Here at Alternative Fact of the Week Central, the job of identifying candidates is never easy. Not for a lack of opportunities; there are no recessions in the market of political untruths. No, the real challenge is categorizing them. For example, was the nominee a small lie or a big whopper? Was it a slip of the tongue or a coordinated strike? And last, but not least, was the person who told the falsehood of sound mind or was he about two fries short of a White House Happy Meal?
It is this last yardstick that often trips up any evaluation of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former prosecutor, New York City mayor and once cogent thinker who now serves as President Donald Trump’s legal spokesman and seems to believe it’s his duty to periodically light his hair on fire in full public view. This week, during an appearance on CNN, he attempted to gaslight host Chris Cuomo by suggesting that, to paraphrase: Remember all those denials of collusion with Russia during the campaign? Well, that was just about denying that Mr. Trump had anything to do with it.
Here’s the exact exchange: “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Mr. Giuliani said.
Mr. Cuomo interjected: “Yes, you have.”
“I have not,” his guest responded. “I said, ‘the president of the United States.’”
That sent fact-checkers scrambling to track the number of times President Trump and his various spokespeople, the balding fire-starter included, have broadly denied collusion. Let’s just say, it’s a lot. Who can forget, for example, Mr. Trump’s infamous “smocking gun” Twitter posting of last month in which he pointed out that “Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun...No Collusion.” Or then there’s Mr. Giuliani himself who last May boldly stated that whatever information the Trump campaign acquired from a foreign entity “they never used it.”
Ah, how perspective changes. This about-face on collusion — really, the latest in a long-line of mid-course corrections on collusion by a Trump underling — was almost certainly triggered by the latest filings in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation that are stacking up evidence against Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager. In a recent (but heavily redacted) court filings, there are all kinds of fascinating links cited, including ties with Konstantin Kilimnik who appears to be a member of the Russian intelligence community with whom Mr. Manafort may have shared sensitive polling data and discussed pro-Russian plans for Ukraine (and lied about it to federal investigators).
And let’s not forget that President Trump’s overall view of Mr. Manafort has evolved over time but has remained generally supportive. Back in 2017, Mr. Manafort was the guy who wasn’t really around the campaign much. “He was replaced long before the election. You know that, right? He was replaced long before the election,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a Feb. 16, 2017 news conference. His more recent comments have been to acknowledge that a presidential pardon for Mr. Manafort is “not off the table” (November 2018) and that Mr. Mueller’s charge that Mr. Manafort’s lied to investigators after agreeing to cooperate shows there was — ta-dah — “no collusion” (December 2018). Don’t ask for the logic behind that last one.
Ordinary people might find all of this confusing (and more so after Mr. Guiuliani tried to walk back his remarks the next day), but that isn’t beside the point, it’s exactly the point. Mr. Giuliani, in classic Alternative Fact fashion, is insistent that one set of facts holds true — up until the moment he adheres to an entirely different set of “facts.” That’s not to be confused with, for example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent claim that security concerns are behind her suggestion to Mr. Trump that the State of the Union address be postponed, conducted in the Oval Office instead of a Joint Session of Congress or submitted in writing. Don’t get us wrong, that’s pretty rich. But until Ms. Pelosi starts constructing a whole universe of false security narratives (Secret Service agents are biased or Congress needs a wall to keep out wealthy energy lobbyists or, in a more Giuliani fashion, Ms. Pelosi didn’t mean Mr. Trump should not give a speech from Congress, she meant members of Congress should not be there when he gives it), that’s just a run-of-the-mill prevarication. Perhaps Mr. Trump got worried that she was encroaching on his untruthy turf and tried to brush her back with his cancellation of her planned trip to Afghanistan and other countries. Rest assured, Mr. President, she’ll have to work a little harder if she wants to beat out Rudy Giuliani for Alternative Fact of the Week.
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