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Democrats are zeroing in on Rudy Giuliani to impeach Trump

Democrats building a case for impeachment are working to prove that when it came to pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrats, Rudy Giuliani was Donald Trump’s brain.

“Rudy Giuliani is Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is Rudy Giuliani,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

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After a week of depositions from key figures in the impeachment inquiry, Democrats are coalescing around a push to prove that Trump committed impeachable offenses at least partly by showing that Trump had intimate knowledge of and directed Giuliani’s plans, goals and tactics.

Buttressing their strategy is a modest but intensifying public outcry among Republicans over Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy , in which the former New York City mayor sought to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and revive a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

And it’s not just Democrats like Swalwell who represent safe liberal districts. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), a moderate freshman whose Orange County seat Republicans are targeting, said it is clear that Trump had a deep understanding of the details of Giuliani’s Ukraine crusade.

“I’m pretty sure they’re not just talking about the weather and their golf games,” Rouda quipped in a brief interview, referencing the pair’s frequent meetings and phone calls. “Especially when it’s also very clear from the evidence that President Trump directed members of the State Department to work directly with Giuliani in their efforts in Ukraine. So the nexus is there. There is no debating the facts.”

Democrats say they’re beginning to see a GOP strategy developing — one that tacitly criticizes Giuliani but treats his actions in Ukraine as a rogue, one-man mission that was not specifically sanctioned by Trump.

“The idea is let’s throw everyone including Rudy under the bus to protect the president,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “The cast of characters around him continue to change all the time. But there’s one constant — and that constant is the source of all the chaos, and that’s him.”

Despite the impeachment inquiry’s laserlike focus on Giuliani, Trump has given no indication he intends to cut ties with the former New York City mayor any time soon — even if Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine become the central driver of Trump’s impeachment.

“He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer,” Trump said Saturday.

In contrast to his treatment of Giuliani, Trump bashed his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen after Cohen became embroiled in legal trouble in part for work he did for the president. The break began when Cohen turned on the president, ultimately blaming his former client for landing him in prison over campaign-finance violations that prosecutors say Trump directed.

But some Democrats say it’s only a matter of time until Trump treats Giuliani to the same fate.

“We’ve seen this movie before, with Michael Cohen,” Rouda said. “Giuliani’s going to get thrown under the bus. The president’s going to make it sound like ‘I didn’t tell him to do this or that, he was rogue, he went out on his own.’ And we all know that’s not true, but I think we can all lay a bet down on how this story ends. And that’s what you’re going to see.”

Democrats seeking to substantiate Trump’s intimate involvement with Giuliani’s Ukraine efforts have been bolstered by a parade of witnesses detailing the extent to which Trump sought to run his Ukraine policy through Giuliani, who was pressing Kyiv to launch probes of Trump’s political rivals. That body of testimony is set to grow next week, when Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, testifies on Tuesday, in addition to some State Department and Pentagon officials later in the week.

One witness who has already testified for nine hours, Gordon Sondland, underscored the “nexus” that Democrats see between Trump and Giuliani. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said he was ultimately “disappointed” with Trump’s desire to involve Giuliani.

“It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland told investigators, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by POLITICO.

In text messages Friday, Giuliani said he couldn’t discuss his private discussions with his client, Trump, but that his work on Ukraine was actually less than meets the eye — and all done in public view.

“I was never in Ukraine at all and my investigatory work was done when it was still possible [special counsel Robert] Mueller would charge Russian collusion. Almost all of it was published in the Hill, so [Trump] and everyone else was aware of it,” Giuliani said. “Hardly anything not public.”

Giuliani said all of his work to unearth information on Biden was made public in April. Subsequently, he said, then-Hill columnist John Solomon “picked it up and did much more.” Giuliani said his actual work on Ukraine is less than it appears because the reporting on it that followed his own efforts added to the material he was collecting.

“Since the public record is more extensive than what I did, he and all of you probably think I did more than I really did,” Giuliani said.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Republicans have indicated they’re uncomfortable with Giuliani’s behavior toward Ukraine and have questioned his methods and mission. Though Trump’s allies are careful to pin any questionable conduct on Giuliani alone, Democrats see their unwillingness to defend Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine as an opening to tie potential wrongdoing to the president.

Republicans, though, are giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, saying they’re not sure that the president had full awareness of Giuliani’s actions.

“I don’t know if the president knew everything that Rudy was saying and doing. And if I was asked to make an assumption, I would say that he didn’t know,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

But even some of the president’s closest allies have suggested that Giuliani’s involvement wasn’t above-board. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) distanced himself from the “Crowdstrike” theory that both Giuliani and Trump have pursued and amplified — the debunked assertion that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

“I’ve never been a ‘Crowdstrike’ fan,” Meadows told POLITICO, adding: “I would not, on my dime, send a private attorney looking for some server in a foreign country.”

But Meadows said it was understandable that Trump, who feels aggrieved that he has been investigated for ties to Russia, would listen to Giuliani.

“When you get falsely accused of a number of things that are not facts, you’re willing to listen to a whole lot of things that may have been a problem,” Meadows said.

But attempts by Republicans seeking to separate Trump from Giuliani were complicated Thursday when Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney declared that the White House withheld military assistance from Ukraine in part because Trump wanted assurances that the country’s new president would probe the debunked Crowdstrike matter. Mulvaney later walked back the comments.

There are indications, though, that some House Republicans are beginning to question Trump’s handling of Ukraine.

“It’s painful to me to see this kind of amateur diplomacy riding roughshod over our State Department apparatus,” said Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), a former ambassador and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rooney on Friday indicated that he was open to supporting impeachment but is awaiting more witness interviews.

“I want to get the facts and do the right thing,” he added. “Because I’ll be looking at my children a lot longer than I’m looking at anybody in this building.”

Heather Caygle, Melanie Zanona and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

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