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Could Rudy Giuliani get set up as Trump's fall guy for Ukraine?

Rudy Giuliani with then-President-elect Donald Trump in 2016.

Rudy Giuliani with then-President-elect Donald Trump in 2016. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

Watch under bus for cigar fumes

It's hard for President Donald Trump and his allies to know from one day to the next what defense on Ukraine will stand up. The latest to collapse was EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland's now-reversed account. He acknowledges the attempt to leverage U.S. military aid for investigations Trump wanted Ukraine to announce.

One constant in all the stories has been the central role of Rudy Giuliani. Could Trump's impeachment defenders argue that Trump was clueless about a rogue Giuliani operation to subvert U.S. policy toward Ukraine in furtherance of the president's political interests? Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a key Trump ally, seemed to go there on Wednesday.

“There are a whole lot of things that he [Giuliani] does that he doesn’t apprise anybody of,” Meadows said. "There is no direct linkage to the president of the United States.”

Well, there is the pesky problem of Trump's "favor"-seeking phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, asking the Ukrainian president to get in touch with Giuliani about investigating Joe and Hunter Biden and about conspiracy theories that 2016 election interference came from Ukraine, not Russia. There was Trump's instruction — "Talk to Rudy" — in May to a U.S. delegation that had just returned from Ukraine.

No one who testified has doubted that Giuliani was doing Trump's bidding, nor has there been a peep from Trump suggesting Giuliani's activities on his behalf were a surprise or in any way lacked his blessing. As the scandal was erupting in late September, Giuliani asked then-special Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker to say falsely that the president's personal lawyer was acting at the State Department's direction, according to Volker's testimony.

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Giuliani said his Ukraine investigation was "done solely as a defense attorney to defend my client." There was no assertion by Giuliani of carrying out U.S. national interests in pressuring Ukraine or forcing out U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Giuliani also announced he had hired his own team of defense lawyers. He is currently under investigation by the Manhattan U.S. attorney, and one of his two Ukraine-sleuthing partners, Lev Parnas, is now offering to cooperate with House impeachment investigators. 

Giuliani's new lead attorney, Robert Costello, was in the news before as a go-between when former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, after being charged with various federal crimes, was feeling out Giuliani about the chances of a presidential pardon. Cohen later turned on Trump, a bit of history that could weigh in any Trump calculation about throwing Giuliani under the bus. Like Cohen, Giuliani — involved not only in Ukraine but Trump's defenses for the Russia investigation and the Stormy Daniels payoff — could know things about his most famous client.

Showtime for impeachment panel

William Taylor, the current top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, is due to be the leadoff witness when the House Intelligence Committee moves to public hearings in its impeachment inquiry  on Wednesday. Also set to testify that day is a career State Department official, George Kent. Yovanovitch, who was ousted as an obstacle to Giuliani and Trump's interests, will follow on Nov. 15.

Taylor's earlier closed-door deposition was made public Wednesday. He told lawmakers it was his “clear understanding” the U.S. government intended to withhold its military aid from Ukraine until that country committed to the political investigations sought by Trump. (Read the House transcript of Taylor's deposition.)

Taylor was asked if he was aware that “quid pro quo” meant “this for that.”

“I am,” he replied.

Janison: Whistleblower told you so

Now that Sondland has made a 180-degree turn, what's the explanation for his prior story and his subsequent abandonment of it, wonders Newsday's Dan Janison. Told to lie? Thought to lie? Totally forgot? Got confused? Warned about perjury? Too much Kool-Aid? Not enough Kool-Aid?

Nor has acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney credibly explained his switch the opposite way, from yes quid pro quo to no quid pro quo.

On the other hand, the mystery "whistleblower" who so vexes the Trump circle hasn't changed his story, nor does he need to. His report has proved correct. 

Since Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., and pro-Trump media are eager to identify the informant, perhaps illegally, this person might as well call a news conference and declare: "I told you so!"

He's with Stupid?

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally and frequent golfing buddy, is floating another possible line of defense: incompetence.

"What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine: It was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to, they seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo," Graham told reporters Wednesday.

