Donald Trump has admitted sending Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to dig dirt on a political rival, openly contradicting his own denials on the subject during the impeachment inquiry, just days after being acquitted of all alleged crimes.
Mr Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, is at the centre of a web of shadowy efforts in Ukraine to persuade officials to investigate the Bidens, questions around which were key to the abuse of power charge on which Mr Trump was impeached by the House.
Mr Trump previously insisted he “didn’t direct” Mr Giuliani to do “anything” in Ukraine, suggesting the attorney was likely there on behalf of “other clients”.
But less than a week after his acquittal the president gave a very different response when asked in a podcast interview: “Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?”
“Not at all,” Mr Trump replied, in a brazen U-turn. “Rudy was a great crime fighter, you know that, maybe better than anybody. And Rudy is totally on his game.”
Speaking to Geraldo Rivera, Mr Trump then claimed he “used” Mr Giuliani in Ukraine, rather than more official channels such as the FBI because “they spied on my campaign” in 2016, also detailing his mistrust of former FBI director James Comey.
“So when you tell me, why did I use Rudy – and one of the things about Rudy – number one, he was one of the very best prosecutors, and the best mayor,” Mr Trump said.
“But also, other presidents had them … they all had lawyers … and they do things for them. It’s really circumventing – but very legally – and maybe getting things done faster.”
The president appears to have been emboldened by his acquittal in the Senate, after a trial that saw his Republican allies increasingly move away from denying he had done anything wrong to merely playing down the severity of his actions in outsourcing attacks on his political rivals to foreign nations.
He has embarked on a campaign of vengeance against those who he views as having wronged him during the impeachment proceedings, and – in a move reminiscent of dealings with Ukraine – appears to have openly boasted of offering New York governor Andrew Cuomo a deal on a state immigration law in return for dropping investigations into his finances and tax returns.
His new admission regarding Mr Giuliani aligns more closely with what he said during his infamous call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, which sparked the impeachment proceedings.
Transcripts, released by Mr Trump, showed him telling Mr Zelensky he would like him to speak with Mr Giuliani, while suggesting that he investigate Hunter Biden.
“I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General,” Mr Trump said. “Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”
Now he has admitted sending Mr Giuliani to Ukraine, it remains to be seen whether the president will row back on other claims of ignorance.
Perhaps most notably, indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas – a Ukrainian-born businessman – claims to have been part of Trump-ordered efforts to oust the US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was seen as an obstacle to any probe into the Bidens.
Mr Parnas has claimed Mr Trump “knew exactly what was going on”.
But despite a trove of photographic evidence showing the pair together, Mr Trump strenuously denied knowing Mr Parnas, calling him a “con man” and saying: “I don’t know him at all … know nothing about him. I can only tell you this thing is a big hoax.”