Already, Donald Trump had begun to distance himself from Rudy Giuliani, who is now said to be under investigation over his Ukraine work to find dirt on a Trump opponent. Then Trump thought better of it.
On Friday, Trump told a gaggle of reporters who asked if Giuliani was still his personal attorney: "I don't know. I haven't spoken to Rudy. I spoke to him yesterday briefly. He's a very good attorney, and he has been my attorney."
"Yesterday" was Thursday — the same day news broke that two Giuliani business associates were charged federally with a scheme to route foreign money into U.S. elections. The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, helped Giuliani investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. On Friday, The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine may have run afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Who knew that MAGA doesn't really mean Make America Great Again? What it actually may mean is My Attorneys Get Arrested. You'll recall that Trump's previous personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes that include fixing payments leading up to the 2016 presidential election to silence a porn star and a Playboy playmate, both of whom claimed they had affairs with then-candidate Trump. Plenty of pundits now think Giuliani may also be arrested.
In that Friday press gaggle, Trump used the same line about Giuliani that he'd once used about Cohen. When asked about the arrests of Parnas and Fruman, Trump said: "You'll have to ask Rudy Giuliani." Back in early 2018, asked about his alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels, Trump said "You'll have to ask Michael Cohen."
But then on Saturday, Trump made a show of having lunch with Giuliani at the Trump golf course in Sterling, Virginia.
And later, on Saturday night, Trump told Fox News that Giuliani is "a great gentleman" who is still his lawyer. "I know nothing about him being under investigation. I can't imagine it," Trump told the host Jeanine Pirro.
Nothing? Really? Back in September Giuliani was subpoenaed to provide documents to three committees of Congress looking into Giuliani's part in pressing the Ukrainian government to pursue the politically motivated Biden investigation. Giuliani even tweeted about it.
Today is the deadline for Giuliani to comply with that subpoena.
Welcome to week four of the Trump impeachment inquiry. So far (yes, it's early still) the quote of the week is from the chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, who warned in a Friday interview with The Washington Post that the charges brought against the two associates of Giuliani are just "the tip of the iceberg" in the flow of dark money in the U.S. political system.
It remains a mystery where Parnas and Fruman got their money, according to The Post. But "prosecutors alleged that the two were backed in part by an unnamed Russian national who used them to funnel donations to state and federal candidates." The Wall Street Journal has reported that Parnas and Fruman were active GOP donors: "At least 14 Republican candidates and groups directly received a total of $675,500 in campaign contributions last year ... from the Soviet-born Florida business executives."
Weintraub, a Democrat appointed to the FEC in 2002 by President George W. Bush, says "there may well be a lot of money that is slipping into our system that we just don't know about."
Yet just as things are heating up, the Trump administration seems effectively to be paralyzing the very agency in charge of enforcing campaign finance laws.
The FEC has not been able to conduct any formal business since the departure of its Republican vice chairman in August. It needs a quorum (four of six members) to function — and Trump has yet to appoint a fourth commissioner.
Weintraub told The Post she is very concerned — and voters should be, too.
"When campaign finance issues are on the front pages of the newspaper every single day, this is a particularly bad time for the FEC not to have a quorum and not be able to respond to enforcement matters, not to be able to have new rulemaking or issue advisory opinions," she said.
One thing is certain, Weintraub told The Post: "It is certainly illegal to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. That's just black letter law."
If Americans have learned nothing else during Trump's three-year, reality-show presidency, it's that he could not care less about the law.