When a similar idea was raised two weeks ago in a Wall Street Journal editorial — that Trump "was too inept to execute" such a threat — the president reportedly took offense. According to the Daily Beast, he complained: "What are they talking about? If I wanted to do quid pro quo, I would’ve done the damn quid pro quo."

Graham also said Tuesday that Giuliani never got back to him in response to his invitation to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Biden rips Warren 'elitism'

Stung by Elizabeth Warren's put-down that his criticism of her "Medicare for All" plan suggests he's running in the wrong party's primary, Joe Biden hit back hard, even noting that Warren was a Republican until 1996.

Without mentioning her name, Biden wrote in a Medium post that her comments reflected “an angry unyielding viewpoint that has crept into our politics” and a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. He said, "It’s representative of an elitism that working and middle class people do not share: ‘We know best; you know nothing.’ ”

A new Quinnipiac poll suggested Biden has slipped to fourth place in a tight Iowa caucus race. It put Warren first at 20%, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 19%, Bernie Sanders at 17% and Biden at 15%. The poll has a 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

Throwing Stone

Federal prosecutors said former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is expected to testify against Roger Stone in his trial for lying to Congress, which began Wednesday.

Prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky said Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about efforts to get emails damaging to Democrats and Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The prosecutor charged that Stone lied because the "truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump."

Stone is also accused of witness tampering and obstructing justice in a case that stems from former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He has denied all wrongdoing.

He'll take the wins only

At a Monday night rally in Kentucky, Trump pleaded with voters to reelect Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Instead, Democrat Andy Beshear appears to be the winner.

How bad is that for Trump? He had told the rally crowd: “You gotta vote because if you lose, it sends a really bad message … You can't let that happen to me."

Trump and his 2020 campaign took solace in other Kentucky races won by Republicans and the election of a Republican governor in deep-red Mississippi. But overall results around the country found the Trump-led GOP in deep trouble with suburban voters who have turned against the party since 2016.

Democrats won majorities in the Virginia legislature for the first time in nearly a quarter-century. Republicans were swept out in communities outside Philadelphia, Washington and Cincinnati. Democrats took control in Pennsylvania's Delaware County for the first time since the Civil War.

What else is happening:

  • Trump wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference declaring the president broke no laws in his call with Zelensky, but Barr ultimately declined to do so, The Washington Post reported.
  • Parnas got $500,000 to hire Giuliani from Long Island lawyer Charles Gucciardo, a Republican donor and Trump supporter, The New York Times reported. Gucciardo’s lawyer said his client “understood that he was investing in a reputable company that Rudolph Giuliani was going to be the spokesman and the face of.” The company is called Fraud Guarantee.
  • Now that he's officially an ex-New Yorker, Trump can't stay away. He's expected back on Monday for an opening ceremony of the New York City Veterans Day Parade, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. He speaks to an economic group in Manhattan on Tuesday.
  • Trump's parade plans revived memories of a 2015 Daily News story about how he once urged officials to stop granting veterans special vendor licenses near Trump Tower. "Do we allow Fifth Ave., one of the world's finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market?" he wrote to an assemblyman in 1991. He complained again to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004, asserting that some vendors were fake vets.
  • Trump's Twitter trolls are casting convenient but unfounded aspersions on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Ukraine director on the National Security Council who testified about his objections to politicizing Eastern Europe policy.
  • Trump is expected to bring aboard former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi for impeachment messaging. They have a history: He illegally used his charitable foundation to donate $25,000 to her political action committee. Soon afterward she said Florida wouldn't join the fraud lawsuit against Trump University in which New York and California ultimately won a $25 million settlement. 
  • Trump has boasted his supporters would stick by him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, but is that literally true? CNN put the question to a panel of voters in Pennsylvania. "You'd have to know why he shot him," said one. "Yeah, why did he shoot him?" said another.
  • Though it's a good bet Trump will attack him, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to announce Thursday that he will announce run in the Republican primary for his old U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. Despite the humiliation he suffered at Trump's hands, Sessions still openly supports the president's policies.
  • Juli Briskman first made news in 2017 when she was photographed flipping off Trump from her bicycle while his motorcade passed on its way from a Virginia golf outing. A government contractor fired her. On Tuesday, she won election as a Democrat to the Loudoun County board of supervisors, defeating a Republican incumbent.

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