Giuliani's answer to impeachment inquiry: Sue Schiff

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, says he is working with outside lawyers to prepare lawsuits against prominent Democrats such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Giuliani’s remarks about his legal plans were made over the weekend in a series of calls with Yahoo News, amid cable news appearances in which he continued to aggressively defend the president. That defense was blunted by news of an additional whistleblower who would reportedly corroborate how Trump allegedly pressured the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into investigating Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate.

In several conversations with Yahoo News, Giuliani dismissed at least one critic of such a lawsuit as a “nitwit,” arguing that there were no constitutional constraints on bringing such litigation against sitting members of Congress.

“I got the highest grade in constitutional law,” said Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. He revealed that private lawyers are studying public statements by Schiff and others to argue that they were not merely prosecuting a case against Trump but attempting to “deprive him of civil rights" and were engaging in a “conspiracy to remove the president at all costs.” Giuliani charged that Schiff was seeking to “inhibit me in my ability to defend” Trump.

He cited Tlaib’s appearance at a recent town hall, in which she appeared to agree with a speaker who said that if White House officials were issued subpoenas and refused to comply with them, federal marshals should “hunt down” those officials. Giuliani said that was tantamount to witness intimidation, though it is not clear that Tlaib strayed outside her First Amendment rights.

Trump is certainly fond of litigation as a means of bringing opponents to heel, but suing sitting U.S. representatives would be an extraordinary development in an already extraordinary episode in American politics. Giuliani says that “a very established law firm” is already at work on that effort, though he would not say which one.

The White House declined requests to comment on the possibility of such a lawsuit.

What’s clear is that, like the president he represents, Giuliani believes that offense is the best offense and that there is no such thing as a strategic retreat. If nothing else, the whole Ukraine affair has been a lesson in the Roy Cohn method of crisis management. And even as others are running away from what could be a presidency in nuclear meltdown, Giuliani is running right into the radioactive fire.

In recent days, he has defended Trump with unrestrained bluster that recalled some of his more colorful days as New York City’s mayor. In one Fox News exchange, he called a skeptical fellow panelist a “moron.” There have been so many such appearances that the Biden presidential campaign has asked television programs to no longer book the former federal prosecutor.

Calls like that are likely to only enrage Giuliani further. And they aren’t likely to quiet a man who, as the mayor of New York during the 1990s, relished battle with everyone from ferret owners to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Giuliani says Joe Biden is to blame for allowing his son Hunter to engage in complex international business dealings that were bound to eventually raise questions. “The kid’s a drug addict,” Giuliani said, referring to Hunter Biden’s struggles with substance abuse. “What are you doing this to a drug addict for?”

The Biden campaign declined to comment for this article.

At the center of the debate is the whistleblower complaint by an intelligence officer detailed to the White House who was troubled by what he saw as Trump’s holding out $400 million in foreign aid from Ukraine until Zelensky agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump’s supporters have disputed that a quid pro quo arrangement was in the works.

Giuliani dismissed the whistleblower complaint against Trump as having been “created by a Democratic operative” affiliated with a “Washington firm.” He said that the plethora of footnotes in the whistleblower complaint indicated it had been written by a seasoned lawyer.

“We know he’s a Democrat,” Giuliani said of the whistleblower, whose identity has not been publicly revealed. “What else?"

An attorney for the whistleblower did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend.

The impeachment inquiry now being led by Schiff, who is also a former prosecutor, did not seem to worry Giuliani much, even as others have predicted that it could drive Trump from office. “Schiff is hiding him under his skirt,” Giuliani said of the whistleblower, adding that he thought Schiff was “a nervous wreck” in the wake of revelations that his office had heard from the whistleblower before the complaint was submitted to the inspector general of the intelligence community.

Democrats maintain there was nothing improper about that interaction — an argument that is bolstered by whistleblower guidelines — but Trump’s supporters refuse to believe that the whistleblower is free of partisan taint.

“Either the people talking to this guy are lying, or this guy is lying,” Giuliani said of the whistleblower. He defended his work in Ukraine before launching into a protracted recounting of Hunter Biden’s many sins, in particular what he described as influence peddling abroad. Some of those charges appear to broadly have merit, though that would hardly allow a president to openly push for the kinds of investigations he has called for in Ukraine and China against the Bidens.

