Trump backs Giuliani, but some aides wish he would cut ties

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Saturday stood behind personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, one of his highest-profile and most vocal defenders, amid reports that federal prosecutors in the city Giuliani led as mayor are eyeing him for possible lobbying violations.

Behind the scenes, however, many of Trump's closest aides and advisers, inside and outside the White House, quietly wish the president would cut ties with Giuliani, whose leadership of New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks earned him worldwide admiration and the moniker of "America's mayor."

Giuliani was a force in Trump's defense during the lengthy Russia investigation by the special counsel. Yet the effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller led Giuliani to Ukraine, which now entangles the former federal prosecutor and mayor in legal jeopardy and is central to the danger threatening the presidency he labored to protect.

The New York Times reported Friday, citing a pair of anonymous sources familiar with the matter, that the investigation is linked to Giuliani's efforts to undermine Marie Yovanovitch, formerly the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan has declined to comment on the Times report.

Two Florida businessmen with ties to Giuliani were charged Thursday with federal campaign finance violations. Both played key roles in Giuliani's efforts to get Ukraine to launch a corruption investigation into Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a gas company there.

On Saturday, Trump deployed in Giuliani's defense the same two-word phrase — "Witch Hunt!" — he repeatedly used to attack the legitimacy of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and now the House impeachment inquiry against him.

"So now they are after the legendary 'crime buster' and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani," Trump tweeted while on the way to his northern Virginia golf club. "He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer."

Later Saturday, he told Jeanine Pirro during a telephone interview broadcast on her Fox News Channel program that Giuliani continues as his lawyer.

"He's a great gentleman. He was a great mayor, one of the greatest, maybe the greatest mayor in the history of New York," the president said. "He was a fantastic prosecutor. I know nothing about him being under investigation ... I can't imagine it."

"He's a man that looks for corruption and whatever he does I really believe he's a totally, I mean, I know he's an honorable man," Trump added.

A whistleblower complaint about Trump's dealings with Ukraine led Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open an impeachment inquiry into the president.

Three House committees taking depositions in the impeachment probe heard Friday from Yovanovitch.

The former ambassador has said she was fired from her post in May after insisting that Giuliani's requests to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels, according to a former diplomat who has spoken with her. The former diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

Trump seemed to try to create space between himself and Giuliani on Friday when reporters asked if Giuliani was still representing him.

"Well, I don't know. I haven't spoken to Rudy," Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Louisiana, adding that the two spoke briefly on Thursday. "He's a very good attorney, and he has been my attorney. Yeah, sure."

Asked if he still represented Trump, Giuliani replied to The Associated Press with a one-word text message: "Yes."

White House officials have been flabbergasted by Giuliani's performance on Trump's behalf, particularly his habit of revealing embarrassing information without so much as a heads-up to the president's full-time aides.

Aides have come to view Giuliani's behavior much as they have their boss' — with resignation that they will rarely be consulted beforehand to develop a strategic plan, and that any plan will be ignored.

One White House aide said there was frustration among aides that they have borne the brunt of criticism from some in Trump's orbit for not having a more coordinated response to the impeachment probe, saying they were operating without visibility into what Giuliani has been doing. The aide and others who spoke on this subject did so on the condition of anonymity.

White House lawyers rarely deal with Giuliani directly, preferring to coordinate when necessary with Jay Sekulow, viewed as the more even-keeled lawyer on the president's outside team.

Related: Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump through the years

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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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Aides who spoke on this subject said the general feeling among them is that Trump has yet to fully grasp the extent of Giuliani's side-dealings and hope Trump will eventually sour on his fellow New Yorker.

Giuliani was first brought on as the public face of Trump's defense of the Russia investigation, with Trump valuing his pugnacious style from the 2016 campaign and his reputation as "America's mayor."

Giuliani wanted to be secretary of state, but ended up withdrawing from consideration for a Cabinet post.

But Giuliani successfully pressed Trump's case on cable TV, even though some of the scattershot interviews seemed to do more harm than good. Even then, Giuliani at times let slip seemingly damaging information as a way to get ahead of a story, to normalize something while also lacing into the special counsel's credibility and undermining his investigation.

He also was part of a key decision to block Trump from conducting an in-person interview with Mueller.

Many in the administration — including in the West Wing and at the State Department — have tried to distance themselves from Giuliani's dealings in Ukraine, eagerly leaking to reporters unflattering stories about the former mayor's clumsy investigative efforts.

And while there is a grudging respect among some Trump allies and in the reelection campaign at Giuliani's willingness to defend the president on TV, something few others in the White House have done of late, many believe his interviews have become too hyperbolic and his undisciplined manner of speaking could put Trump at risk.

But though Trump himself has at time grown frustrated with Giuliani, he has defended the former mayor to people around him. Trump has spoken admiringly of Giuliani's no-nonsense style and willingness to go all-out to defend the administration and attack the president's Democratic foes and the news media, according to three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House. The officials insisted on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Giuliani withdrew his name from consideration for a Cabinet post and was not passed over by Trump.

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