When the President’s own lawyer pictures him a grifter

We should resist the term "strategy" for Trump's egoistic maneuvering. There is none. But there may be a new fact pattern.

6 May 2018 5:41 pm 14 Comments

By Jay Rosen

White House reporter Jonathan Karl of ABC News gave a scary report Sunday about the recent round of interviews by the President’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. On ABC’s “This Week,” Karl said:

“I think what you are seeing now is a new war on Robert Mueller, a new war on the investigation. Mueller and the investigation are now central to the Trump midterm election strategy and his re-election strategy. They want to vilify, they want to delay this investigation. They want to draw it out. You will see more interviews like this. They actually want this issue to be front and center. Because, George, they believe that the biggest motivator for the Trump base in the midterm elections will be fear of impeachment.”

Speaking on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Carl Bernstein said of Guiliani:

“What he has done, unlike any of the president’s surrogates, is to picture the President of the United States as almost a grifter, with no interest in anything but conning the American people, saying as he said today, ‘Oh yeah, there might be more Stormy Daniels,’ and ‘there might be more hush payments.’ It’s extraordinary what Giuliani is saying and the picture he — not the press — is presenting.”

On Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union,” Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said:

“I have to say I am a little taken back by this new lawyer Giuliani’s strategy. His legal defense for the President seems to be, ‘You can’t believe the President of the United Stated, that’s our defense. So when he says things you just gotta discount them’… Other things that Giuliani said in his maiden voyage as the Presidents new lawyer were deeply hurtful to the President’s case.”

I was confused by this myself until I heard Jon Karl’s interpretation this morning. By normal criteria, Giuliani’s recent television appearances have been at best puzzling and at worst disasters for his client. “Normal criteria” means common sense propositions like these…

  • the President doesn’t want to be seen as a liar in front of the whole world;
  • the President doesn’t want to do anything that would put him at greater legal risk;
  • the President doesn’t want to prolong an investigation that is time-consuming and emotionally-draining;
  • the President doesn’t want to strengthen the case for his own impeachment, the ultimate humiliation for any commander-in-chief.

What if none of these any longer apply? We need to be alert to the possibilities Jon Karl outlined. I think we should resist the term “strategy” for Trump’s egoistic maneuvering. There is no strategy. But there may be a new fact pattern, the outcome of his lawyers attempting to manage their client’s malignant narcissism by accepting its most bizarre constraint: any managing will have to be done through semi-regular television appearances that explode the news cycle. Nothing else will the big boss trust.

Plug in those factors and the crazy machine spits out widgets like these…

  • prolong the special counsel’s investigation as long as possible so as not to relinquish a potent source of resentment;
  • add to the chances that impeachable offenses will be found— by, for example, making the Comey firing sound sketchier and sketchier;
  • instead of building a case for the President’s basic innocence, confuse the case by constantly shifting your explanations and by spicing them up with trace elements of guilt;
  • instead of steering away from sources of legal danger, like the Stormy Daniels case and lawyer Michael Avenatti, sail right into them so as to thicken the atmosphere of crisis and guarantee non-stop news coverage;
  • instead of minimizing evidence that the President lies in his public statements, dangle additional proof and let the press pounce on it;
  • instead of projecting lawyerly competence and command of the case, let Giuliani admit that he still doesn’t know the facts, even though he’s on TV arguing about them.
  • instead of denying that worse news is yet to come, flip it around: it may well be that more damaging stuff about the president will come out… so stay tuned!
  • raise the psychological price that core supporters would have to pay for abandoning Trump by making them swallow bigger and more blatant falsehoods, and then hint around that this is indeed what you have done.

As with so many other moments since that escalator ride, we’re in uncharted territory for the American presidency, where crashing the ship of state is seen as clever programming, and willing the impeachment of the President is revealed as an Oval Office plan.


Sounds like someone’s trying to dress up desperate lurching and mind boggling incompetence as a “strategy.” Will swing district GOP reps (those who haven’t quit) and red state GOP senate candidates run on protecting Trump?

Brian Bragg says:

“Feed the resentment,” will be the marching orders.
Republican candidates will attack the press, attack Mueller, attack the Democratic Party, attack ‘liberal judges’ — without defending the Flim-Flam man directly. They’ll foster a siege mentality.
Yes, Joe, fear of impeachment is their only real weapon.

Sure, it sounds far fetched. But I think it’s plausibly within the “so crazy it just might work” category. The GOP is looking at a tsunami in the midterms, which will be all about turnout. I’m sure that their small army of Luntzes has been hard at work focus-grouping the shit out of how to juice their own base turnout. They don’t have to be geniuses. If this is what their data is telling them about their base, then the data is telling them what to do. And Trump himself doesn’t have to be in on it. He’s probably viewed as expendable by the GOP elites. Just like the Tea Party strategy in 2010, they are probably just looking to survive the midterms and will worry about the blowback later. Or they’re just insane idiots. That’s also a possibility.

