When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump last week, Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-Louisiana, stepped forward as one of Trump’s earliest defenders.
But there was one place he would not go. When Chuck Todd asked him whether he agreed with what Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were doing, Kennedy sought to clarify exactly for whom he was vouching.
“No. No, no, no. No, no, no, no. I can’t speak for Mr. Giuliani. He’s wild as a March hare,” Kennedy said. “I do not speak for Mr. Giuliani. I speak for John Kennedy.”
The folksiness of the most quotable man in Washington might have masked it, but here was a Republican distancing himself from the president’s attorney and his various pursuits. (For those unaware, “a March hare” refers to an animal in breeding season known for its “excitable behavior.”)
And he’s hardly the only one.
During a Sunday appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” — also with Todd — House Minority Whip Steve Scalise again suggested that he was sticking up for Trump but not necessarily Giuliani.
Todd asked: “So you approve of what Rudy Giuliani’s been doing? You approve of all this?”
Scalise replied: “That conversation with President Zelensky happened right after the Mueller report came out after two years of an investigation, and Rudy Giuliani was the president’s personal attorney in that case. So again, you can ask Rudy what he was doing. I know that what President Trump talked about was continuing to find out what happened with Russian interference in the 2016 election because he has been standing up to Russia.”
On CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, offered much of the same fare.
And then there’s former Trump homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, who effectively told ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday that Giuliani was giving Trump bad advice. Bossert particularly pointed to the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory, which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate.
“I don’t want to be glib about this matter, but last year retired former senator Judd Gregg wrote a piece in the Hill magazine, saying the three ways or the five ways to impeach oneself. And the third way was to hire Rudy Giuliani,” Bossert said. “And at this point, I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again.”
Bossert’s summary is instructive. It’s not that Trump is deciding on these things for himself, you see; it’s that he is ill-advised. That’s a constant theme from those in the White House, who often talk about Trump as if he’s unable to separate fact from fiction or come to his own conclusions on such issues.
But Bossert’s version is really just an extension of the others. These Republicans seem to recognize that Giuliani is a wild card involved in all manner of potential dicey pursuits. If things really go off the rails, they can just turn him into the fall guy — the overzealous personal attorney to the president.
At the same time, Trump has endorsed these investigations, and he keeps dispatching Giuliani to speak for him. To continue to defend Trump while seeking distance from what Giuliani is doing is having it both ways. Either it’s problematic, or it’s not.
And more than anything, it should serve as recognition that they may not want to own what eventually comes of all this.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter at The Washington Post, writing for The Fix.