Trump’s new top legal representative is emerging as a key political strategist, says PAUL CONNEW.
His firings are usually more eye-catching than his hirings, but Donald Trump’s appointment of Rudy Giuliani as head of his troubled legal team has swiftly proved tactically explosive, both in legal and political terms.
The pugnacious former mayor of New York – once touted as a potential president himself – is rapidly emerging as much as a key political strategist as Trump’s top legal representative, with a brief expanding far beyond the taxing task of keeping the various investigations as far away from the White House as possible.
Giuliani’s influence can even be seen in Trump’s Iran strategy. Like the other new appointees, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, Giuliani is a regime change-backing Iran hawk. More than that, he has been a paid advocate for the Mujahideen-e-Khalk (MEK), an exiled Iranian resistance group that the US State Department classified as a proscribed ‘terrorist organisation’ until 2012. He was instrumental in successfully lobbying for that ban to be dropped and is known to have long been pressing his old friend Trump to scrap the Obama-led nuclear pact.
Only at the weekend, ahead of Trump’s announcement on Iran, Giuliani attended a rally organised by the MEK, declaring ‘we have a president who is as committed to regime change as we are’, before adding that ‘confronting Iran’ is ‘more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal’ and indicating that military action against Iran was on the horizon, even if it meant triggering wider conflict across the Middle East.
Giuliani’s engagement with Trump’s domestic legal woes have been every bit as incendiary. First came that Fox News interview with Sean Hannity in which Giuliani confirmed the president had reimbursed his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 hush money pay-off to porn movie star Stormy Daniels.
It contradicted Trump’s previous denials and was portrayed in many media outlets as a ‘blunder’ by Giuliani. But the reality was that Giuliani already knew that Trump had himself effectively given the game away days earlier during his own bizarre, rambling, uninvited phone-in on Fox and Friends. In addition, Giuliani was aware Cohen is already negotiating a potential plea bargain deal with the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller.
Next Giuliani told news outlets that if – note the ‘if’ – the president agrees to sit down for an interview with Mueller, it wouldn’t last more than ‘two or three hours’ and would be limited to a narrow set of pre-negotiated questions rather than the much longer, far wider-range Mueller wants.
Some legal analysts suspect Giuliani’s fingerprints are to be found in the recent ’49 questions’ leak to the New York Times about what the special counsel wants to ask the president. The theory goes that the leak allows Trump’s supporters to build the narrative that the inquiry is over-reaching itself, developing into a witch hunt and effectively undermining the presidency itself.
Certainly, the appointment of Giuliani and a wider personnel change in Trump’s legal team have led to a shift to a more aggressive, confrontational approach to the Mueller investigation, raising the prospect that the president might resurrect his threat to fire the investigator, or his boss, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
Significantly, Trump has taken to the Fox News airwaves to sing the praises of a quartet of ‘absolute warriors’ – relatively junior GOP congressmen Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis. Trump loyalists to the core, they are calling for criminal investigations into the president’s bête noir, former FBI director James Comey, cutting off funding for the Mueller investigation and have drafted articles of impeachment against Rosenstein over what they claim are unacceptable delays in turning over to Congress documents from the special counsel’s probe and FBI files on the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email use.
All are key members of the ultra-conservative, pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus on Capitol Hill and are known to receive frequent personal phone calls from the president and, in some case, invites to travel with him on Air Force One. Significantly, too, the Freedom Caucus quartet are also in close touch with Giuliani.
Giuliani has also been instrumental in the ongoing legal team shake-up that has seen veteran White House lawyer Ty Cobb leave his position and the introduction of ‘impeachment specialist’ Emmet Flood (who represented Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair) into Trump’s legal team.
Cobb is known to have vainly fought to curb Trump’s Twitter attacks on Mueller and the Justice Department and to privately blame the president for the rancid atmosphere between the White House and the special counsel.
Like another recently departed senior lawyer, John Dowd, Cobb was apprehensive about Trump facing an under-oath, personal grilling by Mueller for fear his loose-lipped, hubristic persona risked him perjuring himself.
Cobb was also hostile to the far more aggressive strategy being developed by Giuliani and the new legal team.
Meanwhile senior White House Counsel Donald McGahn (not part of Trump’s private team handling the Mueller probe) is also believed to be in the departure lounge. In the past McGahn was credited with foiling POTUS’s plan to fire Mueller and also attorney general Jeff Sessions, by threatening to resign himself in protest.
Almost overlooked amid the Giuliani media blitz was his admission other women may have been paid off by Trump lawyers, while dismissing the idea that it could constitute a breach of US electoral campaign laws or that it could impact negatively on his re-election prospects.
It is worth a reminder here that Trump’s election mastermind and former White House chief of strategy, Steve Bannon, told Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff that he believed up to 100 women had been paid off by Trump lawyers ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Giuliani’s remarks represent an early effort to lessen the impact of further legal cases being brought against the president by women accusing him of sexual misconduct, together with the anticipated anti-Trump electoral impact of the #MeToo movement. In his new role as firefighter-in-chief for the president, it seems likely Giuliani will face no shortage of flames.