On Thursday, the Washington Post broke news that a whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump’s communications with a foreign leader “centers on Ukraine” and involves a “promise” Trump made that was so alarming, a US intelligence official felt compelled to report it to the intelligence community inspector general.
While the precise details of the complaint remain murky, the Ukraine revelation prompted Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani — who was in the news months ago for his dealings with Ukraine — to go on CNN and made a disastrous attempt to get ahead of the story.
If anything, Giuliani made it worse, by seemingly confirming the long-standing, but vaguely sourced reports, that Trump’s administration was trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating former vice president (and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination) Joe Biden — perhaps by withholding military aid to Ukraine unless they complied.
Giuliani insisted to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he didn’t ask Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden — but then, less than 30 seconds later, did a complete about-face and admitted that “of course” he did just that.
“You just said you didn’t!” Cuomo replied, disbelievingly, as Giuliani struggled to make a distinction between Ukraine investigating Biden and “look[ing] into allegations that related to my client, which tangentially involved Joe Biden in a massive bribery scheme.”
Rudy denying he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden followed by Rudy admitting he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden within 30 seconds of each other in this clip is just incredible to watch pic.twitter.com/Vx1fTrEz8Q
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 20, 2019
Beyond Giuliani contradicting himself within a 30-second span, he seemed to be copping to an egregious abuse of power, as the president is not supposed to be in the business of strong-arming foreign leaders to investigate political rivals at home. But Giuliani wasn’t done making things worse.
As footage of Giuliani’s interview went viral, he posted a tweet that read like a confession.
“A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Giuliani wrote. “Maybe if Obama did that the Biden Family wouldn’t have bilked millions from Ukraine and billions from China; being covered up by a Corrupt Media.”
A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job. Maybe if Obama did that the Biden Family wouldn’t have bilked millions from Ukraine and billions from China; being covered up by a Corrupt Media.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) September 20, 2019
But what Giuliani seems to regard as the president “doing his job” actually may be a textbook abuse of power.
The Ukraine-Biden scandal that Giuliani is trying to gin up, briefly explained
Reports that Trump, with an assist from Giuliani, has been trying to enlist the Ukrainian government in an effort to create a scandal surrounding Biden have been swirling for months.
Back in May, Gabriela Resto-Montero wrote for Vox about how Giuliani canceled a planned trip to Ukraine amid reports he was courting foreign election interference aimed at boosting Trump’s reelection prospects.
[Giuliani] has called off a trip to Ukraine during which he planned to ask the country’s prosecutors to investigate the origins of the Mueller investigation and to look into ties between Hunter Biden, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, and a Ukrainian oligarch.
With respect to Biden, Giuliani was particularly interested in a phone call Joe Biden made while serving as vice president in which he requested Ukraine’s top prosecutor, who had once been tasked with investigating a company Hunter Biden worked for, be removed from office.
But as the New York Times reported at the time, “[n]o evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal” back in 2014. And as Politifact notes, Biden’s push to have Ukraine’s prosecutor general removed was in step with “the position of the wider US government, as well as other international institutions.”
While there’s no good reason to believe that Biden was involved in corrupt dealings involving his son, amid polling suggesting that Biden will trounce Trump in 2020 if he ends up being the Democratic nominee, the Times reported last month that Giuliani had “renewed his push for the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations into political opponents of Mr. Trump.” But Giuliani’s hand was seemingly forced on Thursday as more details trickled out about the whistleblower complaint.
On Friday morning, Trump himself got in on the act in tweets in which he sought to portray the as-of-yet unnamed whistleblower as “highly partisan.”
….statement. Strange that with so many other people hearing or knowing of the perfectly fine and respectful conversation, that they would not have also come forward. Do you know the reason why they did not? Because there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2019
Giuliani and Trump seem to be anticipating that more details will emerge about the president’s shady dealings with Ukraine, and are doing their best preemptively minimize them — just as Giuliani repeatedly did during the Mueller investigation.
Going on TV and copping to damaging stuff is one of Giuliani’s key duties working for Trump
Giuliani has a long history of going on TV to get ahead of damaging stories related to Trump.
During the Mueller investigation, Giuliani’s greatest hits included collusion isn’t a crime, the president may have lied but he wasn’t under oath, and you can’t investigate the president for mere “unbecoming conduct.” On occasion, Giuliani would move the goalposts on multiple topics in a single interview.
Giuliani has somewhat faded from public consciousness since the Mueller report ended. But with Trump under new scrutiny for seemingly trying to collude with a foreign government, he appears to be back in the limelight again. While that’s good news for people who enjoy TV interviews that leave your mouth agape, it appears to be bad news for American democracy.
The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.