Rudy Giuliani’s love life is causing trouble for the White House.
In a move that blindsided the West Wing and sent Hill Republicans into a tizzy, the president’s personal attorney is throwing his support behind an obscure House candidate in Louisiana trying to take out incumbent GOP Rep. Clay Higgins. But the bizarre tale of Giuliani’s interest in an off-the-radar congressional race only begins there.
It turns out the ex-New York mayor’s new girlfriend, GOP fundraiser Jennifer LeBlanc, is working for the Republican challenger in the race, Josh Guillory. LeBlanc had been on Higgins’ payroll until late last year when she abruptly parted ways with the congressman.
"We have a National Enquirer-type situation going on down in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District," said state Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Higgins backer who hails from the area.
Giuliani’s involvement, Landry added, is “ridiculous.”
The former mayor’s foray into the race has infuriated senior party officials, who are convinced Giuliani is acting at his paramour’s behest. At a time when the president is aggressively working to sway GOP primaries in conservative areas where he’s popular, Republican leaders worry that Giuliani will give Guillory the imprimatur of Trump’s blessing, even though the president hasn’t endorsed in the race. The president remains highly popular in the Lafayette-area district: An internal poll conducted by the Guillory campaign this spring found Trump’s approval at over 64 percent.
“I just think this is not the proper place for him to come down and challenge an existing congressman,” said Charlie Buckels, a longtime Republican activist in Louisiana and member of the state party finance committee. “It seems quite odd to me, and I’m just disappointed.”
Party leaders typically do everything in their power to reelect incumbents, not prop up long-shot primary challengers. Higgins has received financial support from a range of House Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who has taken the freshman congressman under his wing. Scalise has sent out fundraising emails on Higgins behalf.
Giuliani is set to travel to southwestern Louisiana on Monday to headline a fundraiser for Guillory. The trip will come two weeks after a Trump-endorsed Republican candidate, Katie Arrington, unseated South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford in a primary.
White House officials have told Higgins allies privately they have little say over Giuliani’s political activities and that he orchestrates them on his own. Yet that has done little to quell the anger of senior Republicans.
Advisers to Scalise, the dean of the Louisiana congressional delegation, have contacted political aides to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to complain about Giuliani’s trip and reaffirm Scalise’s support for Higgins.
Baffled Louisiana Republican Party officials, meanwhile, have phoned the White House and Republican National Committee to figure out Giuliani’s motivations and check whether he’s speaking for the president.
"From the party’s standpoint Clay’s done a good job as our congressman. He’s been a supporter of the party and our delegation,” said Andrew Bautsch, the Louisiana GOP executive director. “We can’t control what Giuliani does and who he supports, but from the party’s standpoint, [Higgins has] been a good congressman."
Higgins has privately told allies that he was caught by surprise by the former mayor. The congressman has closely aligned himself with the president during the campaign, delivering a series of floor speeches praising Trump’s actions.
"I’m unfazed,” Higgins said in a statement. “My focus is on serving and continuing to deliver wins for Louisiana and America. I stand with President Trump and will continue to help him advance the conservative agenda in Congress.”
Higgins added: “I’m not concerned with who Rudy Giuliani is dating."
Giuliani is slated to host a one-hour round-table event on behalf of Guillory’s campaign, and will also appear at a luncheon. Donors are being asked to contribute up to $2,700 to see the 74-year-old former mayor.
Giuliani, who recently divorced his wife of 15 years, Judith Nathan, went public with his relationship with Leblanc last week last week. "We are dating, however not that advanced yet," he told the New York Daily News.
Neither Giuliani nor Leblanc would comment. The White House also did not respond to requests for comment.
A campaign spokeswoman for Guillory, Amy Jones, called Giuliani and Leblanc “long-time friends,” and noted that Leblanc worked on the mayor’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“Mayor Giuliani is happy to help Josh’s campaign with raising early money to help level the playing field, which will ultimately be decided by voters in Louisiana’s 3rd District,” Jones added. “Mayor Giuliani is pleased to help Josh this Monday.”
Under Louisiana’s unusual election calendar, the primary will be held on November 6. If no candidate elipses 50 percent, a runoff follows on December 8.
Giulini has emerged as a maverick figure in recent weeks. Since joining Trump’s legal team this spring, Giuliani quickly became one of the president’s highest-profile defenders and surrogates on the Russia probe. Yet he drew a torrent of headlines for seemingly off-message remarks, some of which had little to do with legal matters.
The former mayor said North Korean leader Kim Jung Un got “on his hands and knees and begged” Trump to hold their summit. Giuliani said the first lady Melania Trump “believes” her husband’s account of his alleged extra-marital affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, a comment that drew a rebuke from the first lady’s office. And he has spoken out on foreign affairs, saying the president is “committed to regime change” in Iran, getting out ahead of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Now he’s injecting himself into a contentious primary against an incumbent House lawmaker. Guillory has eagerly accepted the mayor’s help, promoting the fundraiser on social media.
Most political observers see Guillory as the underdog. Through the end of March, the incumbent had more than twice as much money in his war chest, and Higgins’ internal poll showed him with a massive lead.
So Giuliani’s help was much welcomed by the challenger.
“I’m excited about it, it’s definitely going to help us build momentum,” said Guillory, who like other Republican primary challengers running this year has cast himself as an anti-establishment figure. “Rudy Giuliani looked at this seat and said there’s a better candidate than Clay Higgins and that’s Josh Guillory.”
Guillory acknowledged that he hadn’t received the president’s direct endorsement. But he added: “Whether there’s an implication or not, I’ll let people make their own decision.”
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