On Monday, Buzzfeed released an article which claimed that they had evidence regarding Donald Trump instructing Cohen to lie before congress. Shortly after, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s head lawyer, came to the defense of his patron with his signature “So what?” style. He responded to questions about the circumstances surrounding Cohen’s false testimony to Congress in 2016 with his usual style of casual dismissal.
This strategy which is used to defend Trump is what he refers to as “talking in the alternative.” Once again his rhetoric took to headlines, this time in the quote “So what if he talked to him about it?” This being a reference to the allegations made by the Buzzfeed article. Shortly after the article made headlines, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office released a rare statement that asserted that the report contained many inaccuracies. While the report is known to be flawed and misleading, Giuliani’s response to it in defending Donald Trump has come to exemplify how the presidency deals with the abundance of criticism and allegations.
The defense occurred on CNN’s State of the Union where Giuliani expressed that he didn’t know if it happened or didn’t happen, and that he had no knowledge if he had spoken to Cohen. This is when he concluded with “So what if he talked to him about it?” The last comment broke headlines as many called for further investigation into the circumstances leading up to the false testimony, despite the false Buzzfeed report.
Giuliani has come to exemplify how the sheer number of accusations and scandals facing the President affects the style of defense taken to protect him. In what seems to be an attempt to downplay the seriousness of accusations, the president’s lawyers offhandedly dismiss them. In an alternate strategy, they argue that even if they had occurred- which he states they didn’t- it would have been legal. One such case is a tweet by Giuliani which states “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion.” Trump seemed to be particularly fond of this style of defense as he retweeted Giuliani’s post.
As we’ve seen in recent years, Trump has shown himself to be a master manipulator of the media’s coverage. It would then make logical sense that his lawyers take this style of defense in or to better allow the President to redirect attention elsewhere. By damaging the credibility and downplaying the seriousness of the allegations, it’s easier for the focus of news coverage to be shifted.
With this in mind, it could be assumed that the casual dismissals by the president and his staff are a sort of band-aid on a bullet wound attempt to cover a presidency struggling to stay afloat. After all, with 17 known investigations against Trump and no shortage of scandals, the administration seems to have a more dramatic plot line than House Of Cards. It would be understandable if the legal team simply couldn’t form a sturdy strategy in time to deal with the issue, relying on this easily applicable but weak approach. In a piece by the Washington Post’s JM Rieger, the possibility is discussed that Giuliani simply doesn’t want to cement any arguments for fear of contradicting himself later down the road. While the idea in theory makes sense, the President seems to have no qualms about going back on previous statements he made, even when proof of their existence is presented to him.
In the end, is the President simply trying to stay afloat the constant flow of scandal and legal trouble or has his style of legal defense simply morphed into one that relies on grasping obscure legal loopholes to hold itself against the thrashing tides of public opinion?