Working for Donald Trump in any capacity falls within one of the lower bolge of Dante’s Inferno. Trump has run through White House officials faster than he’s scarfed cheeseburgers, and while it may seem like there’s an endless stream of would-be Trump-stars lining up to be the next person shot out the door, there’s a reason that 9 out of 10 top positions on the National Security Council are currently occupied by no one and that Mick Mulvaney and Jared Kushner are assigned to do so many things so, so poorly.
But when it comes to the position of his personal attorney, Trump has special demands. It’s not that he calls on his legal counsel to be especially well-versed in the law. It’s more the other thing—the thing where he demands that they be the icebreaker in any illegal activity, and make so much noise that they distract from the fact that Trump is engaged in serious criminal activity. When Michael Cohen was at the helm, he described that role as being Trump’s “fixer.” In the midst of the Russia investigation, Trump ran through a whole list of attorneys, but even the massive mustache of Ty Cobb couldn’t seem to satisfy Trump’s need for someone who was willing to be even louder and more obnoxious than Trump—a very difficult demand. Then came Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani and Trump are a match made in marketing hell: twin egomaniacs who can never admit an error, who double down on every lie, and who are absolutely incapable of feeling shame even when their lies cause incalculable damage to others. Both of them seem to genuinely feel that they are God’s gift to mankind, even when they’re using their divine office to crap on everyone so unlucky as to be not them. All of which is going to make the breakup just insanely fun to watch.
And it’s coming. Every single witness in the impeachment inquiry pointed their finger at Giuliani as the number one source of extortion, corruption, and plain old chaos. Trump has already begun the process of cutting Giuliani free, of claiming that Giuliani was just an attorney he knows, who happened to be in Ukraine, doing something, and you’d have to ask him to figure out what that might be. Certainly not anything to do with Trump. That Trump invoked Giuliani specifically for his work in Ukraine, specifically for the task of ratf#cking Joe Biden, directly in his “perfect” phone call with the president of Ukraine only makes the whole thing infinitely better.
But while Rudy is trying to remember where he stashed all his supposed insurance against being dumped by Trump, let’s take another stroll down memory lane …
Michael Cohen wasn’t just Trump’s arm-twister for the decade running up to the 2016 campaign; he thought he was was Trump’s friend. So when Trump went from declaring Cohen a “great man” and defending their relationship in April of 2018 to this just two weeks later … it stung.
Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA. These agreements are…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
But Cohen genuinely did have “insurance.” He had a recording of his conversations with Trump in which Trump not only directed him to make payoffs to the two women whose statements he was working with the National Enquirer to bury, but even instructed Cohen on just how to make those payments so that they would be more difficult to track.
None of that stopped Trump from denying that he had ever done anything wrong, or that he had even been aware of what Cohen was doing. When Trump went on Fox News at the end of 2018, Cohen was no longer described as his personal attorney, longtime friend, or the guy whose office was next to Trump’s for a decade. Instead he was just “a lawyer,” and “I never directed him to do anything wrong,” and “Whatever he did, he did on his own.”
2018 also brought us that incredible period of Cohen-Giuliani overlap, in which Giuliani was explaining that everything that Cohen had done at the instructions of Trump was perfectly okay, with The New York Times reporting, “’They funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it,’ Mr. Giuliani told Sean Hannity, the Fox News host.”
Well, when you’ve made campaign finance law-violating payments to adult entertainers to blackmail them into staying quiet about the affair you had when your wife was home with a newborn … that’s all good then. That was also the period in which Giuliani got to explain that Cohen was paid almost half a million for “doing no work” for Trump.
It took all the way until March of 2019 before the public got the chance to see Cohen testify against Trump … shortly before he was fitted for an orange jumpsuit.
And now it’s Giuliani’s turn. On Tuesday, Trump was once again reaching out to one of his right-wing media pals, telling Bill O’Reilly that Giuliani was an attorney who “had other clients,” and that whatever he was doing in Ukraine, it had nothing to do with Trump. Giuliani is exactly where Cohen was in May of 2018.
It doesn’t really matter whether Giuliani has a drawer full of Trump recordings—if he did, security expert Giuliani would have likely delivered them to the press by butt dial long before now. But this time there’s already a big chunk of insurance out there in the form of the “transcript” Trump produced of his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That document, even with inaccuracies and missing words, turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving.
And what really does seem perfect is that, after all the times Giuliani released information in an attempt to defang its damaging potential, it was the time that Trump decided to run forward with such information without Giuliani that shows how the two of them were roped together in this scheme.
One thing is clear: Donald Trump is ready to send Rudy Giuliani down the same slide that Giuliani helped to grease for Michael Cohen. And this time, he can get William Barr to play the Rudy role, which was the Cohen role, which was the Roy Cohn role. Being Trump’s attorney means that your first job is disposing of Trump’s previous attorney.