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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

With his constant commentating and public negotiating, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is setting up unmeetable expectations for special counsel Robert Mueller — a kind of insurance policy with the president's base.

What he's saying: The former New York mayor told Fox News' Sean Hannity in an interview last night that the investigation should be "over by September," and that Mueller's case "isn’t going to fizzle. It's going to blow up on them." He added, "[T]here's a lot more to what they did that nobody knows about yet ... a lot more to the obstruction of justice, to the collusion, to the fake dossier."

Giuliani told Axios that there are two topics the president's lawyers want to rule out in order to agree to a Trump sit-down with Mueller:

  1. Why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
  2. What Trump said to Comey about the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Giuliani mentioned those as if they were minor details — totally reasonable areas for Mueller to agree to avoid.

  • In fact, they’re central to the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.

So here's how to read between the lines of Giuliani's frequent media appearances:

  1. Rudy is pushing and pulling Mueller, and every day throws more mud over the investigation.
  2. The mayor is exploiting Mueller’s silence. Because Mueller can’t and won’t discuss the investigation, Rudy gets to monopolize the airwaves and frame the debate on his terms.
  3. Giuliani is publicly rushing Mueller to wrap up his investigation by September, and at the same time trying to rule out some of the key questions Mueller wants to explore with Trump before wrapping up the probe.

Giuliani is also personalizing it, framing everything as Mueller trying to entrap Trump.

  • The theater of going back and forth with Mueller is designed to create a public impression — or at least an impression in the eyes of Republican voters — that Mueller has personal animus towards Trump, and is trying to use legal trickery to steal the election from Trump voters. This is pure P.R.  

Why it matters: Giuliani is publicly setting up Mueller with expectations he must know Mueller can’t meet.

  • There's no way Mueller is wrapping this thing up by Sept. 1.
  • And there's no way Mueller will agree to an interview with Trump on the condition that he won’t ask him two of the critical questions about obstruction of justice.
  • By claiming them as totally reasonable asks, when Mueller ultimately doesn’t deliver by Labor Day, Rudy helps fuel the base’s rage all the way through to midterms.

Be smart: The strategy is working.

  • You see in polls that Trump has made the investigation a red-blue issue.
  • You see it in footage of Republican voters at town halls, echoing the anti-Mueller line.

Go deeper: Rudy late last month on Mueller: "They don't have a goddamn thing."

Go deeper

America can't quit polarizing politicians

Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New data finds that the nation's most polarizing politicians are often the ones that garner the most attention online.

Why it matters: Online engagement helps politicians build a bigger national profile and more fundraising power, incentivizing them be more outrageous, more polarizing and more divisive.

Market bubble or bust, Big Tech wins

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With many bellwether tech stocks down more than 10% since the year's start, the industry is once again debating whether it faces a "big one" — a financial earthquake that will end a two-decade run of spectacular growth.

The big picture: Whether January's downs prove a turning point or just a minor "correction," tech's giants know that, either way, they'll come out on top.

Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbers

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Two new Biden administration initiatives — mailing at-home COVID-19 tests to those who ask and making free N95 masks available — are hugely popular, each backed by 84% of Americans in the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Yes, but: Those who may need these most — the unvaccinated — are less likely to take advantage of the offerings, the survey found. And neither has boosted President Biden's numbers so far, meaning it's too little too late, or too soon to see a change.