Rev. Harry A. Matelski says:


This is an extension of Trump’s Shoot Someone on 5th Avenue Strategy. The supporters he’s counting on aren’t troubled by his outrages: those are features, not bugs. There is no pretense of innocence.

Great satire.

Rhialto Marrvellouss says:

For what it is worth, I have had enormous trouble discerning any unifying thread connecting the various actions of this administration. Despite the well- known difficulties of positing a grand conspiracy,e.g., no one can or will keep his/her mouth shut, controlling people is like herding cats,etc., the only explanation I have for what has been going on in the orange one’s government is that there has been and continues to be, a grand conspiracy by some outside force to have this government engage in a French bedroom farce, as orchestrated by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, directed toward the object of making everyone who sees this mess feel that s/he is watching a second- rate Keystone Kops long feature.

I realize just how ridiculous that sounds, but, what other explanation can possibly be put forward? What we have seen is well beyond the realm of incompetence and even beyond stupidity. In my opinion, it beggars belief.

So, having said my piece, I will watch this space in the hope that others may find a better explanation than the one I have just offered

Carol Roberts says:

I don’t think any explanation is better than the one you’ve just posted. We’re caught up in a circus act that never rehearsed and that has no director.

Ron Beau says:

This really is a good strategy, given that Trump will say anything at any time. Mueller will not bring charges against a sitting President. Even if the House were to impeach, the Senate won’t convict.

So throw so many things out there at once, keep the sane media and the left busy with fresh outrages. GOP supporters become numb to it all (if they haven’t already).

Even when caught in lies and contradictions it will be “that’s just how they are”. When caught breaking the law, they’re not political pros, they just didn’t know they shouldn’t give six figure in-kind donations, solicit oppo-research from the GRU, and offer to drop sanctions in exchange for help.

It just might be dumb enough to work – at least until late 2020. Trump can then pardon everyone in sight and head back to NYC.

DiTurno says:

Besides the fact that it’s not a strategy (as Jay shows), it’s an absolutely terrible idea. Yes, Trump will keep the base, but that’s about it. He can’t stop state prosecutions against Cohen, Manafort, Javanka, and others. He’s making the blue wave bigger, and he’s running the risk of damaging the GOP for years.

Trump is a moron, and he’s surrounded himself with morons. If James Comey had done his job, Trump wouldn’t even be in the WH. Let’s not pretend he has any idea of what he’s doing.

The best advice: Wait and see. Time and patience is the key to this. Mr Mueller knows what he is doing.

Mark J. McPherson says:

It’s an odd game, to be sure. The resentful rubes are only the indirect targets of all this nonsensical sturm und drang, as the ultimate pass-through effect is intended to batter Republicans in the House and Senate into mewling submission and complicity. A sufficiently riled-up and resentful base terrifies those incumbents. As the growing list of retiring Republicans demonstrate, not everyone has the stomach for this. What is more dispiriting is that no one at all on that side of the aisle has the stomach to stay and really fight back.

It’s possible to confuse purposefulness with rationality while we are all plunging through this inverted brinkmanship of seeing how low Trump is willing to go. Trump deliberately veered off the rails from the moment he took the oath of office; there never has been a sustained moment when he seems to have been interested in courting rational support. The immediacy of his seriel transgressions was puzzling. It is still possible there will be some, late show of normalcy timed toward either the midterms or 2020. The damage to our institutions has already been done and recovery will be difficult. A more likely explanation is that Trump has always known of a long and shabbily covered trail of criminality behind him and that discovery was always inevitable. What better place to hole up in and take virtual hostages from, than the White House? “Made it ma! Top of the world!”

Rudy G. being quoted as saying that he’s glad they’re controlling the narrative gives credence to your argument, Jay. Perhaps they prefer Stormy Daniels in the headlines than some other stories. (And, remember, the so-called “nothing burger” Steele Dossier said there was conjecture the Trump campaign wanted focus on Russia so as to distract from dealings in China.)

David Foster Wallace says:

The most painful thing about this to watch is the press bizarrely believing that Trump really really really does actually want to talk to Mueller, but Giuliani is holding him back. Yeah, because the one thing everybody knows about Trump is that he always follows his lawyer’s advice.

Trump is receiving autocratic levels of media coverage, but with only a portion of the media under his direct control. It’s like the government is reorienting itself to revolve around him, but without the explicit deconstruction of institutions we see in other countries. He just sits still and through sheer force of will and laziness, the GOP wrapped itself around him.