn’t concerned with formulating a legal strategy and negotiating an end to Robert Mueller’s investigation – as he initially said he had hoped to do when accepting the job – then what is his ultimate goal?
On Sunday, Giuliani all but confirmed everyone’s suspicions on both his strategy and his ultimate objective. In the process, he revealed that the president is, in fact, actively preparing for impeachment – interesting given that all of this is supposed to be a hoax and a witch hunt.
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Giuliani said:
“…eventually, the decision here is going to be: impeach, [or] not impeach… Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury … is the American people. And the American people … Republicans largely, independents pretty substantially, and even Democrats now question the legitimacy of it.”
And there it is. Not, “the president is innocent and so we’ll cooperate fully.” Not, “we know this may look bad but there are perfectly good explanations for anything that looks like Russian collusion or other wrongdoing.” Not even, “there’s no evidence of any crime and we’ll continue to fight these allegations to the end.”
No. Giuliani, and by extension, President Trump, have accepted the reality that Robert Mueller has uncovered damning information on the president, and the inevitability that he will more than likely conclude his investigation with a recommendation that Congress pursue the president’s impeachment.
And he feels that his client’s best hope going forward is not to fight this in the courts, but to rally his base – even if it is by advancing and entertaining conspiracy theories – and to create so much doubt and discontent in the special counsel’s integrity that enough of the American public will treat any evidence that implicates people in the Trump campaign he may present, or conclusions he may reach, with contempt.
By stirring all of this up, Giuliani hopes to pressure enough lawmakers to vote against any impeachment action Mueller tells them is warranted. And he wants Congress to go into the midterm elections this November wearing their intentions to either support or oppose impeachment on their sleeves. They’ve calculated that enough Americans will be so disgusted at the process so far, and the potential turmoil that impeachment proceedings will bring, that they’ll turn their backs on any anti-Trump zealots promising to oust this president.
This is Trump’s plan, and Giuliani’s now all but admitted to it: Divide the American people; excite the 30% of the population sympathetic to his racist, xenophobic, homophobic policies; and try to make enough of the rest of us believe that the process is unfair, that our institutions have been overrun by elitists with their own agenda, and that the “system” and any verdict it renders cannot be trusted.
If this sounds eerily familiar it’s because this is the same formula that Trump used to win the presidency in the first place. Now, it’s the formula he and Giuliani think gives them his best opportunity to keep it – rule of law, political norms, and the fate of our democracy be damned.
The scariest part of this whole saga is that they might be right.