WASHINGTON — Hoping to reconcile conflicting explanations about whether President Donald Trump asked then–FBI Director James Comey to “go easy” on fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Monday offered a new version: that Trump never made the request but that even if he had, it would not have been improper.
“The conversation never took place,” Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost. “But if it did take place — that [Trump] said, ‘Go easy on Flynn’ — there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Giuliani told ABC News on July 8 about the Trump-Comey conversation, saying, “What he said was, ‘Can you, can you give him a break?’” On July 30, Giuliani was even more explicit about that version of events during an interview with Fox News, saying, “He didn’t tell him, ‘Don’t investigate him, don’t prosecute him.’ He asked him to exercise his prosecutorial discretion because he was a good man with a great war record.”
But on Sunday he told CNN, “There was no conversation about Michael Flynn.”
Giuliani said Monday that there was no conflict between the two sets of remarks, because the ones from July were part of a hypothetical scenario. In reality, he said, Trump has told him consistently that the conversation as Comey described it never took place.
“Every time we’ve gone over it, it’s been the same answer,” said Giuliani, who took charge of Trump’s outside legal defense team this spring. “It would be easier for us if he had the same recollection as Comey.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to take questions about the matter, referring them to Giuliani.
Comey has stated that Trump’s request to “see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go” came during a Feb. 14, 2017, Oval Office conversation. Comey said he considered the request so unusual that he made notes about it that evening. Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, three weeks after the Justice Department warned the White House that Flynn had lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.
In May 2017, the day after Trump fired Comey, the president told top Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that he did so because of an investigation Comey was heading into contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials who were working to help him win the presidency.
After his firing, Comey told a friend about his conversations with Trump and the contemporaneous memos he wrote about them. They are now a focus of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to take over the probe after Comey’s departure.
According to Giuliani, had Trump told Comey to go easy on Flynn, Comey should have immediately informed his deputy to start an obstruction of justice investigation. “That’s what I would have done,” said Giuliani, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York before he became New York’s mayor. “If Comey is right and [Trump] was obstructing, he had a duty to report it.”
Giuliani said Comey’s failure to do so proves either that the conversation he described never took place or that Comey did not think Trump’s request was meaningful in any way. “It’s not serious when you want to kiss his ass and you want to remain the head of his FBI?” Giuliani asked. “But it’s obstruction of justice after you’re fired?”
Giuliani, nevertheless, defended Trump’s veracity. “I don’t know that the president lies. I know that Comey lies,” Giuliani said. When pressed, he added, “The president has never lied to me.”
When Giuliani joined Trump’s team in late April, he boasted he would be wrapping up the entire investigation within a few weeks. Now Giuliani is no longer forecasting an end date but says Mueller needs to wrap things up quickly or violate Department of Justice guidelines to not allow investigations to affect elections.
Giuliani said that even though Trump is not on any midterm ballots, the elections are still largely about him. “The election has a lot to do with the president’s party,” Giuliani said. “Common sense would lead you to the conclusion that this election is going to have a lot to do with the president.”
Giuliani’s latest assertions mirror other reasoning he has offered in Trump’s defense. He has claimed that a $130,000 payment from Trump’s personal lawyer to a porn star to buy her silence regarding an affair she says she had with Trump was unrelated to the 2016 campaign, even though the payment was made within days of the election. More recently, Giuliani argued that collusion with a foreign power to win an election is not illegal, even though conspiring with foreigners to influence an election is a crime.