WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed the significance of repeated contacts between his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and phone numbers linked to the White House and its budget office — contacts that were first revealed in a House Intelligence Committee impeachment report released earlier this week.
"So somebody said he made a phone call into the White House. What difference does that make?” Trump said to reporters during a meeting with Italy's prime minister on the sidelines of a NATO meeting outside of London.
“Is that supposed to be a big deal?'" he added. "I don’t think so."
The 300-page report laying out the case against Trump is serving as the basis for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry: House Judiciary Committee hearings that are expected to precede the drafting of formal articles of impeachment against him. On Wednesday, the committee heard from law professors who discussed the constitutional origins of Congress’ impeachment power and debated whether Trump committed an impeachable offense when he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival and potentially held up critical security aid to pressure him.
The report, which was made public Tuesday, includes a summary of phone records obtained by the committee showing extensive contact between Giuliani and the White House, as well as a caller identified only as “-1.”
On April 24, for instance, Giuliani spoke three times with a number linked to the Office of Management and Budget — the office that delayed the release of hundreds of millions in earmarked Ukrainian aid money — and he spoke eight times with a number linked to the White House, the documents show.
Later that night, the State Department phoned then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and abruptly called her home from Kyiv because of “concerns” from “up the street” at the White House.
The release of the phone logs in the report sparked search efforts at the White House and in the budget office to try to track down who had been in touch with Giuliani, to no apparent avail.
OMB officials told The Associated Press that a staff review showed that nobody there has ever spoken to Giuliani. White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney still uses the cellphone he had when he ran the budget office, leading some to suspect that he may be the holder of the “OMB Phone Number.” But a senior White House official said a review of his cellphone records did not turn up any calls between Mulvaney and Giuliani on the days cited in the report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal records.
Meanwhile, Trump on Wednesday insisted he knew nothing about the calls, even as he maintained they were “no big deal.” He also defended Giuliani as a “very good lawyer,” a “great crime fighter” and “the best mayor in the history of New York City.”
“Rudy is a great gentleman and they’re after him only because he’s done such a good job. He was very effective against Mueller and the Mueller hoax,” Trump said, referring to former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Giuliani, too, weighed in by tweet.
“The mere fact I had numerous calls with the White House does not establish any specific topic," he wrote, adding: “Remember, I’m the President’s attorney.” The White House has a full legal office that handles official matters.
Giuliani has long pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and is accused of trying to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of Trump’s potential Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, when his father worked at the White House.
The phone records released Tuesday also raised new questions about the role of California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes, the records show, had a series of calls with Giuliani, as well as with Giuliani's now-indicted associate Lev Parnas. One conversation with Parnas on April 12 lasted eight minutes, according to call logs.
Nunes told Fox News host Sean Hannity that “it's possible” he talked to Parnas, but claimed he wasn't sure because he hadn't gone through all his phone records.
“I don't really recall that name. I remember the name now because he has been indicted,’’ Nunes said, adding that any conversation with Parnas would have been appropriate.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., meanwhile, defended Nunes on Wednesday, saying that, “Devin can talk to anybody he wants to talk to.”
Asked if Nunes should have told House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff about his conversations with people under investigation, McCarthy instead criticized Schiff for his office's communication with the whistle blower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry.
Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Watford, England and Matthew Daly, Darlene Superville and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.