President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani attempted to convince the American public that no evidence exists that would reveal his client directed Michael Cohen, his former attorney and personal "fixer," to lie to Congress in 2017 about a Trump Tower project in Moscow, as BuzzFeed News reported last week.
"I don't know if they made it up," the former New York City mayor told The New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner in a wide-ranging interview. "What I was talking about was, if he had those conversations, they would not be criminal . . . If we went to court, we would say we don't have to prove whether it's true or not true, because, even if it's true, it's not criminal."
"I just told you he didn't do it. I am telling you that their investigation is so ridiculous that, even if he did do it, it wouldn't be a crime," he added. "Now, would the American people be interested in it? Of course. There's a big difference between what the American people would be interested in and what’s a crime. The American people can be interested in a lot of things people conceal that aren’t crimes. I’m a criminal lawyer – I am not an ethicist – and I defend people against unfair criminal charges."
The BuzzFeed News story sparked immediate backlash from Democratic lawmakers and a denial from Giuliani. It also drew a rare denial from the special counsel's office. BuzzFeed said it stands by the reporting.
Giuliani muddied the waters on Sunday after he revealed to The New York Times that Trump recalled that negotiations to build a Trump-branded skyscraper in Moscow were "going from the day I announced to the day I won" the 2016 presidential election. However, the lawyer quickly attempted to pour cold water on the developing political fire, saying on Monday that his remarks were "hypothetical" and that they "did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions" he had with the president.
During his interview with the New Yorker on Monday, Giuliani said that, "as a lawyer," he did not believe he had ever said anything untruthful and claimed he has "a sense of ethics that is as high as anybody you can imagine." He then alleged that his client was one of the most "unfairly treated" people of all time, even as Giuliani himself complicated the situation by claiming Trump was involved in discussions to build a Moscow skyscraper until "the day" he won the presidential election in 2016. Giuliani on Monday insisted that he had never said Trump was involved in negotiations until the "day" he won the 2016 presidential election, as reported by the Times, and claimed the newspaper was "absolutely wrong."
Giuliani also revealed that, while he is concerned his ardent defense of the president could affect his decades-long legacy in politics, he still feels his client is one of the "most unfairly" treated people in modern history.
"I am afraid it will be on my gravestone. 'Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump,'" Giuliani said. "Somehow, I don't think that will be it. But, if it is, so what do I care? I'll be dead. I figure I can explain it to St. Peter. He will be on my side."
Giuliani then went on to walk back his earlier comment about his legacy amid more questioning from Chotiner, saying he does not reflect on the historical significance of his tenure.
"I don't think about my legacy. All I think about is doing a good job and what I believe in," he said. "When I was mayor, I got criticized for a lot of things I was praised for now. And, I think, when this is over, you are going to see that we are defending an innocent man who has been very unfairly treated. I can't think of a person who has been as unfairly treated as this, by both the media and, to some extent, the special counsel."
During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly and vehemently denied that he had any business interests with Russia. In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to Congress in 2017 about the work he did to pursue the real-estate deal on behalf of the then-presidential candidate. At the time, Cohen said the president's company pursued the development during the Republican primary, but that talks ended "for a variety of business reasons" in January 2016. His plea, however, indicated that discussions extended much longer into the presidential campaign than he had indicated — into June 2016. Cohen also claimed that Trump was personally aware of the deal, signing a letter of intent and discussing it with Cohen on two other occasions.
Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen made the false statements to "minimize links between the Moscow Project and [Trump]" and to "give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before 'the Iowa caucus and . . . the very first primary,' in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations."
In response to Cohen's guilty plea, Trump wrote on Twitter that his business dealings were "very legal" and "very cool." He told reporters at the time, "When I'm running for president, that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to do business." The president also and called Cohen "a weak person and not a very smart person," and said that his company’s plans in Moscow was "a well-known project" that he ultimately aborted.
Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison in December, was previously one of the president's most loyal and ardent defenders in business and in politics. He indicated earlier this year that his loyalty to Trump might be wavering as he vowed to "put family and country first" by cooperating with prosecutors. His decision to cooperate with Mueller has made him arguably one of the most key witnesses against his former boss — and the special counsel's office, for its part, appears to view Cohen as a valuable cooperator who can highlight Trump's business dealings as Mueller continues to probe any connection the president has to Russia. Mueller's prosecutors did not recommend a specific sentence in their case and said that Cohen should not receive additional prison time beyond his sentence in the New York case.
Cohen will testify publicly before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Feb. 7.