As a man at the very heart of Donald Trump’s impeachment crisis, it should be no surprise that Rudy Giuliani can be a little prickly. “I can talk about almost everything,” he cheerily begins his interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the first with a British outlet since the scandal erupted.
By the end, his tone is curt. “I gave you my answers, do with them what you want,” he says as he puts down the phone after a testy exchange.
The president’s personal lawyer is squarely in the spotlight after an allegation he spread about corruption involving the Democrat Joe Biden in Ukraine boomeranged into a full-blown impeachment inquiry.
This week, things escalated further. On Tuesday, the White House said that it was ending all cooperation with the inquiry, an attempt to stem the political damage caused by a saga Mr Giuliani helped set in motion.
On Wednesday, two associates who helped on his Ukrainian inquiries were arrested trying to flee the US and charged with campaign finance violations. By the end of the week, Mr Giuliani was fending off speculation that he was in prosecutors’ crosshairs, while Mr Trump distanced himself from the scandal.
So it is a surprise when Mr Giuliani’s call comes through, even though it is pre-arranged. He gives one caveat to his willingness to be grilled, saying the two arrested men are largely off limits, given “attorney-client privilege”.
Mr Giuliani, the former New York mayor turned arch Trump defender, begins by spelling out his familiar claims over Ukraine – the ones that ultimately, and inadvertently, led to impeachment.
Since spring, he’s been the leading promoter of the theory that Mr Biden, as vice president, lobbied to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the company that employed his son.
The drive, coming after years as a Trump acolyte, has seen Mr Giuliani’s public persona morph from “America’s Mayor”, when he steered New York through the aftermath of 9/11, into something much more partisan.
But what of his motives. Surely it is not just a happy coincidence that Mr Biden is a leading candidate at the 2020 election? Is Mr Giuliani shouting about this now because it politically benefits the president?
“No,” he says. “It’s totally false! I started doing this before Biden was a candidate.” He says it was only when some Ukrainians approached him with the information in November 2018 that he took it up. But that was only a year ago, when Biden was topping the polls and expected to run?
“The reality is that you don’t get shielded from being investigated because you’re thinking about being president of the United States,” Mr Giuliani says.
“I mean, everybody … would say they’re thinking of being president of the United States and they couldn’t be investigated. It’s a point at which the thing becomes ridiculous.”
So now they are after the legendary “crime buster” and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani. He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer. Such a one sided Witch Hunt going on in USA. Deep State. Shameful!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2019
Throughout the interview, Mr Giuliani keeps returning to his Biden allegations. Drawing from the Trump playbook, he calls Mr Biden “dirty Joe” and claiming the “corrupt” media is showing double standards by not taking the claims more seriously.
“If you change the names here to Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr, they would do our work for us,” he says of the press. The Bidens have vehemently denied wrongdoing.
Keeping the former mayor within the confines of the question proves tricky. Asked again if he denies having a political motive, he starts talking about Mr Biden’s motives. It is unclear if he has misheard but attempts to butt in lead to a rebuke.
“You’ve got to let me finish,” Mr Giuliani says. “You keep interrupting and I figure you want to cross-examine me rather than getting the truth. It seems to me like you’re having a hard time with the extremely incriminating facts regarding Joe Biden and trying to draw every inference against me.”
It is not disputed that Mr Biden called for Ukraine’s prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to be fired. It is also true that Mr Shokin was, at one time, investigating the Ukrainian gas company on which Hunter Biden, Mr Biden’s son, was a board member. But Mr Biden did so alongside other European countries who thought Mr Shokin was too lenient on corruption. Furthermore, the investigation into the company, Burisma, had been dropped before the demand was made.
But Mr Giuliani questions that, insisting Mr Shokin told him he was investigating the Bidens at the time of dismissal and has given a written statement to that effect. He is unrepentant about publicly pushing the allegations, as is Mr Trump.
At the heart of the impeachment inquiry is a claim that Mr Trump held back almost $400 million in military assistance from Ukraine in an attempt to secure a fresh investigation that focused on the Bidens.
The money was indeed held up. But Mr Trump has argued there was no “quid pro quo” – in other words, no “investigations for aid” trade. That has become the Republican defence line.
Did Mr Giuliani ever discuss holding back aid with Mr Trump? At first he says aid never came up in the call between Mr Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president. “You can search it 50 times.”
A transcript of the July 25 call does indeed show no explicit mention of aid in exchange for an investigation – though Mr Trump does opine about how much America helps Ukraine, before asking for a “favour”.
Pushed again, Mr Giuliani is categorical. “I never discussed military assistance with the president,” he says – a noteworthy comment given how much the Democrats are zoning in on who did what and when.
On impeachment, Mr Giuliani is bullish. All signs are that the House of Representatives, where the Democrats have a majority, will impeach Mr Trump. But the Republican-held Senate would then need to vote by at least two-thirds to remove him.
“I don’t think there’s any chance that it’s happening because he didn’t do anything wrong,” Mr Giuliani says of the prospect of the Senate backing removal. “They’re making it up.”
With time running out, there is no chance to ask if he will testify before the inquiry as requested or if he fears indictment from investigators reportedly looking into his affairs.
But what about his two Soviet-born associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, arrested on Wednesday. They had one-way tickets for Vienna before their arrest. Reportedly, Mr Giuliani was due to fly there the next day. Does he regret their close relationship now?
“I am very, very proud of the fact that I uncovered major corruption at the highest level of government and that I’m being attacked unfairly for that,” he says, sidestepping. But does he regret it? “I repeat my statement.”
Announcing he has to go, there is a chance for one final question.
Speculation is rife about whether Mr Giuliani will keep his current role. Critics say his pursuit of the Ukraine claims has not helped, but hindered his client, now the fourth US president in history to face impeachment.
If he felt that he was harming the president’s cause, would he stop acting on his behalf? “That’s not a particularly useful question, not designed to get out the facts of the story that’s being suppressed,” he responds. “So thank you, I gave you my answers, do with them what you want.” And with that, the call is done.
Minutes after, Mr Trump is posed a similar question as he leaves the White House. Is Mr Giuliani still your personal attorney, one reporter asks. The president does not say yes.
The following day, Mr Trump clarifies. “He may seem a little rough around the edges…,” the president admits on Twitter, “but he is also a great guy and [a] wonderful lawyer.”
It seems the boss is on side, for now at least.