President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani once again appeared to muddy the waters around special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in an interview in which he ostensibly intended to clear things up.
On Sunday, Giuliani made headlines when he said that Trump may have been involved in conversations about the efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow up until Election Day 2016. He even told The New York Times that the president said talks about the project were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won.”
Since then, he has been trying to walk back his assertions. In a three-sentence statement on Monday, he said his comments were “hypothetical,” not “based on conversations” and “did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any discussions.” He also denied the quote attributed to him by the Times.
“I did not say that,” Giuliani told The New Yorker when asked about the quote in a phone interview on Monday. He accused the paper of “deliberately” misunderstanding his remarks.
“I don’t know if they made it up. What I was talking about was, if he had those conversations, they would not be criminal,” Giuliani said.
The former New York City mayor explained that “lawyers argue in the alternative” and that was why people are so often confused by his statements.
“I was pointing out how you would deal with it in court if we were going to trial, and how, even if there were such conversations, which there weren’t, they would be completely innocent,” he said. “Whenever you do that, you always run the risk someone is going to report just the first part of your conversation.”
He told The New Yorker that Trump had “a few conversations” about the project when it was an “early-stage proposal that he ended somewhere in early 2016.” He said the president “doesn’t have a recollection of anything else, and there is nothing to support anything else.”
Giuliani said the project never moved beyond an October 2015 letter of intent, which was signed by Trump (Giuliani reportedly initially denied the letter had ever been signed, then denied saying that when CNN obtained a signed copy of the document).
More: Trump signed letter of intent for Moscow project in Oct. 2015, report says
Despite the furor on Sunday over the revelations about the timeline for the Trump Tower Moscow project, Giuliani actually first made the admission more than a month ago. He said during an interview with New York Daily News on Dec. 18 that the talks might have continued up until November 2016.
“Trump doesn’t remember exactly when the discussions stopped,” Giuliani said in that interview, adding that the president’s written answers to questions from Mueller “made sure it could cover up until November 2016.”
Giuliani clarifies comments: ‘Not based on conversations’
More: Rudy Giuliani says he is ‘100% certain’ Trump did not tell Cohen to lie to Congress
The revelation of the Moscow project came in December when Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed deal. The news appeared to contradict Trump’s repeated statements on the campaign trail that he “had nothing to do with Russia.”
Trump, whose 2016 campaign is being investigated by Mueller for conspiring with Russians to sway the election, defended the negotiations as “very legal” and “very cool” and falsely claimed to have been open about the project during the campaign.
Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that the special counsel had evidence Trump had directed Cohen to lie about the Moscow project in his congressional testimony. Mueller’s office then issued a rare public statement denying the report.
On Sunday, Giuliani said BuzzFeed “should be under investigation” for the report, which the news site has not retracted. He said that even if Trump spoke to Cohen about his testimony – which he claimed would be “perfectly normal” – he was “100 percent certain” the president did not tell Cohen to lie.
He told the New Yorker that “from the moment I read the story, I knew the story was false.”
“I have been through all the tapes, I have been through all the texts, I have been through all the e-mails, and I knew none existed” that would support the BuzzFeed story, he said.
When asked what tapes he was referring to, Giuliani said, “I shouldn’t have said tapes. They alleged there were texts and e-mails that corroborated that Cohen was saying the president told him to lie. There were no texts, there were no e-mails, and the president never told him to lie.”
“Well, I have listened to tapes, but none of them concern this,” he added.
The kerfuffle over the Moscow timeline is not the first time Giuliani has appeared to reveal more than he intended in an interview. In May while speaking with Fox News host Sean Hannity, he revealed that Trump had repaid Cohen for $130,000 in hush money the president’s former fixer had given to porn star Stormy Daniels. And last week, he denied ever saying “there was no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The New York Times reported on Monday that “several people close to Mr. Trump have grown exasperated with Mr. Giuliani’s public appearances. They also expressed concern that he is increasing prosecutors’ anger with the president and potentially creating a misimpression about the Trump Tower project in Moscow.”
Giuliani, who as Trump’s attorney has said “truth isn’t truth” and facts are “in the eye of the beholder,” joked to The New Yorker that he fears his tombstone will read, “Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump.”
“Somehow, I don’t think that will be it. But, if it is, so what do I care? I’ll be dead. I figure I can explain it to St. Peter,” he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
More: Rudy Giuliani accuses Twitter of anti-Trump conspiracy, editing his tweet to add typo
More: Rudy Giuliani says Trump is ‘honest’ because facts are ‘in the eye of the beholder’
More: USA TODAY has published 89 fact checks on Donald Trump. Read them all here.