BY JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) — For weeks, President Donald Trump had grown increasingly frustrated with the cable news chatter that he couldn’t hire a big-name attorney for his legal team.
But the president boasted to a confidant this week that he had struck a deal that he believed would silence those critics: He was hiring “America’s F—ing Mayor.”
With the addition of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump gains a former U.S. attorney, a past presidential candidate and a TV-savvy defender at a time when the White House is looking for ways to bring the president’s involvement with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to a close. Trump has been weighing whether to sit for questioning by Mueller’s team, and his lawyers have repeatedly met with investigators to define the scope of the questions he would face.
Giuliani will enter those negotiations, filling the void left by attorney John Dowd, who resigned last month.
The deal was finalized over dinner in the last week at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s coastal Florida retreat. On Monday, Giuliani was spotted at a West Palm Beach hotel, gleefully puffing on a cigar but declining to talk to the press.
Giuliani’s addition to the legal team fulfills his long-delayed hope for a White House job. After drawing wide praise for his leadership in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Giuliani ran for president seven years later, only to see his bid quickly falter.
He has known Trump for decades — his bomb-throwing rhetorical style can at times mirror that of the president — and he became an aggressive surrogate for the celebrity businessman from the early days of his insurgent presidential campaign. Giuliani had been widely expected to join Trump’s administration, but was passed over for the position of secretary of state, the position he badly wanted, and eventually left without a Cabinet post.
But the president kept in touch with Giuliani, sometimes calling to ask for advice, both on policy and personnel, and frequently asking for the ex-mayor’s take on how the stories surrounding the administration were playing in the media.
Trump frequently sought Giuliani’s opinion of developments in the special counsel’s ongoing probe into possible Russian collusion, according to three people familiar with the conversations but not authorized to publicly discuss private talks. At one point last summer, the president informally floated hiring Giuliani, but did not follow through, according to one person familiar with his thinking,
Trump then moved to formalize the arrangement in recent days, touting Giuliani’s tenacity — and raving about his star power with the vulgar variation of Giuliani’s “America’s Mayor” nickname while talking with one person, who not authorized to discuss a private conversation.
In a statement announcing Giuliani’s hire, the president expressed his wish that the investigation wrap up soon.
A number of Trump allies have believed that Trump has been ill-served by his current legal team and applauded the addition of the hard-charging Giuliani.
“I for one will sleep much easier knowing that Mayor Giuliani and these other people have joined the team to give the president’s team extra power,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign who also served as deputy communications director when Giuliani ran for president in 2008. “I know that Rudy has made it clear that the goal is to try to get this wrapped up here as expeditiously as possible.”
The White House has struggled to retain prominent lawyers as Mueller’s probe continues to expand, leaving its team feeling overwhelmed and overmatched. One person close to the White House expressed surprise that Giuliani would accept a job under such challenging conditions.
Trump’s legal team has been told by Mueller that the president is not a target of the investigation, suggesting he’s not in imminent criminal jeopardy. But he is currently a subject of the probe — a designation that could change at any time.
Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow told The Associated Press that Giuliani will be focusing on the Mueller investigation — not the legal matters raised by the ongoing investigation into Trump attorney Michael Cohen. That probe is being led by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, an office that Giuliani headed in the mid- to late 1980s.
Giuliani also previously served as associate attorney general, the Justice Department’s No. 3 position, during the Reagan administration.
Cohen’s office, home and hotel room were raided last week by the FBI, which is investigating the lawyer’s business dealings, including suspected bank fraud. They also sought records related to payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim to have had sexual encounters with Trump several years ago. The White House has denied the claims.
The raids enraged Trump, prompting him to publicly weigh whether to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He also intensified his public criticism of the Mueller investigation, calling it “an attack on our country.”
Giuliani’s addition to the Trump legal team puts a renewed spotlight on his past legal and consulting work. His flirtation with becoming Trump’s secretary of state was thwarted, in part, because of growing concerns about his overseas business ties.
After leaving office as mayor, Giuliani advised foreign political figures and worked for lobbying and security firms whose clients have had complicated relationships with the U.S. government. While not personally involved in lobbying, Giuliani spent years at firms that represented foreign governments and multinational companies, some of which had interests that diverged from those of the United States.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed from Washington.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Colvin at http://twitter.com/@colvinj
Copyright 2018. The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.