Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump's 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not.
"I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign," Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday.
"I said the president of the United States," he added. "There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack" the opposition Democratic National Committee.
On Thursday, Giuliani sought to clarify his remarks, saying, "I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign. There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form. Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign."
Giuliani's comments in the CNN interview about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow were sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia.
Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow's agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July's Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.
Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump's orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.
Giuliani's CNN acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.
But Giuliani said Trump never shared polling data with anyone.
"Donald Trump wasn't giving polling data to anyone," he said. "He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article."
Giuliani challenged Mueller to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.
"Let's see if he's got anything," he said. "I challenge him to show us some evidence that the president was involved in anything approaching criminal conduct."
Earlier this week, Trump, after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Putin, declared, "I never worked for Russia" and told a reporter, "I think it's a disgrace you even asked that question."
The New York Times reported last weekend that two years ago Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether Trump "was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence" because of his behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election.
A Washington Post report said Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations the five times he has met with Putin over the last two years, including one time Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.
At the Helsinki summit, Trump and Putin met with only their interpreters in the room and there have been no transcripts released of their conversation. Trump said they talked about a number of issues, including security for Israel and a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.