WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that he can fully understand why Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from investigations related to Russia and the presidential election and that he might have done the same, had he accepted that job, as Trump wanted.
Giuliani said he would have had the same conflict of interest as Sessions because they were both major players in Trump’s campaign, although, unlike Sessions, he never met with the Russian ambassador.
“I would have considered it, sure,” Giuliani told HuffPost on Wednesday, adding that he told Trump this when Sessions removed himself from oversight of any related Justice Department probe in March 2017. “I told the president at the time that I just didn’t know what I would have done.”
Trump has been angry at Sessions for failing to protect him from the DOJ investigation into any links between his presidential campaign and Russian officials, who worked to get Trump elected. In a Wednesday morning tweet, he quoted Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), writing, “‘There are lots of really good lawyers in the country, he could have picked somebody else!’” to which he added, “And I wish I did!”
Gowdy, who is not seeking re-election, argued on a CBS News appearance that Trump had the right to know from Sessions before his appointment as attorney general that he would recuse himself from any matters related to Russia and the presidential election.
“I can understand why the president is frustrated by it,” Giuliani said. “The president would have every right to ask him to unrecuse himself.”
He added, however, that he does not believe Trump should fire Sessions.
“He could, but he shouldn’t,” Giuliani said, pointing to what he called improving poll numbers for Trump. “Things are moving in his direction … If you fire somebody, even though it’s legitimate, you’re just going to raise a lot of questions.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Giuliani’s statements.
Giuliani had hoped to be in Trump’s Cabinet but not as attorney general, he said. “He offered it to me,” Giuliani said. “I didn’t take it because I wanted to be secretary of state. I recommended Jeff [Sessions] as the perfect guy to do it.”
Giuliani said that if he were Sessions, he would demand to know from special counsel Robert Mueller the status of the probe and whether there is any reason Sessions should not oversee it. “I think he should do it confidentially first, to give Mueller a chance to explain himself,” Giuliani said.
The FBI began its probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians well before Election Day. Control of the investigation was shifted to Mueller when he was appointed special counsel after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. Soon after that, the president told NBC News as well as senior Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that he had done so because of the investigation.
Mueller’s prosecutors have so far obtained guilty pleas from five individuals, including three former Trump campaign staffers, and indictments of 14 other people and three companies. That total includes 13 Russians, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that was used to create and disseminate propaganda to help Trump win.
A related investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York is examining the dealings of longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. A former business partner of Cohen’s has agreed to cooperate in that probe and plead to New York state charges.
Those facts notwithstanding, Giuliani said Mueller’s investigation has failed to find anything of importance and should be ended quickly. “I believe it’s going to be over by, I hope, September,” he said.
As he previously told HuffPost, he thinks Trump would agree to an interview with Mueller — but only if the DOJ turns over its report on the use of a confidential informant to acquire information from Trump campaign officials about Russian involvement.
Trump and Giuliani tried to label that informant a spy and invented the term “spygate” in hopes of discrediting Mueller’s investigation, but those efforts appear not to have caught on. Gowdy and other Republicans have described Mueller’s use of an informant as proper.
Giuliani, though, remained unpersuaded, saying, “Trey wasn’t the one who was spied on. The president was.” He added that unless a report on what the informant learned is turned over to Trump, “there’s surely not going to be an interview.”