WASHINGTON — As the Republican leader of the Senate makes it clear he would prefer a quick and quiet acquittal in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, someone has apparently forgotten to tell the president’s free lawyer.
Rudy Giuliani in recent days has been on a public relations tear, conducting print and television interviews essentially confirming a key charge in the impeachment articles against his client.
“I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way,” he told The New Yorker magazine in an interview published Monday about his work to replace the United States ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. “She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody.”
Monday night, he told The New York Times: “I mean, did I think she should be recalled? I thought she should have been fired.”
Also Monday night, Giuliani in an appearance on Fox News said: “I forced her out because she’s corrupt ... there’s no question that she was acting corruptly in that position, and had to be removed. She should have been fired, if the State Department weren’t part of the Deep State.”
Trump is charged in his impeachment articles of abusing his office to coerce Ukraine into announcing investigations valuable to his own re-election campaign: one into the Democrat Trump most feared, former Vice President Joe Biden; and the other into a debunked conspiracy theory that Russia had not helped him win the 2016 election, but that Ukraine had planted fake evidence to frame Russia.
Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was abruptly recalled back to Washington this spring as part of Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to find damaging information on Biden. She wound up testifying in House impeachment hearings last month.
White House officials have little explanation about how Giuliani fits into the overall defense of Trump as his impeachment moves to the Senate. The White House refused to participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings but is planning to send its top lawyer, Pat Cipollone, to represent Trump in the Senate trial.
“Rudy Giuliani is the president’s personal attorney. You’ll have to ask Rudy,” spokesman Hogan Gidley said.
Giuliani, who has direct cell phone access to Trump and who claims to have been working for him without pay since the spring of 2018, told HuffPost Tuesday he is not trying to influence the Senate proceedings. He said he has no preference about whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chooses to go with a quick trial that has no live witnesses or a longer trial with witnesses.
“I don’t care if they do short or long,” Giuliani said, adding that he does not think he would be sharing the information he says he learned from his latest Ukraine trip in the course of the trial. “A Senate hearing might be a better way to proceed.”
Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman now running against Trump for the 2020 GOP nomination, said Giuliani’s willingness to stir the pot even in the middle of the impeachment proceedings is not surprising. “It’s the Trump modus operandi: ‘Never back down, never say you’re wrong, never show weakness. In fact, go on TV and lie. In fact, double and triple down. In fact, commit your crimes right out in public,’” he said. “Then the opposition will get tired and back down.”
But Jason Miller, a spokesman for the 2016 Trump campaign who now appears on the pro-Trump radio show “War Room” each morning, defended Giuliani’s efforts. “Mayor Giuliani has been crucial in getting to the bottom of Ukrainian corruption issues that have been rampant for years, and most important, getting to the bottom of the bogus allegations against his client that sparked the entire two-year Russia hoax,” he said.
Trump’s Republican defenders have argued, variously, that Trump never asked for an investigation into the Bidens; that he did, but he was within his rights; that there was never a “quid pro quo”; that there may have been a quid pro quo, but it was legal and appropriate; or that since Ukraine wound up getting the withheld military aid, none of it matters.
Trump used some form of several of those arguments himself in a rambling, six-page diatribe against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday. “You are turning a policy disagreement between two branches of government into an impeachable offense,” he wrote in a relatively coherent paragraph of a letter that included lines like: “It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!”
Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee, though, took testimony from a number of State Department and National Security Council officials who said that Trump was pressuring newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce the investigations and was using $391 million in military assistance to counter Russian aggression and a potential White House visit as leverage.
The military aid was released after the White House learned a whistleblower had filed a complaint based on Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with Zelensky. There has not yet been a White House meeting scheduled.
Pelosi has set debate and a vote on the two articles of impeachment for Wednesday, where they are almost certain to pass. A Senate trial on them could start as early as the first full week of January.