Opinion

Republicans are throwing Rudy Giuliani under the bus

Trump is using yet another of his lawyers as a human shield against legal threats

A clearer picture of Rudy Giuliani has emerged during the first two weeks of impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives. He is Michael Cohen 2.0 — a henchman lawyer for President Trump, but with a better resume and a broader mandate.

And just like Cohen found his career ruined by serving Trump, Rudy is about to be thrown under the bus.

Congressional Republicans, after all, are finding it increasingly difficult to make the case that nothing bad happened when Trump withheld aid to Ukraine to pressure that country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. In lieu of a path to clearing Trump's name, they have settled on an alternative defense: It's all Rudy's fault.

EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland on Wednesday testified that Trump, through Giuliani, ordered the quid pro quo scheme to pressure Ukraine. "I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States," Sondland told the committee. "We did not want to work with him ... We played the hand we were dealt."

Republicans used that testimony to suggest that Giuliani had gone rogue in his service to the president.

"I have some questions about what Mr. Giuliani was doing," Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) told reporters outside the hearing. If Giuliani was "off on his own mission doing things that people didn't know about, kind of like a loose cannon, then that's a Rudy Giuliani thing, that's not a President Trump thing."

Or, as an anonymous House member told Axios: "If it's a step removed from the president, he doesn't lose any Republicans in the House." That step, according to another Republican, is Rudy: "Rudy will be cut loose because he was rogue."

If all of this sounds familiar, it is because the story mirrors what happened with Michael Cohen, Trump's previous personal attorney. Before Trump entered the Oval Office, Cohen spent years as his "fixer," making vulgar legal threats and otherwise finding ways to make bad news go away. When Stormy Daniels loomed as a threat to Trump's campaign, it was Cohen who wrote the check to ensure her silence.

Trump denied knowing anything about it. Cohen ended up going to prison for violating campaign finance laws.

Cohen, of course, said he merely did what the president wanted him to do — even if Trump was uncharacteristically subtle in signalling his desires. "He doesn't give you questions, he doesn't give you orders, he speaks in a code," Cohen told Congress earlier this year. "And I understand the code, because I've been around him for a decade."

According to Sondland, American officials involved in Ukraine understood that Giuliani had a similar arrangement with Trump. "Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president," Sondland said. Trump's direct instructions to Sondland, though? "Talk to Rudy."

To defend Trump, Republicans have to hope Americans believe that twice — in just the span of a few years — the president who boasts of hiring the "best people" actually hired lawyers with a penchant for going criminally rogue and overzealously serving him independent of his real desires. That hardly seems plausible. Republicans also have to hope Americans forget the transcript that shows Trump directly asking Ukraine's president for help with Biden. But that also seems like a long shot.

The truth is that Trump uses his lawyers — and, granted, they seem happy enough to be along for the ride — in ways that defy the letter and spirit of the law, then pitilessly casts them aside when they are no longer of use to him, or when he decides their highest use is as a human shield against legal danger. Impeachable? That's for Congress to decide. But it is certainly ugly, selfish behavior — more evidence that Trump isn't just a bad president, but a bad person.

Giuliani seems determined to avoid Cohen's fate. On Wednesday, he tweeted angry complaints about the lines of questioning by Steve Castor, the GOP counsel for the impeachment hearings. "I would appreciate [Castor's] apology," he wrote.

It will take more than going on offense on social media for Giuliani to survive the coming days and weeks of scandal. He faces his own investigations, and so do his close associates. What may matter most, though, is his position as that possible "one step" between Trump and the Ukraine scandal. Loyalty to Trump won't save Rudy Giuliani. It never saves any of Trump's associates. Just ask Michael Cohen.

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