The campaign to dig up dirt in Ukraine on Trump’s political opponents began earlier than some senators had suggested, a lawyer for Trump said on Wednesday, bear-hugging Rudy Giuliani in what appears to be the deepest defense Trump’s team has offered of the President’s outside lawyer’s conduct.
Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin made the statement in response to a question from Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), two lawmakers whose votes could be key to allowing witness testimony.
The pair asked, “before Biden entered the race, did Trump ever mention the Bidens in relation to corruption in Ukraine? If so, to whom and when?”
To answer the question, Philbin offered a comprehensive defense of Giuliani’s attempts to gain dirt — true or not — about Trump’s political rival, and about the 2016 election.
GOP Senators and Trump’s legal team have largely veered away from openly defending the conduct of the former U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York, instead opting to either change the subject or refrain from judgment.
But Philbin instead rationalized specific actions that Giuliani undertook in late 2018 and January 2019 as part of his work “as the President’s private lawyer.”
“Mr. Giuliani, as counsel for the president, was looking into what went on in Ukraine, was there anything related to 2016 and other things, and he was given information and tips about [Hunter Biden] and he started to pursue that as well,” Philbin said.
The Trump attorney specifically cited a January 2019 meeting Giuliani held with then-Ukraine general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko in New York City, during which he also held a telephone interview with former general prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
Philbin then, in an effort to suggest that the dirt-digging campaign was not tied only to Biden’s candidacy but to broader anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, hinted that Giuliani briefed Trump on his efforts.
“We know that Mr. Giuliani is the President’s private counsel, and so I can’t represent specific conversations they had,” Philbin said, because “that would be privileged.”
“But we know from the testimony that the President said in a May 23 Oval Office meeting with respect to Ukraine, ‘talk to Rudy,'” the Trump lawyer added.
Biden announced his candidacy on April 25.
In response to a separate, similar question, Philbin also pointed to a number of other activities that would normally appear incriminating.
“John Solomon in The Hill published an article in March, and Rudy Giuliani tweeted about it in March,” Philbin told lawmakers, in an effort to suggest that the pressure campaign predated Biden’s candidacy.
Solomon’s articles and Giuliani’s role in their publication played a key role in Trump’s impeachment, in part because of how the columns spread false allegations against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Philbin offered other defenses of Trump’s conduct with respect to Giuliani.
He, at one point, characterized Trump’s focus on the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden sat as “the President’s way of pinpointing specific issues related to corruption.”