Rudy Giuliani claimed Wednesday night that he “never said there was no collusion” between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
In a remarkable, and at times contentious, interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the president’s lawyer appeared to contradict his own past statements about collusion as well as what Trump and his supporters have repeatedly asserted. On Twitter, Trump has used the phrase “no collusion” dozens of times, and a number of those instances were direct denials that his campaign was involved with the Russian government.
Giuliani’s shocking declarations — several of which Cuomo called out as being false — quickly sent the internet into a tailspin as many wondered what could have prompted the former New York mayor to suddenly change course.
The heated exchange, one of many that occurred during the roughly 20-minute long interview, began shortly after Giuliani raged about the amount of “false reporting” on the Russia investigation.
“Mr. Mayor, false reporting is saying that nobody in the campaign had any contacts with Russia,” Cuomo responded. “False reporting is saying that there has been no suggestion of any kind of collusion between the campaign and any Russians.”
Giuliani jumped to correct Cuomo.
“You just misstated my position,” Giuliani said. “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign.”
Cuomo’s face contorted into an expression of disbelief. “Yes, you have,” he shot back.
As recently as July, Giuliani was asked by Fox News contributor Guy Benson, “Regardless of whether collusion would be a crime, is it still the position of you and your client that there was no collusion with the Russians whatsoever on behalf of the Trump campaign?”
“Correct,” Giuliani responded at the time.
But on Wednesday, Giuliani appeared to amend his previous comments on the subject.
“I said the president of the United States,” he protested, arguing that he had only ever said Trump himself was not connected to any Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment early Thursday.
Giuliani and Cuomo then proceeded to tangle over the president’s past statements that “nobody” associated with his campaign colluded.
“He didn’t say nobody, he said he didn’t,” Giuliani said of Trump, which Cuomo immediately noted was not true.
In December 2017, Trump adamantly told reporters outside the White House that there was “absolutely no collusion, that has been proven.”
On Twitter, the president has been even more passionate when defending himself and his campaign, repeatedly using words such as “hoax” and “witch hunt” to describe the accusations and special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe.
Just last month, the president tweeted, “‘Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun…No Collusion.’”
During the interview, Giuliani also falsely stated that the news that Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had shared polling data with a man believed to have ties to Russian intelligence came from “leaks,” which he claimed had been done “probably unethically.” The information was inadvertently made public by Manafort’s lawyers in a poorly redacted court filing, The Washington Post reported.
Social media instantly exploded with reactions to the interview. Did Giuliani just admit Trump’s campaign had colluded? Were his comments foreshadowing a major development to come in the Mueller probe? Was this yet another attempt by the Trump administration to tone down its collusion denials?
By early Thursday morning, Giuliani’s name was trending on Twitter and had been mentioned in more than 50,000 tweets.
Some accused the lawyer of once again engaging in “goal-post moving,” described by The Post’s Aaron Blake as “constantly watering down previous denials and raising the standard for what would constitute actual wrongdoing.” (Giuliani has repeatedly argued that “collusion is not a crime.”)
Others, however, saw the interview as another opportunity to poke fun at Giuliani.
On his show, which aired immediately after Cuomo’s, Don Lemon summed up the exchange for his viewers.
“Man, Rudy Giuliani out-Giulianied himself tonight,” Lemon said.