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Matthew Norman: A crisis amplified
May 10, 2018
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Forgive the abuse of this space for selfish reasons, but this is a direct appeal to Donald Trump. If you’re looking for a new lawyer, Mr Prez, I am at your disposal.

Frankly, my credentials aren’t so hot. In 1987, I failed the solicitors’ final examination by the widest margin ever recorded. In seven individual exams, due to a combination of innate stupidity and not having glanced at the syllabus, I scored zero. In the eighth, the negatively marked Solicitors’ Accounts, a conservative estimate places the tally at minus 600.

For all that, I would be an improvement on the lawyer employed by Trump lately to shut down the scandal about his relationship (if any) with Stormy Daniels.

As a legal student, Rudy Giuliani had the edge, sailing through his exams so serenely that he won a prestigious clerkship for a Supreme Court Justice. He went on to dovetail a lucrative legal practice with a stellar political career as the Mayor of New York, then “America’s Mayor” after 9/11.

What happened to him since is anyone’s guess, though Occam’s Razor points to any exposure to Trump causing radiation sickness of the mind.

Whatever the explanation, Giuliani had a spectacularly comical weekend. In succession to Jeff Sessions, he had the honour of being portrayed by the great Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live. The cold open sketch also featured the real Daniels, alongside Alec Baldwin’s Trump, Scarlett Johansson’s Ivanka, Ben Stiller’s Michael Cohen and Martin Short as the venerable hipster doofus medic, Dr Harold Bornstein. It looked like the farcical antihero version of Marvel’s Avengers.

The next day, doubtless buoyed by the accolade, Giuliani continued his whirlwind media tour in the hope of defanging the rumbling Daniels crisis. By most conventional public relations metrics, this was not a success.

Last week, he directly contradicted Trump’s droll claim to ignorance about the $130,000 (£96,300) paid to Daniels days before the 2016 election by Cohen.

Corrected by Trump, the irony of whose rebuke to get the facts straight before talking speaks for itself, Rudi returned to the airwaves to undo the damage. It did not go well.

Speaking to erstwhile Bill Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos, he challenged Clinton’s long held world record for the most weaselly thing ever said by a lawyer in the presidential infidelity context.

Deliberately or not, he echoed Bubba’s Lewinski-related “It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is”. Asked if Trump ever met Daniels, Giuliani said: “Well, it depends on kind of what you mean by met her.”

Doesn’t it, though? If by “met her”, for example, Stephanopoulos meant “flew her to Neptune on the Trump Corporation interplanetary spacecraft at warp factor 6 for an afternoon tea dance at the ice giant’s branch of the Waldorf Astoria”, then no, he never met her.

If on the other hand by “met her” the ABC political interviewer meant “met her”, as hinted by photographs of them together at a celebrity golf tournament, the explanation is that the two met.

On the question of why Daniels later received an apparently generous payment to keep quiet about a meeting that may not, depending on how you define “met”, have taken place, Giuliani shared his gut instinct.

Some lawyers, when speaking publicly for a client who has briefed them, like facts. After admitting “I don’t know how you separate fact and opinion” – fair enough I suppose; these days, who does? – Giuliani said: “I never thought $130,000 was a real payment. It’s a nuisance payment. When I settle this – when it was real or a real possibility, it’s a couple million dollars, not … not $130,000.”

Reading between the lines of the gibberish, the defence here is that had they met (“met” here being a euphemism for “had perfunctory sex in Trump’s hotel room after a TV dinner during which he confessed to a morbid terror of sharks”), it would have taken far more to silence her.

“George, you know, I don’t like saying this,” he continued, “but it’s not a great deal of money.” That’s relative, of course. To some of us, close on £100,000 is a fair whack for the silence of someone you may, depending on the construction, not have met.

Giuliani then referred to the business relationship between Trump and another New York legal titan. “The agreement with Michael Cohen, as far as I know, is a longstanding agreement that Michael Cohen takes care of situations like this, then gets paid for them sometimes.”

Situations like this… have there been others? “I have no knowledge of that, but I… I…” he stammered, “I would think if it was necessary, yes.”

It may further be necessary, he went on, for Trump to plead the Fifth, in accord with his constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination, and/or defy a subpoena arising from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion.

Long before his assured handling of the response to the 9/11 attacks won him Time magazine’s Person of the Year award and an honorary knighthood from Her Maj, Rudy Giuliani built his reputation on going after the New York mob. Now he is consigliere to one of its leading families. Hats off on the career progression. But if his tenure is coming to its end, the president knows who to call.

The Independent

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