WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he has “never said there was no collusion” between Russia and members of Trump’s 2016 White House campaign.
Giuliani’s comments night directly contradicted the position of his client, who has repeatedly insisted there was no collusion during his successful White House run. Giuliani himself had previously called the idea of Russian collusion “total fake news.” But as court filings in the last year have detailed ties between Trump aides and Russia, he now appears to have left open the possibility of improper contacts.
“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani said Wednesday night on CNN.
It was not clear whether Giuliani was reflecting a new position or talking point from the Trump legal team or was making a strategic attempt to get ahead of potentially damaging findings from special counsel Robert Mueller, who has been investigating potential coordination between Russia and the president’s campaign.
Either way, the comment reflected a stark turnabout from longstanding denials by the White House and Trump advisers of improper collusion. In November 2016, for instance, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
Giuliani said that even if some on the campaign did something wrong, the president was not part of any collusion.
“There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC,” Giuliani said, referring to the Democratic National Committee.
In a statement Thursday aimed at clarifying the comments, Giuliani said, “I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign. There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form. Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.”
He repeated, without elaboration, his claim of collusion between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Russia that he said had been “ignored.”
The comments on collusion came after Giuliani was reminded of prosecutors’ allegations that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had lied about sharing campaign polling data with an associate U.S. authorities have tied to Russian intelligence.
So far, Mueller has charged 33 people, including five Trump associates and 32 Russians accused of interfering in the election either through hacking or through a hidden social media campaign aimed at swaying American public opinion.
Giuliani also said the Trump legal team had told Mueller that the president would not answer any additional questions from prosecutors. Trump has so far answered only a limited number of questions in writing. Trump’s lawyers have balked at the idea of a face-to-face interview with Mueller’s office or having Trump questioned about potential obstruction of justice or other actions he took as president.
William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that he wouldn’t interfere with a Mueller request to subpoena the president to compel his testimony “if there was a factual basis for doing it.”