News World In defending Trump, is Rudy Giuliani a shrewd tactician or ‘untethered’?

In defending Trump, is Rudy Giuliani a shrewd tactician or ‘untethered’?

rudy giuliani
Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani, has declared he will not comply with a subpoena issued as part of the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry. Photo: Getty
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The man identified these days as President Donald Trump’s lawyer seems vaguely familiar. It’s in the way he feigns genuine laughter. How he clasps his hands. How he widens his eyes, as if he has just been handed a birthday cake with a firecracker for a candle.

He is, of course, Rudolph Giuliani, whose public utterances of late have people debating whether he is a shrewd manipulator of public opinion or just befuddled. But all agree he relishes the limelight, every microphone a corkscrew capable of unleashing the spirits of his considerable id.

Indeed, he is working for the president free of charge.

There Mr Giuliani was again on Thursday, opining from a Trump-owned golf course in Scotland while dressed in green-plaid golf togs bearing the Trump name. When a reporter from Sky News asked whether he thought that impeachment of Mr Trump was inevitable, Mr Giuliani defended his client with a few provocative assertions before closing with: “You’d only impeach him for political reasons, and the American people would revolt against that.”

This followed other recent Giuliani moments, including his claim on Sean Hannity’s radio show that conspiracy is not a crime, and his curious philosophical assertion on Meet The Press that “Truth isn’t truth”.

Mr Giuliani was once seen as a kind of national healer — America’s mayor, he was called, in tribute to his leadership of New York City in the fresh wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many thought he embodied a country’s resolve.

But speaking by telephone from Scotland last week, the erstwhile icon, now 74, detailed for the first time his strategy for representing the president, in blunt and divisively political terms. Mr Giuliani said he believes that since Mr Trump is essentially having his day in court, in real time, his “jury is the public”.

The court of public opinion

Some who are close to the man say Mr Giuliani’s calculated and cut-throat approach channels his client, and serves as a tactical attack on the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.

Given the Justice Department’s long-standing policy and the view of many legal scholars that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mr Giuliani is exercising his lawyerly skills in the court of public opinion to ward off the mutterings of impeachment.

Michael Bromwich, a lawyer who served in the US attorney’s office under Mr Giuliani and who has publicly criticised him in recent months, said his former boss seems to have “lost something”.

“He doesn’t seem to be well prepared,” Mr Bromwich said. “He doesn’t seem to have his facts straight. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the legal exposure that he’s creating for his client.”

After the 2001 terror attacks Mr Giuliani was sometimes called “America’s mayor”. He toured the World Trade Center site with governor George Pataki and then-senator Hillary Clinton. Photo: AAP

Mr Giuliani shrugged off suggestions he was a discombobulated advocate, ill serving a client who happens to be the so-called leader of the free world.

“You probably can’t do this without making a mistake or two,” he said, then quickly noted with evident satisfaction that “Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted, and Trump is a little ahead of the game”.

“So I think we’ve done really well,” he said. “And my client’s happy.”

‘Somebody I really like’

In the adrenaline-charged atmosphere of Manhattan in the 1980s and ‘90s, both were boldface names from the outer boroughs with reputations as attention-loving aggressors. Mr Trump was a real estate developer with a fondness for gold-plated glitz; Mr Giuliani was the US attorney for the Southern District and then the mayor, with a fondness for perp walks, cigars and endless viewings of The Godfather.

“I would consider him to be a good friend,” Mr Giuliani said on Thursday. “Somebody I really like. Somebody who supported me politically several times — who spoke up for me.”

Judith Giuliani, Mr Giuliani, Mr Trump and Melania Trump at the 2006 opening of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York City. Photo: Getty

Mr Giuliani recalled after his disastrous candidacy for the presidency in 2008, he found refuge on Trump property. “I spent a month at Mar-a-Lago, relaxing,” he said, referring to Mr Trump’s Florida resort.

But their mutual admiration was not rooted only in expedience. In 2000, Mr Giuliani revealed at a news conference he was separating from his second wife, Donna Hanover — which was news to her. The public unraveling of his marriage and his courtship of his future wife, Judith Nathan, recalled Mr Trump’s own connubial travails several years earlier, when his affair with Marla Maples, while still married to Ivana Trump, was the gift that kept on giving to the city’s tabloids.

Mr Giuliani’s divorce led to an estrangement with his son Andrew which, he says, Mr Trump helped to heal by counselling the young man over games of golf at his course in Westchester.

