President Donald Trump publicly undermined his attorney Rudy Giuliani on Friday, saying the former New York City mayor had only a loose grasp of the Stormy Daniels business when he spoke about it earlier this week.
A clarifying statement from Giuliani issued four hours later did little to illuminate the matter. Instead, the series of pronouncements only lent further confusion to an issue that has deeply undercut the administration's credibility and has fueled the impression of a West Wing in crisis.
"He''ll get his facts straight," Trump stipulated of his longtime friend on Friday morning, before adding: "There has been a lot of misinformation. I say, You know what? Learn before you speak. It's a lot easier."
Calling Giuliani a "great guy," Trump nonetheless insisted his attorney wasn't fully up to speed when he told an interviewer that Trump had reimbursed another lawyer for hush money paid to Daniels, an adult film actress who claims she had sex with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the encounter.
"He really has his heart into it. He's working hard," Trump said of Giuliani, before adding: "He's learning the subject matter."
By midday, Giuliani had issued a statement he said was "intended to clarify the views I expressed over the past few days." But it did little to spell out when precisely Trump knew of the payment, or how involved he was in reimbursing Cohen.
"My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President's knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters," Giuliani wrote.
He asserted the payment would have been made "whether he was a candidate or not."
Trump sought to clarify the matter during a pair of morning appearances as he departed for Dallas, where he will address the National Rifle Association. He spoke first outside the South Portico, as his Marine One helicopter was idling nearby, and again under the wing of Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews.
It was his first time speaking about the matter after Giuliani sat for an interview this week and claimed Trump had paid back his lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 hush payment to Daniels, an adult film actress whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.
Trump seemed to initially back up Giuliani's statement on Twitter the morning after his interview. But he reversed course on Friday.
"Everything said has been said incorrectly," he said. Giuliani, who announced he was joining Trump's legal team 15 days ago, "started yesterday," the President insisted.
"When Rudy made the statements -- Rudy is great -- but Rudy had just started, and he wasn't totally familiar with everything," he said.
Trump had previously said he wasn't aware of the payment. He told reporters aboard Air Force One a month ago "no" when questioned about his knowledge of the arrangement.
'Not changing any stories'
He grew indignant on Friday when pressed about the shifting version of events.
"We're not changing any stories," Trump demanded on the Andrews tarmac. "This country is right now running so smooth and to be bringing up that kind of crap, and bringing up witch hunts all the time, that's all you want to talk about."
As reporters interjected, Trump chided them -- "excuse me, excuse me" -- and insisted they review what he'd said.
"You take a look at what I said. You go back and take a look," he ordered. "You'll see what I said."
The remarkable series of appearances did little to clarify matters, which have served to erode the credibility both of the President and his aides, who insisted Trump knew nothing of the hush payments.
Trump, however, said there should be no confusion.
"It's actually very simple," he declared without explanation.
The matter has again plunged the President's staff and legal team into crisis mode and left them scrambling to catch up with events. There was little indication beforehand that Giuliani had planned to reveal the payment details on Wednesday night, despite his insistence that he remains aligned with his client.
"You wont see daylight between me and the President," Giuliani told CNN's Dana Bash on Thursday.
If there was a strategy cooked up between the President and his lawyer, most White House aides were left in the dark. Chief of staff John Kelly was among the aides who watched the Giuliani interview with shock on Wednesday.
Kelly's stature inside the White House has long been the subject of speculation. But Trump sought to bolster his standing on Friday.
"We have a great relationship. He's doing a great job as chief of staff. I could not be more happy," Trump said. "So I just want to tell you that."