WASHINGTON — In a television appearance on CNN Thursday night, Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, appeared to acknowledge that President Trump had tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate.
“Of course I did,” Mr. Giuliani said when pressed by Chris Cuomo, the CNN host, about whether he had asked Ukrainian officials to investigate Mr. Biden, just 30 seconds after denying he had done just that. It seemed like the latest head-scratching revelation from Mr. Giuliani, a former New York mayor, to ignite new questions about abuse of power by a president coercing a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.
Twitter burst alive in real time with video clips and commentary about Mr. Giuliani’s 28-minute pugilistic exchange with Mr. Cuomo, whom Mr. Giuliani called a “sellout” who was “blinded” by “prejudice.”
But what seemed like a needless misstep by Mr. Giuliani may have been just the kind of suicide-mission media strategy he had in mind.
It was reminiscent of an appearance Mr. Giuliani made on Fox News last year, when he revealed that Mr. Trump had reimbursed Michael D. Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer, for a $130,000 payment Mr. Cohen made to keep a pornographic film star named Stormy Daniels from going public with her story of an affair with the future President of the United States.
At the time, people close to Mr. Giuliani said privately that, while he had contradicted Mr. Trump’s own version of events, it was a strategy designed to save his client from being implicated in a campaign finance-related charge. Federal prosecutors said in July that they had “effectively concluded” their inquiry, though it’s unclear whether Mr. Giuliani’s strategy had anything to do with it.
Crazy like a fox, or not, Mr. Giuliani’s unconstrained television appearances have long raised concerns with the rest of Mr. Trump’s legal team, as well as White House officials, who view him less as a traditional lawyer and more as a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s who has taken on the role of a freelancing, often off-message spokesman. And like the president himself, Mr. Giuliani has seemed emboldened since the report by Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, proved to be less damaging to the president than expected.
Mr. Giuliani does not check with Mr. Trump or anyone in the White House before booking himself on television (the White House declined to comment about his latest appearance). He sometimes skates outside of his lane, answering questions about policy deliberations he isn’t necessarily a part of, like the timing of the release of American hostages in North Korea, and the end of mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.
But for Mr. Giuliani, his is a theatrical game plan that he believes helped move the dial of public opinion on the Mueller investigation, and will ultimately work to clear Mr. Trump of any allegations of wrongdoing, while raising questions about Mr. Biden.
“Some government lawyer would be nervous to do what I do,” he said in an interview on Friday. “I’m a private lawyer, I represent my client, and I’m going to prove it to you that he’s innocent. Whether you like it or not, somehow I’m going to eventually get you to cover it.”
It’s far from clear that Mr. Giuliani’s argument — that a whistle-blower complaint filed by an intelligence official against Mr. Trump will “turn out to be even stupider than Papadopoulos” — will prevail. Mr. Trump, according to multiple sources, pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, and urging him to work with Mr. Giuliani on such an inquiry. Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have denied discussing the former mayor’s contacts with Ukranian officials.
Mr. Giuliani described his 28 minutes of cross talk with Mr. Cuomo on Thursday night as “pretty rough.” During the exchange, Mr. Giuliani said he had no idea whether Mr. Trump spoke with the Ukrainian president about Mr. Biden, or Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. But if he did, Mr. Giuliani said, “he had every right to do it.”
“I need a platform to get that out,” he said Friday. “The platform requires them beating me over the head.” If that meant he had to sustain some blows, he said, so be it.
Mr. Giuliani said he was flooded with responses to his interview, calling it his “best appearance on television,” and noting that he “laid out the hypocrisy.”
Mr. Giuliani said that enduring Mr. Cuomo’s aggressive questioning was the price he was willing to pay to give voice to his claims that the Obama White House asked the Ukrainians to “dig up dirt” on Mr. Trump and Mr. Manafort.
“I didn’t talk to the president about it before,” he said. “I didn’t talk to him about it after. I won’t tell you if I talked to him about it today, or not.”
On Thursday night, Mr. Giuliani appeared riled up when Mr. Cuomo finally wrapped up his interview. “You shouldn’t have a good night because what you’re doing is very bad for the country,” he said.
Off camera, Mr. Giuliani expressed a kinder view of Mr. Cuomo, one that also mimics Mr. Trump’s symbiotic love-hate relationship with the media. “I love Chris,” he said, saving his harsher criticisms for Mr. Cuomo’s network.
A year ago, Mr. Giuliani’s role as a member of the president’s legal team was more clearly defined than it is today. Mr. Trump was a client he represented in meetings with the Mueller team, helping to set the parameters under which Mr. Trump would submit himself to their questions (he ultimately agreed to answer questions only in writing, and with limited scope).
That investigation is now over, but Mr. Giuliani’s role in Mr. Trump’s orbit is not as Mr. Giuliani echoes Mr. Trump’s attacks on the “fake news” and suggests Mr. Trump’s presidential powers are so expansive that he cannot be credibly accused of wrongdoing based on the current set of allegations.
Mr. Giuliani suggested that the whistle-blower complaint and its aftermath are related to the work he has done for Mr. Trump since April 2018.
“I’m still his lawyer for the purposes of this investigation,” he said. “I see this as the final chapter in what really happened.”