Giuliani's answer to impeachment inquiry: Sue Schiff

Alexander Nazaryan
National Correspondent

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, says he is working with outside lawyers to prepare lawsuits against prominent Democrats such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Giuliani’s remarks about his legal plans were made over the weekend in a series of calls with Yahoo News, amid cable news appearances in which he continued to aggressively defend the president. That defense was blunted by news of an additional whistleblower who would reportedly corroborate how Trump allegedly pressured the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into investigating Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate.

Rudolph Giuliani and Rep. Adam Schiff (Photos: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In several conversations with Yahoo News, Giuliani dismissed at least one critic of such a lawsuit as a “nitwit,” arguing that there were no constitutional constraints on bringing such litigation against sitting members of Congress.

“I got the highest grade in constitutional law,” said Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. He revealed that private lawyers are studying public statements by Schiff and others to argue that they were not merely prosecuting a case against Trump but attempting to “deprive him of civil rights" and were engaging in a “conspiracy to remove the president at all costs.” Giuliani charged that Schiff was seeking to “inhibit me in my ability to defend” Trump.

He cited Tlaib’s appearance at a recent town hall, in which she appeared to agree with a speaker who said that if White House officials were issued subpoenas and refused to comply with them, federal marshals should “hunt down” those officials. Giuliani said that was tantamount to witness intimidation, though it is not clear that Tlaib strayed outside her First Amendment rights.

Trump is certainly fond of litigation as a means of bringing opponents to heel, but suing sitting U.S. representatives would be an extraordinary development in an already extraordinary episode in American politics. Giuliani says that “a very established law firm” is already at work on that effort, though he would not say which one.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., at an "Impeachment Now!" rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MoveOn Political Action)

The White House declined requests to comment on the possibility of such a lawsuit.

What’s clear is that, like the president he represents, Giuliani believes that offense is the best offense and that there is no such thing as a strategic retreat. If nothing else, the whole Ukraine affair has been a lesson in the Roy Cohn method of crisis management. And even as others are running away from what could be a presidency in nuclear meltdown, Giuliani is running right into the radioactive fire.

In recent days, he has defended Trump with unrestrained bluster that recalled some of his more colorful days as New York City’s mayor. In one Fox News exchange, he called a skeptical fellow panelist a “moron.” There have been so many such appearances that the Biden presidential campaign has asked television programs to no longer book the former federal prosecutor.

Calls like that are likely to only enrage Giuliani further. And they aren’t likely to quiet a man who, as the mayor of New York during the 1990s, relished battle with everyone from ferret owners to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Giuliani says Joe Biden is to blame for allowing his son Hunter to engage in complex international business dealings that were bound to eventually raise questions. “The kid’s a drug addict,” Giuliani said, referring to Hunter Biden’s struggles with substance abuse. “What are you doing this to a drug addict for?”

The Biden campaign declined to comment for this article.

At the center of the debate is the whistleblower complaint by an intelligence officer detailed to the White House who was troubled by what he saw as Trump’s holding out $400 million in foreign aid from Ukraine until Zelensky agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump’s supporters have disputed that a quid pro quo arrangement was in the works.

Giuliani dismissed the whistleblower complaint against Trump as having been “created by a Democratic operative” affiliated with a “Washington firm.” He said that the plethora of footnotes in the whistleblower complaint indicated it had been written by a seasoned lawyer.

“We know he’s a Democrat,” Giuliani said of the whistleblower, whose identity has not been publicly revealed. “What else?"

Hunter Biden and his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, in April 2016. (Photo: Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)

An attorney for the whistleblower did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend.

The impeachment inquiry now being led by Schiff, who is also a former prosecutor, did not seem to worry Giuliani much, even as others have predicted that it could drive Trump from office. “Schiff is hiding him under his skirt,” Giuliani said of the whistleblower, adding that he thought Schiff was “a nervous wreck” in the wake of revelations that his office had heard from the whistleblower before the complaint was submitted to the inspector general of the intelligence community.

Democrats maintain there was nothing improper about that interaction — an argument that is bolstered by whistleblower guidelines — but Trump’s supporters refuse to believe that the whistleblower is free of partisan taint.

“Either the people talking to this guy are lying, or this guy is lying,” Giuliani said of the whistleblower. He defended his work in Ukraine before launching into a protracted recounting of Hunter Biden’s many sins, in particular what he described as influence peddling abroad. Some of those charges appear to broadly have merit, though that would hardly allow a president to openly push for the kinds of investigations he has called for in Ukraine and China against the Bidens.

Giuliani also said that Schiff’s case, predicated on the whistleblower’s complaint, was “falling apart” and that “sources” had told him that Democrats were considering “moving back” the lead on the impeachment inquiry to Rep. Jerry Nadler, the veteran New York legislator who heads the House Judiciary Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is widely seen as being behind Schiff, but articles of impeachment traditionally originate in the House Judiciary Committee.

Schiff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Nadler’s.

For his part, Giuliani echoes the president’s argument that he is the victim of a partisan “witch hunt,” one that has seized on his work in Ukraine without foundation. “The State Department asked me to help” in making contact with the new Ukrainian administration, Giuliani said. “You don’t contain somebody by putting them into a meeting with the No. 2 guy in the country,” he said, referring to Andriy Yermak, the influential adviser to Zelensky.

The State Department has disputed aspects of that characterization, though not the entirety of Giuliani’s account. The department’s press office did not reply to a request for comment from Yahoo News. But recently released text messages from high-ranking American diplomats in Ukraine show that at least one of them thought it was “crazy” to enlist Ukraine in a blatantly political affair.

Bringing a suit against a sitting member of Congress would be seemingly impossible because of the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution. That clause “has been interpreted as providing Members with general criminal and civil immunity for all ‘legislative acts’ taken in the course of their official responsibilities,” according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Norman Ornstein at the "Creating the Voting Rights Act of 2012" panel discussion at the Newseum in 2011. (Photo: Leigh Vogel/WireImage/Getty Images)

Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told Yahoo News that bringing suit against legislators was not sound strategy. “Rudy is just an embarrassment,” he wrote in an email. “It would help if he read the Constitution.”

In response to that criticism, Giuliani branded Ornstein a “bulls*** artist” while also making plain he had no idea who Ornstein was. “Norm whoever is out of his league,” Giuliani wrote in a text message. “Obviously a big mouth driven by Trump Derangement Syndrome. Maybe he's advising Shifty,” he surmised, using the nickname for Schiff that Trump has recently settled on.

“The Speech or Debate Clause is not absolute,” Giuliani argued in a subsequent conversation. “I prosecuted two congressmen. Tell the idiot.” The idiot was presumably Ornstein. The two congressmen, both of whom faced corruption charges, were Mario Biaggi of the Bronx and Bertram L. Podell of Brooklyn.

Giuliani reasoned that while the Speech or Debate Clause protected members of Congress for work they did inside their legislative chambers, it held no protections for statements made in the media and other venues.

“If it’s false, he can be sued,” Giuliani said of Schiff. “If it’s libelous, he can be sued.” He added that Schiff “shoots his mouth off all over the place” and that his statements on cable news and other media were being scoured by pro-Trump attorneys for incriminating evidence.

Ornstein noted that Schiff or Tlaib could simply argue they were exercising their freedom of speech rights, which are protected by the First Amendment. In response to Giuliani’s criticism of his expertise, he answered as follows: “hahahahahahaha.”

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