Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Sunday struggled to defend Donald Trump from the firestorm of criticism surrounding the GOP nominee’s 2005 comments on groping women, at times seeming to dig Trump into more holes than out.
And his comments overshadowed a potential opening for Trump to go after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at Sunday night’s debate — recently leaked emails that appear to include excerpts from her private speeches that she has long refused to release publicly, which Clinton’s surrogates struggled to defend on the Sunday shows.
On NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” he attacked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for recently leaked emails that suggest she has privately held positions that clashed with her public campaign statements, as revealing who she really is.
But asked by host Chuck Todd whether that means the public should assume Trump is the man who had the lewd conversation caught on tape in 2005, Giuliani gave a frustrated sigh and said he meant neither side should attack on personal issues because "both sides have sinned."
"You know, Chuck, the reality is that in both cases, both people have things in their personal lives that maybe if they could redo it, they would do it differently. And the reality is that this is a situation in which neither side should throw stones because both sides have sinned.
On ABC News’ "This Week," Giuliani acknowledged that in the leaked video of Trump’s private conversation from 2005 — during which he bragged about being able to “do anything” to women “when you’re a star,” including “grab them” by the genitals — he was in fact discussing sexual assault.
"That's what he was talking about, you know, whether it happened or not I don't know. How much exaggeration was involved in that? I don't know," he said.
Giuliani was the lone Trump surrogate left to defend the candidate, after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor and a Trump campaign adviser, called off their planned appearances on Sunday shows.
But the rocky showing for Giuliani — typically one of Trump’s most aggressive and unapologetic attack dogs — underscores the challenge confronting the GOP nominee at Sunday night’s presidential debate. In interview after interview, Giuliani acknowledged the severity of Trump’s words and that they were ultimately indefensible, but argued on the issues, Trump would win.
"If [Trump] were here, he wouldn't be defending his comments," Giuliani said on Fox News Sunday. "His comments were wrong. They were very wrong, and reprehensible. He's said that and apologized for it."
Giuliani later added: “He has apologized for this, and we believe if you get to the issues, he's the candidate that is much better suited to run the country than Hillary Clinton, who has her own set of flaws.”
It’s unclear exactly what "flaws" Trump plans to focus on on Sunday night, when he meets with Clinton for their second presidential debate.
Giuliani said on “Meet the Press” that he “believes” Trump “will not bring up Bill Clinton’s personal life,” but "there’s a possibility he’ll talk about Hillary Clinton’s situation."
But on Twitter Sunday, Trump himself hinted that his strategy to deflect from his own controversy will indeed be to focus on the former president’s past transgressions, as he tweeted a link to a Breitbart interview with self-described victims of Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual advances.
Sunday show appearances by Clinton’s surrogates seemed to suggest, however, a clear opening for Trump at the debate that has nothing to do with her husband’s misdeeds: The recently leaked emails that appear to show excerpts from Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has long refused to release to the public.
During the speeches, Clinton told a Wall Street crowd “you need both a public and private position” during negotiations and expressed support for “open trade and open borders,” comments that are at odds with her statements on the stump and could play into the public’s perception of her as untrustworthy.
Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, acknowledged on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “there's a distinction between what goes on in negotiations & what [Hillary's] positions are on the issues.”
But he insisted: “Her public position and what she’s going to fight for as president are one in the same.”
Vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, meanwhile, struggled to respond to questions concerning the accuracy of the documents released on CNN. Asked by host Jake Tapper whether it was true that Clinton wanted "open borders and free trade," Kaine deflected by responding, "I have no way of knowing that."
Still, the tape of Trump’s lewd remarks drew the most attention, and on that issue Democratic surrogates stuck to one unified message: “This is who this guy is,” as Clinton campaign chairman Podesta said on Fox News Sunday.
"This isn’t an exception," Podesta said. "He’s said the same horrible things about Latinos, about African-Americans, about Muslims. He’s made fun of a reporter with a disability."
When questioned on "Meet the Press' about whether will even show up at Sunday's presidential debate, given calls for him to bow out of the race, Giuliani was adamant:
"Oh, no, no, no, (laugh) he’s showing up, he’s as prepared as... as he’s ever been, and he’s all ready for the debate tonight, and he’s obviously ... you know, feels very bad about what he said, he’s apologized for it, will probably do it again. What he’d like to do is move on to the issues that are affecting the American people... they only have a few more days to think about it."