Giuliani builds his new defense strategy

CNN Politics 3 weeks ago
The Lead's political panel discuss.

Rudy Giuliani has a cold. On the phone from Chicago, through sniffles and with a gravelly voice, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer spends 20 minutes on a Monday afternoon venting about the impeachment inquiry.

His grievances are numerous.

Giuliani complains about the media coverage, blasts Democrats for attacking the President, and dismisses the closed-door testimony from administration officials that puts him squarely at the center of the events leading up to the impeachment inquiry.

    "The narrative about me is fictitious," Giuliani says. "It seems to be fed by a bunch of cackling hens around the watercooler."

    Giuliani's interview with CNN comes after weeks of keeping a relatively low profile and avoiding the media spotlight he normally cultivates. In that time, his central role in the impeachment drama has only been reinforced, as numerous Trump officials have testified that Giuliani was essentially running a shadow foreign policy toward Ukraine that many feared ran counter to US national security interests.

    Giuliani disputes this and has particularly harsh words for Trump's EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, whose testimony includes the acknowledgment that Trump did direct him to work with Giuliani on Ukraine.

    "He never said anything to me that remotely resembles what he said in his testimony," he says of Sondland.

    Giuliani also finds himself the target of federal prosecutors in New York who are scrutinizing his business dealings with two indicted associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. CNN has reported he is also the subject of a counterintelligence probe. In the past few weeks, Giuliani has hired a white-collar criminal attorney Bob Costello and two additional lawyers last week.

    As House Democrats prepare to hold the first public hearings of the inquiry, Giuliani has reemerged this week with what he says is a plan to tell his own side of the story and counter-program against the televised testimony that will unfold over the coming days on Capitol Hill.

    He's already become more active on his Twitter account. He's considering launching his own podcast, which CNN reported first on Monday, to provide analysis of the impeachment proceedings. He's even open to the possibility of testifying before Congress, though he has previously stated he is protected from doing so by the attorney-client privilege he enjoys through his work for the President.

    Implicit in all this is the acknowledgement that his previous media strategy at the outset of the inquiry -- frequently defending Trump on cable news, doing haphazard interviews -- needed to be rethought.

    "We'll have to do something different than we did before," Giuliani says. "Even if it is a podcast, it will not just be a podcast. There'll be several parts to it."

    What other parts? "I don't know yet, and probably it will come by surprise," Giuliani says coyly. "You know how we like the element of surprise, it gets you more attention."

    While Giuliani says he hasn't briefed Trump on all the details of his new strategy, he insists the President fully on board. "You can assume that anything we go ahead with will have the blessing of the President."

    Rudy Giuliani says his new media strategy has the blessing of President Trump
    Rudy Giuliani says his new media strategy has the blessing of President Trump

    As CNN reported last week, Trump has remained in contact with Giuliani even as the pressure on both men has increased. They have a close, near-peer relationship that goes well beyond that of an attorney and his client. "He is an integral part of any planning we have ever done from the day I started," Giuliani says of Trump.

    Giuliani won't disclose details of his conversations with the President but says he "didn't talk to the President much on this." He does, however, suggest how his constant public advocacy on cable news, including Fox News, for investigations into the Democratic Party and the Bidens might have played a role in shaping Trump's own views on the subject.

    "All I know is the White House watches Hannity," he says.

    One of the major questions of the impeachment inquiry is the extent of Giuliani's involvement in a possible quid pro quo from Trump to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky -- withholding from Ukraine crucial military aid and a meeting between the two presidents in exchange for a public statement that the new government in Kiev would investigate Trump's domestic political opponents.

    Giuliani insists this is all nonsense and that he had nothing to do with making any official decisions, even if he was publicly advocating for Ukraine to investigate unfounded allegations of corruption by Democrats and the Bidens. He also insists that his unofficial diplomacy with Ukrainian officials this past summer was done at the direction of the State Department.

    After a little more than 15 minutes and with his voice getting more hoarse, Giuliani pauses his seemingly stream of consciousness defense of himself and of Trump.

      "I'm not in the mood for a long conversation because it never goes well," he says, a momentary consideration of his own media strategy in real time.

      But it's only a moment. And with another question from CNN, he's off again, continuing his quest to reshape the narrative for a few more minutes.

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