A former US prosecutor says that Donald Trump appears to be implicating Rudy Giuliani in a bribery conspiracy, after the president claimed he never told his personal lawyer to go to Ukraine and dig up dirt on his political rivals.
Mr Trump appeared to distance himself from Mr Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine on Tuesday, during an interview with disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
“No, I didn’t direct him,” Mr Trump told the conservative media personality, when asked if he had directed Mr Giuliani to “put any heat” on Ukrainian officials. “But he’s a warrior. Rudy’s a warrior. Rudy went. He possibly saw something.”
“You have to ask Rudy,” he said, when pressed on why his personal lawyer was in Ukraine, where US officials have testified he had been working on behalf of the president as a part of an alternate diplomatic channel.
The comments caught the attention of Mimi Rocah, a former assistant prosecutor for the US Southern District of New York and distinguished fellow at Pace University, who told MSNBC that it appears Mr Trump had actually implicated Mr Giuliani in a potential crime with his comments.
Ms Rocah noted that Mr Giuliani had already signalled he is on board with Mr Trump’s latest messaging, but warned that the approach has a shelf life.
“He can go along with that for a while but at some point that means that Giuliani is essentially being implicated in a bribery conspiracy by the president of the United States,” she said.
She continued: “Because if he wasn't acting on behalf of Trump, and Trump is saying, 'Oh no, if he went there to get dirt on the Bidens and told them that they can't have their aid, that was all him' then he has just implicated Giuliani in that amongst everything else that Giuliani may already be implicated in. He really should start paying attention and speak up now, not wait to be indicted.“
It’s not the first time that observers have noted potential fissures between Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani, who has emerged as a staunch defender of the president, even if he has captured headlines for being a bit of a wild card with apparent frequent "butt dials" to reporters.
For instance, Mr Giuliani has recently begun claiming that, while he doesn’t believe Mr Trump will turn on him, he does have “insurance”. He hasn’t clarified what that might mean.
But, staying wary of Mr Trump may prove prescient for Mr Giuliani, considering the president’s tendency to abandon his allies when times get tough.
Mr Trump is known for claiming he doesn’t know individuals who turn on him or pose problems. Previously, for instance, he has said did not really know George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to his 2016 campaign who was convicted for lying to US investigators about his contacts with Russians during the 2016 election.
The president also famously turned on his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, saying that the New York attorney handled only a “tiny, tiny fraction” of his legal interests, even though the lawyer who ultimately turned on him had become the most prominent face of the president’s legal defence team with no complaints from Mr Trump.