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Mr Giuliani joined Mr Trump on the campaign trail in October 2016. They stopped to buy cookies at an Eat’n Park restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. Photo: Stephen Crowley / NYT

“When I got divorced, there was the usual anxiety, maybe even anger,” Mr Giuliani said. “He would golf with Andrew and explain, ‘It doesn’t mean your father doesn’t love you’. I feel indebted to him for that.”

Called off Republican backbench

As Mr Giuliani’s political fortunes waned, those of Mr Trump improbably soared. The former mayor campaigned tirelessly for his friend during the 2016 presidential campaign, most notably during the Republican National Convention, when he delivered an endorsement speech so apocalyptic — “There’s no next election!” he hollered. “This is it!” — that some openly questioned his mental stability.

But after Mr Trump’s election, Mr Giuliani’s attempts to offer his services as the next secretary of state went nowhere. Declining the job of attorney general, he was relegated to the Republican backbench, at the edge of the limelight.

That is, until March, when the president’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, quit after deciding his counsel was not being heard. Given the president’s reputation for not being especially open to legal advice, there was no rush of candidates to fill the position.

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Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani in 1995 at a groundbreaking ceremony for Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle. Photo: Getty

Another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, resurrected the Giuliani name, and soon, over a private dinner at Mar-a-Lago, the president asked Mr Giuliani how he would handle the Mueller investigation if he were retained.

According to Mr Giuliani, he told Mr Trump he thought he and his team “had somewhat become punching bags” and argued the Mueller investigation was not an inquiry for a grand jury, but one that might result in a report to be presented to Congress. Given these realities, he said, “public opinion is going to have a lot to do with it”.

Head to head with Mueller

The former mayor joined the Trump team — pro bono.

Mr Giuliani said he spent a couple of weeks reading reams of documents, then met with Mr Mueller to stake out some understandings — including that the special counsel does not have the power to indict a sitting president.

“Mueller was a little ambiguous about it at the meeting,” Mr Giuliani said, then added: “Two weeks later, he said they understood they couldn’t indict. It was about writing a report. Since then, we’ve been focused on will he or won’t he be interviewed and the terms.”

Ever since, Mr Giuliani has been a central player in the ever-unfolding political drama of an administration chafing under the scrutiny of an independent investigation. Along the way, he has seemed to go off script, improvising, riffing — distracting.

“There’s no next election!” Mr Giuliani hollered during the Republican National Convention in 2016. Photo: Josh Haner / NYT

His remarkable moments include his surprise revelation on the Fox network in May that Mr Trump knew, despite prior claims to the contrary, about a hush-money payment that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to the adult film actress, Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.

Mr Giuliani initially called this funnelling of money from president to porn star “a very regular thing for lawyers to do”. He later tried to clarify his comments, admitting he was “still learning” the case and was “not an expert on the facts yet”.

Giuliani’s ‘behavioural changes’

All of this has played out while Mr Giuliani’s private life has been in upheaval. His third wife, Judith Giuliani, recently filed for divorce.

According to a statement issued by her lawyer Bernard Clair, Ms Giuliani “prefers to maintain her silence about the reasons for her filing and the causes behind the behavioural changes of her husband that have become obvious to even his most ardent supporters”.

His change in behaviour often seemed at odds with the Rudy Giuliani who seemed transformed by the tragedy of September 11, somehow rising above his petty gripes and personal failures to lead with the resolve of one of his heroes, Winston Churchill.

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Judith Giuliani, Mr Giuliani’s third wife, has filed for divorce. Photo: Doug Mills / NYT

Those close to him remember the Giuliani of September 2001, who turned away during a news conference so that people would not see him weeping; who arranged for psychiatric counselling for aides immersed in the tragedy’s aftermath; who worked hard to choose his words carefully when discussing the number of dead.

Daniel Richman, a Columbia Law School professor and former prosecutor under Mr Giuliani, said he had felt “honoured to serve under him and thrilled to work in his office”.

But now?

“Now I feel embarrassed to be connected to him,” Dr Richman said. “I think there is a hectoring and bullying aspect to the way he’s been presenting himself for several years that seems untethered to the respect for the law and decency that I knew him to have had.”

But Marc Mukasey, a prominent defence lawyer and Mr Giuliani’s friend and former law partner, most recently at Greenberg Traurig, dismissed such criticism. “Rudy is trying the case in the only viable forum, which is the media,” he said.

Mr Mukasey, the son of the former attorney general, said he was speaking only for himself and not his firm, Greenberg, which Mr Giuliani left amid some awkwardness after he joined Mr Trump’s team.

In the end, he said, “What is Rudy going to do? Save his comments for the courtroom? There’s not going to be a courtroom.”

The New York Times

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