As he departed for his speech at the NRA convention in Dallas on Friday, President Donald Trump spent several minutes talking with reporters outside Air Force One, in a freewheeling back-and-forth that covered the performance of Rudy Giuliani, who joined the president’s legal team last month, as well as the Russia investigation, with Trump signaling his willingness to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller if he was “treated fairly.”
Here’s a quick breakdown of what the president said.
1. Giuliani will ‘get his facts straight.’
On Wednesday, weeks after former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined the president’s legal team, he gave an interview to Fox News that raised a bevy of questions about the president’s involvement in a payment to porn actress Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, who said she was paid $130,000 by Trump attorney Michael Cohen ahead of the 2016 elections to keep quiet about an alleged past affair with the president.
Though Trump’s own version of the events surrounding that payment, and when and whether he knew about it,has changed, Guiliani told Fox News this week that the president repaid Cohen. That statement directly contradicted Trump’s past statements in which he denied, repeatedly, that he ever reimbursed his longtime personal lawyer.
The confusion from the conflicting comments reportedly rattled White House staff and complicated matters for Trump’s legal team which has faced litigation from Daniels over that exact hush payment (along with another lawsuit alleging defamation).
Former federal prosecutor John Carlin and Rick Hasen of the University of California Irvine School Of Law tell Judy Woodruff about the new questions raised by Giuliani’s remarks this week and what might determine whether election law was broken.
Today, before boarding Air Force One, Trump walked back Giuliani’s remarks, suggesting that the attorney didn’t have all the facts and was “learning the subject matter.”
“Rudy is a great guy,” Trump told reporters, adding that he “started a day ago.”
“He’ll get his facts straight,” the president said of Giuliani, who himself is known for his brash style.
Trump insisted that he wasn’t changing the story around these developments, though as recently as Thursday, the president in a series of tweets acknowledged he reimbursed Cohen.
“There are so many aspects of this current investigation that seem unusual, to say the least, one of which is the public discussion and disarray and chaos in the legal team, in the way that the legal team often doesn’t seem to be matching up with what the client is saying, which is never ideal when you’re in a defense situation,” former federal prosecutor John Carlin told the PBS NewsHour this week.
Later today, Giuliani put out a statement, seeking “to clarify the views I expressed over the past few days.” Giuliani maintained that the $130,000 payment by Cohen to Daniels was not a campaign violation.
“The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President’s family. It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not,” he said.
Giulani added: “My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.”
2. Trump would still ‘love to’ speak with Robert Mueller
The president has long called the ongoing Russia investigations a “witch hunt,” a characterization he also used Friday. But Trump also repeated that he’d be willing to sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, if he was “treated fairly.”
“I would love to go,” Trump told reporters of a possible interview with Mueller.
“Nobody wants to speak more than me, in fact, against my lawyers because most lawyers say never speak on anything. I would love to speak because we’ve done nothing wrong,” Trump said. However, he also added that he must be ensured “that we’re going to be treated fairly because everybody sees it now and it’s a pure witch hunt.”
If an interview were to take place, Giuliani told the Washington Post certain conditions would need to be met, including the questioning not lasting longer than two to three hours.
Politico reported that all the speculation over an interview may not matter in the end because Mueller’s team has already interviewed at least two dozen current and past White House aides regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller also already has access to Trump’s own comments and tweets on Russia, Politico added.
3. U.S. withdrawing troops in South Korea ‘not on the table.’
Trump was asked to respond to reports that he had ordered the Pentagon to prepare plans for withdrawing U.S. troops in South Korea, just before a historic meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is scheduled to take place.
If a peace treaty between the two Koreas came to pass that would diminish the need for thousands of American soldiers in the area, sources told The New York Times.
Today, in response, Trump said: “Troops are not on the table.”
Trump also said the specific time and location for the meeting with Kim will be announced soon.
Soon after Trump’s remarks this morning, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said on Twitter that the Times’ report was wrong, adding that the president had not asked for the draw-down of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
— Dana W. White – DoD (@ChiefPentSpox) May 4, 2018