President Donald Trump has now denied that he directed his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine and seek out investigations on his behalf, contradicting his own words to the Ukrainian President in the White House-released transcript of the July 25 call.
Trump also contradicted sworn testimony from members of his administration and claims from his own White House acting chief of staff.
Ahead of a Tuesday night rally in Florida, Trump was asked by conservative radio host Bill O’Reilly if the President directed Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine.
“No,” the President said, before launching into a tangent of flattering Giuliani’s credentials, calling him “a great corruption fighter” and “the greatest mayor” of New York City.
O’Reilly asked once again: “Giuliani’s your personal lawyer. So you didn’t direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on them?”
“No, I didn’t direct him, but he’s a warrior, Rudy’s a warrior. Rudy went, he possibly saw something. But you have to understand, Rudy (has) other people that he represents,” Trump said, adding that Giuliani has “done work in Ukraine for years.”
But according to the rough transcript of a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump repeatedly pressed for Giuliani’s involvement.
Trump told Zelensky: “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”
Trump later said: “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out.”
A third time, Trump referenced Giuliani: “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”
The denial that he directed Giuliani’s diplomatic foray comes as House Democrats conduct an impeachment inquiry scrutinizing just what the President knew and did surrounding the withholding of aid to Ukraine. Democrats claim he withheld the aid in order to pressure Ukraine to investigate the son of his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden in Ukraine.
And top diplomats have testified that Giuliani’s role loomed large over their own official operations regarding Ukraine.
Trump’s claim that he didn’t direct his personal lawyer to handle issues in Ukraine also contradicts what has been told to Congress in impeachment hearings and what Trump’s own acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, has told the press.
In October, Mulvaney defended Giuliani’s involvement in US-Ukraine affairs by saying “the President gets to use who he wants to use.”
“You may not like the fact that Giuliani was involved. That’s great. That’s fine. It’s not illegal. It’s not impeachable. The President gets to use who he wants to use,” Mulvaney said during a press briefing.
And US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told members of Congress last week that the President had directed him to reach out to Giuliani on US-Ukrainian relations.
“We … were disappointed but the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said, indicating that their goal of setting up a meeting with the two presidents would be abandoned if they didn’t “do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.”
“My understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, and that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President,” Sondland added.
There is a key distinction between Trump’s denials and Sondland’s testimony: If Sondland was lying, he could be prosecuted, because it’s a crime to give false testimony to Congress. Trump can say whatever he wants to the press, and has amassed a long record of spreading blatant lies and falsehoods throughout his presidency.
Former US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker also testified that Giuliani’s name came up in that Oval Office meeting, though Volker didn’t say Trump gave an explicit direction to coordinate with Giuliani.
But Trump’s claim he didn’t direct Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts does parallel a similar strategy the President used with his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is currently in prison for a handful of financial crimes, including campaign finance violations that Trump directed him to commit, according to the Justice Department.
Trump initially denied he ever directed Cohen to make hush money payments to women accusing him of having affairs (which he also denied occurred). Eventually, Trump did not dispute directing Cohen, but said he did not ask Cohen to break the law while making those payments. Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws by facilitating the payments.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.