If there were any doubt that the multi-front battle over the Russia investigation has become the political equivalent of a Tong war, Rudy Giuliani removed it.
The former mayor of New York City made his debut on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last Wednesday as a “cleaner” of sorts, like The Wolf from “Pulp Fiction,” determined to tidy up the whole mess in a matter of weeks.
But the celestial writers of the reality show we all live in had a different plan. As a new member of President Trump’s legal team, Giuliani turned out to be more of a mix between Sonny Corleone and Inspector Clouseau, vowing to go to the mattresses but making the mess worse instead.
He trampled Hannity’s talking points by insisting that Michael Cohen, Trump’s so-called fixer, did pay off porn actress Stormy Daniels - and did so with Trump’s knowledge. The president then humiliated Giuliani on Friday, saying that Giuliani had no idea what he was talking about.
Giuliani got the message. “I’m not an expert on the facts yet,” he told Fox’s Jeanine Pirro on Saturday night. “I’m getting there.” By the next morning, Giuliani had an update on his baby-steps quest to get “up to speed on the facts,” telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I’m about halfway there.”
Honestly, though, there’s no need to rush. The facts aren’t really a priority these days. When it comes to Robert Mueller’s investigation and the Stormy Daniels scandal, the loudest voices on both sides care only about whether something helps or hurts Trump.
Consider the question of whether or not the president should testify under oath in the Mueller probe. The standard answer from the pro-Trump caucus is that the president should not. Mueller is out to get Trump, the logic goes, and if Trump talked to Mueller, it would be a “perjury trap.”
In other words, no one disputes that if put under oath, the president couldn’t avoid lying, either because Mueller is an evil genius or because, well, that’s what the president does. As Giuliani told Stephanopoulos: “You couldn’t put a lawyer on this show, who wants to keep his law license, to tell you he should testify.”
Giuliani has a point. When asked, most lawyers say that if they were representing Trump, they’d advise against testifying. And quite a few of them, Giuliani included, suggest that maybe Trump should invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
That alone should be the first indication that lawyers don’t always give the best political or moral advice. Invoking the Fifth would likely be politically disastrous, especially since Trump suggested on the campaign trail that doing so amounts to an admission of guilt.
It would also be bad for the country. If you’re not one of Trump’s lawyers or political advisers, and you still think he shouldn’t cooperate with an investigation into foreign meddling in our elections, it’s likely because you care more about Trump’s political health than the country’s.
The notion that Mueller has a personal vendetta against Trump is grounded more in the president’s paranoia than in any evidence. The most commonly cited “proof” is that Mueller hired many Democrats for his team. But as Ramesh Ponnuru noted at Bloomberg View, this assumes “ambitious Republican lawyers were likely to sign up for a high-profile investigation of a Republican president.”
Meanwhile, not all of the facts are working against Trump. The Resistance refuses to acknowledge that the case for an obstruction of justice charge is weak at best. The president can fire underlings, even the head of the FBI, for whatever reason he wants. More important, the dismissal of James Comey didn’t thwart the investigation into Russian meddling; it merely launched an investigation into Comey’s firing.
The debate over whether Trump should fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein follows the same dynamic. There’s a strong argument that Rosenstein has botched his job overseeing the Mueller investigation. But the Department of Justice’s original authorization of the Mueller investigation didn’t specify what, if any, crimes he should investigate - a violation of the department’s own regulations. There’s also solid reason to believe that firing Rosenstein would plunge the country into an even uglier phase of the Tong war.
Of course, none of this matters anymore. All that matters is whose side you’re on.
Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.