Giuliani confounds as he defends Trump

Zeke Miller

US President Donald Trump's new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is delivering confounding and at times contradictory statements as he tries to defend his client. But it's proving to be a bewildering display.

In an interview on Sunday with ABC's This Week, Giuliani dismissed as rumour his own statements about Trump's payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, said he can't speak to whether the president lied to the American people when he denied knowledge of the silencing agreement, and wouldn't rule out the president asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the Russia investigation.

Giuliani also couldn't say whether Trump's previous personal lawyer Michael Cohen had made similar payments to other women on the president's behalf.

Giuliani said despite Trump's openness to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation, he would strongly advise Trump against it.

He couldn't guarantee that the president wouldn't end up asserting his constitutional right to refuse to answer any questions that might incriminate him. Giuliani also suggested that Trump wouldn't necessarily comply with a subpoena from Mueller.

Giuliani, who was hired by Trump last month, said he's still learning the facts of the Mueller case and the details of Trump's knowledge of the payment to Daniels, who has alleged a sexual tryst with Trump in 2006.

The $US130,000 payment was made by Cohen days before the 2016 election, raising questions of compliance with campaign finance and ethics laws.

When Trump was asked last month if he knew about the payment to Daniels, he said no. Trump also said he didn't know why Cohen had made the payment or where he got the money.

Kellyanne Conway, a counsellor to the president, said on Sunday on CNN's State of the Union that Trump meant that he didn't know about the payment at the time it was made, not at the time the question was asked.

Giuliani said last week that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for that payment and other unspecified items.

When asked on Sunday whether Trump knew about the payment to Daniels after the campaign, Giuliani demurred.

"I can't prove that, I can just say it's rumour," Giuliani said. "I can prove it's rumour, but I can't prove it's fact. Yet. Maybe we will."

Michael Avenatti, Daniels' lawyer, said on This Week that he thinks it's "obvious ... to the American people that this is a cover-up, that they are making it up as they go along. They don't know what to say because they've lost track of the truth."

Both Giuliani and Trump have insisted the payment to Daniels was not a campaign expense.

Giuliani maintained on Sunday that the payment can't be considered an in-kind campaign contribution because there was another explanation for it.

"This was for another purpose, to protect him, to protect his family," he said. "It may have involved the campaign. Doesn't matter."

Giuliani said the financial arrangement with Cohen wasn't revealed on Trump's 2017 personal financial disclosure because "it isn't a liability, it's an expense".