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Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump through the years
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Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump through the years
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump embraces former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani at a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S., September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump listens to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during a meeting with cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump listens to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during a meeting with cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump greets former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrive to speak to police gathered at Fraternal Order of Police lodge during a campaign event in Statesville, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (2nd L) arrive for ceremonies to mark the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks at the National 9/11 Memorial in New York, New York, United States September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (L) and his son Eric Trumo (R) through the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump talks with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. (L) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani during a campaign rally at Crown Arena in Fayetteville, North Carolina August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit Allegra Print and Imaging in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit Allegra Print and Imaging in Fayetteville, North Carolina August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit Allegra Print and Imaging in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani greets Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Trask Coliseum at University of North Carolina in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani sits with his wife Judith (R) and Donald Trump Jr. at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (L), Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (C) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) stand together during a memorial service at the National 9/11 Memorial September 11, 2016 in New York. The United States on Sunday commemorated the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Republican presidental nominee Donald Trump (R) and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani (L) arrive at September 11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on September 11, 2016 in New York City. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attended the September 11 Commemoration Ceremony. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Republican presidental nominee Donald Trump (C) and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani arrive at September 11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on September 11, 2016 in New York City. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attended the September 11 Commemoration Ceremony. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani introduces Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before a rally at the Travis County Exposition Center on August 23, 2016 in Austin, Texas. / AFP / SUZANNE CORDEIRO (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani greets Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump just after introducing him at a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday, August 24, 2016. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times/Getty Images)
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, left, welcomes Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on stage during a campaign rally on August 18, 2016, at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - JULY 14: (L-R) Donald Trump, Joe Torre, Ali Torre, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Billy Crystal attend the 2008 Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Golf Classic at Trump National Golf Club on July 14, 2008 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Rick Odell/Getty Images)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - JULY 14: (L-R) Rudolph W. Giuliani, Donald Trump, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Joe Torre, and Billy Crystal attend the 2008 Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Golf Classic at Trump National Golf Club on July 14, 2008 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Rick Odell/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani is flanked by CBS President Leslie Moonves (left) and Donald Trump at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani considers a question as Donald Trump looks on at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: This 13 September 1999 file photo shows New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (L) with Donald Trump (R) during the NYC2000 fashion show in New York City. Trump announced 07 October that he plans to form an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to seek the Reform Party nomination for president. (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (L) jokes with Donald Trump (R) as they take a walk down the runway during the NYC2000 fashion show in Times Square 13 September, 1999, in New York City. The show which featured more than 90 clothing designs as well as a performance by singer Trisha Yearwood was held in conjunction with the Seventh on Sixth Fashion Week Spring 2000 Collections. AFP PHOTO Matt CAMPBELL (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 15: Real estate magnate Donald Trump talks with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani while current mayor Michael Bloomberg (far R) eats popcorn before the start of game 6 of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox on October 15, 2003 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Giuliani also said that Schiff’s case, predicated on the whistleblower’s complaint, was “falling apart” and that “sources” had told him that Democrats were considering “moving back” the lead on the impeachment inquiry to Rep. Jerry Nadler, the veteran New York legislator who heads the House Judiciary Committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is widely seen as being behind Schiff, but articles of impeachment traditionally originate in the House Judiciary Committee.

Schiff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Nadler’s.

For his part, Giuliani echoes the president’s argument that he is the victim of a partisan “witch hunt,” one that has seized on his work in Ukraine without foundation. “The State Department asked me to help” in making contact with the new Ukrainian administration, Giuliani said. “You don’t contain somebody by putting them into a meeting with the No. 2 guy in the country,” he said, referring to Andriy Yermak, the influential adviser to Zelensky.

The State Department has disputed aspects of that characterization, though not the entirety of Giuliani’s account. The department’s press office did not reply to a request for comment from Yahoo News. But recently released text messages from high-ranking American diplomats in Ukraine show that at least one of them thought it was “crazy” to enlist Ukraine in a blatantly political affair.

Bringing a suit against a sitting member of Congress would be seemingly impossible because of the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution. That clause “has been interpreted as providing Members with general criminal and civil immunity for all ‘legislative acts’ taken in the course of their official responsibilities,” according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Norman Ornstein, a congressional expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told Yahoo News that bringing suit against legislators was not sound strategy. “Rudy is just an embarrassment,” he wrote in an email. “It would help if he read the Constitution.”

In response to that criticism, Giuliani branded Ornstein a “bulls*** artist” while also making plain he had no idea who Ornstein was. “Norm whoever is out of his league,” Giuliani wrote in a text message. “Obviously a big mouth driven by Trump Derangement Syndrome. Maybe he's advising Shifty,” he surmised, using the nickname for Schiff that Trump has recently settled on.

“The Speech or Debate Clause is not absolute,” Giuliani argued in a subsequent conversation. “I prosecuted two congressmen. Tell the idiot.” The idiot was presumably Ornstein. The two congressmen, both of whom faced corruption charges, were Mario Biaggi of the Bronx and Bertram L. Podell of Brooklyn.

Giuliani reasoned that while the Speech or Debate Clause protected members of Congress for work they did inside their legislative chambers, it held no protections for statements made in the media and other venues.

“If it’s false, he can be sued,” Giuliani said of Schiff. “If it’s libelous, he can be sued.” He added that Schiff “shoots his mouth off all over the place” and that his statements on cable news and other media were being scoured by pro-Trump attorneys for incriminating evidence.

Ornstein noted that Schiff or Tlaib could simply argue they were exercising their freedom of speech rights, which are protected by the First Amendment. In response to Giuliani’s criticism of his expertise, he answered as follows: “hahahahahahaha.”

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