WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's legal spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, on Wednesday night appeared to grant the possibility that members of Trump's campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
And in the process, he contradicted dozens of previous denials that both the Trump team (and Trump himself) have offered.
"I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign," Giuliani told CNN's Chris Cuomo before getting cut off.
"Yes, you have," Cuomo said.
Giuliani shot back: "I have not. I said 'the president of the United States.'"
But while Giuliani himself might not have assured that nobody on the campaign colluded, others including Trump sure have. In fact, the Trump team has moved the goal posts on this question no fewer than 10 times after initially denying any contact at all with "foreign entities." Trump has said dozens of times that there was "no collusion," full stop. This appears to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump's knowledge.
The most likely explanation for that is the unfolding case against Paul Manafort. We learned recently that he shared polling data with an associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, who special counsel Robert Mueller's team has said had ties to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign. They also discussed a pro-Russia Ukraine peace plan, which is conspicuous because the Republican National Committee's platform was amended on that issue.
Giuliani suggested that it was possible Manafort did something wrong but that he was on the campaign for too short a time for anyone to know what he was up to.
"He was only there for six months or four months," Giuliani said.
Let's walk through the de-evolution of the Trump team's collusion denials.
1. November 2016: No communications, period
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks: "It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign."
2. February 2017: There were no communications "to the best of our knowledge"
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders: "This is a non-story because, to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place."
3. March 2017: There were communications but no planned meetings with Russians
Donald Trump Jr.: "Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure, I'm sure I did. . . . But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form."
4. July 8, 2017: There was a planned meeting at Trump Tower, but it was "primarily" about adoption and not the campaign
Trump Jr.: "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow-up."
5. July 9, 2017: The meeting was planned to discuss the campaign, but the information exchanged wasn't "meaningful"
Trump Jr.: "No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."
6. December 2017: Collusion isn't even a crime
President Trump: "There is no collusion, and even if there was, it's not a crime."
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow: "For something to be a crime, there has to be a statute that you claim is being violated. There is not a statute that refers to criminal collusion. There is no crime of collusion."
Technically speaking, the criminal code doesn't use the word "collusion," but it's generally understood as a broad term that could encompass more specific, codified crimes. And even special counsel Robert Mueller's team has used it in court filings.
7. May 16, 2018: Even if meaningful information were obtained, it wasn't used
Giuliani: "And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn't matter. And they never used it, is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it."
The Trump campaign did use the information.
8. May 19, 2018: There was a *second* planned meeting about foreign help in the election, but nothing came of it either
The New York Times reported Sunday on yet another meeting about getting foreign help with the 2016 election. This one came three months before the election and featured Donald Trump Jr. and an emissary, George Nader, who said the princes who lead Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to assist Trump.
Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.'s attorney: "They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested, and that was the end of it."
9. July 16, 2018: Trump couldn't collude, because Trump didn't even know Putin
Trump: "There was no collusion. I didn't know the president. There was nobody to collude with."
10. July 30, 2018: Collusion isn't a crime, and Trump wasn't physically at the Trump Tower meeting
With Michael Cohen alleging that Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting in real time - despite many previous denials - Giuliani told both CNN and Fox News that Trump wasn't physically at the meeting.
"I'm happy to tell Mueller that Trump wasn't at the Trump Tower meeting," Giuliani told CNN, adding that "Don Jr. says he wasn't there."
He added on Fox: "He did not participate in any meeting about the Russia transaction. . . . And the other people at the meeting that he claims he had without the president about it say he was never there."
Giuliani also argued that collusion isn't even a crime.
"I don't even know if that's a crime - colluding with Russians," Giuliani said on CNN. "Hacking is the crime. The president didn't hack. He didn't pay for the hacking."
And on Fox: "I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime."
11. January 16, 2019: Trump didn't collude, but no guarantees on others in the campaign
The exchange with Cuomo:
GIULIANI: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign --
CUOMO: Yes, you have.
GIULIANI: I have no idea -- I have not. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here -- conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.
CUOMO: First of all, crime is not the bar of accountability for a president. It's about what you knew --
GIULIANI: Well, he didn't collude with Russia either!
CUOMO: -- what was right, and what was wrong, and what did you deceive about? Those are going to be major considerations.
GIULIANI: The president did not collude with the Russians.
CUOMO: He said nobody had any contact, tons of people had contact. Nobody colluded, the guy running his campaign --
GIULIANI: He didn't say nobody --
CUOMO: -- was working on an issue at the same time as the convention.
GIULIANI: He said he didn't. He didn't say nobody. How would you know that nobody in your campaign --
CUOMO: He actually did say that, Rudy. He said, nobody, and then he said, as far as I know.
GIULIANI: Well, as far as he knows, it's true.