Dazzle ‘em with discrepancies? Baffle ‘em with baloney?
It wouldn’t have seemed possible a mere week ago, but the Trump administration’s notorious problems with truth-telling have hit a new low.
And oddly enough, that might be on purpose.
Since last Wednesday’s mind-bending appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” Rudy Giuliani has blithely skipped from one media appearance to another without apparent regard for consistent adherence to the facts.
And then he proclaimed victory.
First, of course, he flatly contradicted his own client about hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, saying on “Hannity” last week that President Donald Trump had reimbursed attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to the porn actress who says she had an affair with Trump. (Trump had publicly denied knowing about the payment.)
He later told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t even know if Trump had met Daniels - despite photographic evidence to the contrary.
Then he offered the firm conviction that the president might not need to comply with a subpoena from independent counsel Robert Mueller III.
He made statements one day and walked them back the next. He shrugged off the shocked reactions, saying he wasn’t yet fully up to speed - only about halfway there.
“I am focused on the law more than the facts right now,” he told CNN.
And, after all that, he expressed satisfaction in a job well done.
“Everybody’s reacting to us now and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do,” he told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa.
Can it really be, even during this norm-busting presidency, that what appears to be a mess of contradictions is something closer to a political strategy?
Giuliani looked on the bright side: “We’re setting the agenda.”
The old-fashioned concept that the president’s lawyer needs to know what he’s talking about even became a point of reference on “Saturday Night Live.”
“Well, the clock might be running out on Trump’s presidency, so you know what that means: They’re finally putting in Rudy,” said “Weekend Update” co-host Colin Jost. “But instead of making a great play, this Rudy immediately tackled his own quarterback.”
The New York Daily News, no friend to Trump, jumped on board on Monday. “Wrong Again, Rudy!” shouted the front-page headline. “Clueless Giuliani falsely claims Trump can duck Mueller subpoena.”
But, as usual, Trump and company don’t subscribe to the boring old conventional wisdom.
Their lies and misstatements seem to have few consequences. The president’s approval rating, though low, holds steady.
The Trump base stands by its man.
And the reasonable expectation that the president’s lawyer will have some regard for factuality seems to have disappeared.
“Mr. Trump’s ever-escalating problem with purposely losing the truth has reached new heights since last Wednesday,” Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti told me Monday. “The fact that it now involves using licensed attorneys to spread half-truths and lies is especially disturbing.”
Whether this is strategy or screw-up may not matter to Trump loyalists.
“Presumably the calculation of Team Trump is that his base exacts no cost for even the baldest of lies,” wrote former U.S. attorney Harry Litman in the New York Times.
New York University’s Jay Rosen took that idea a few steps further on his PressThink blog over the weekend: “By normal criteria, Giuliani’s recent television appearances have been at best puzzling and at worst disasters for his client.”
But normal criteria disappeared during the presidential campaign, he noted, and may never return.
Rosen’s theory is that all this - if not actually a well-thought-out strategy - is at least somewhat purposeful.
Underlying it may be an effort to wage war on Mueller, as ABC’s Jonathan Karl explained: “The biggest motivator for the Trump base in the midterm elections will be fear of impeachment.”
So it makes a kind of twisted sense to vilify Mueller and muddy the waters of his investigation at every turn.
But even more basic, as Rosen sees it, is that Trump’s lawyers are attempting to manage a narcissistic client in the only way they can - “through semi-regular television appearances that explode the news cycle.”
Why? “Nothing else will the big boss trust.”
In this cynical calculation, if something doesn’t make those tsunami-level waves on TV, it didn’t really happen, or doesn’t really matter.
Attention, ratings, steady focus on Trump.
Regardless of how clumsy the messenger may be - and Giuliani is about as clumsy as they come - these matter far more than the truth.
Margaret Sullivan is a columnist with The Washington Post.