Almost 20 years after inspiring a nation as America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani faces a criminal probe and is reportedly trying to get paid by former President Donald Trump for his legal representation in the post-election battle.
It’s not wrong to point out many in Trump’s orbit end up far worse than before they came on board. But in this case, Trump took quite a beating from his association with Giuliani—who played a starring role in both of the 45th president’s impeachments.
A senior Trump administration official noted in an interview for my book, Abuse of Power, that Giuliani inserted himself into the Ukraine fiasco—for which the recent search warrant was executed. The official said the president’s lawyer clearly would have better served Trump if he had not. Further, the official complained there is no evidence Giuliani was acting at the direction of the president.
That aside, Trump should pay Giuliani for the post-election litigation for services rendered, even though—like in the Ukraine matter—Giuliani didn’t serve his client’s interests so well. Giuliani egged Trump on to pursue victory when the chances of changing the outcome of the 2020 election were hopeless. Granted, Trump likely didn’t need any egging on. But Giuliani was not exactly a good lawyer, nor a good friend, for not telling his client the cold truth.
The former New York mayor, Time’s 2001 Man of the Year, and a 9/11 hero, has said the current Justice Department’s investigation into him is political.
He may be right.
The DOJ and FBI’s reputation has suffered tremendously in recent years. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Giuliani’s reputation has also taken a horrendous and unrecoverable nosedive in the last two decades—which is a great tragedy, and a self-imposed one.
Even before 9/11, Giuliani was an outright miracle worker, bringing New York City back from the apocalypse. George Will called his eight years as mayor, “the most successful episode of conservative governance in the past 50 years upon welfare and crime particularly.” Despite that, he often received fawning coverage from the national media, which approved of his views on abortion, gay rights, and gun control. Before that, he was the U.S. attorney prosecuting high-profile mafia figures.
After being a frontrunner for a time, Giuliani’s socially liberal worldview and messy personal life blocked his quest for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Even after the primary collapse, Giuliani was still well-regarded enough by the party that John McCain made his vanquished former rival the keynote speaker for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
Had he not chosen to become the lawyer for Trump, Giuliani’s legacy would likely be that of a respected GOP elder today—though not necessarily deservedly so. Out of public office and in the private sector, Giuliani wasn’t all that picky about the reputation of clients. So, maybe it was the visibility of representing Trump that took its toll on the universal respect Giuliani held. The fact is, Trump had a comparatively sterling reputation compared to others Giuliani directly or indirectly advocated for.
Not long after leaving office, in 2002, Giuliani represented Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based drug firm that makes the painkiller OxyContin, a highly addictive drug with a high death toll from overdoses. During the 2008 presidential race, Giuliani’s consulting work for the Qatari government in 2007 became a small issue. Giuliani has also worked for Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK, which the State Department labeled a terrorist group until 2012. The former mayor was among several former prominent U.S. officials from both sides of the aisle, including former Democrat and Republican governors and Cabinet officials, who spoke at MEK conferences and advocated for the group to be delisted as a terrorist group.
This was all before he became Trump’s personal lawyer.
During the first Trump impeachment drama, a pro-Trump White House official interviewed for my book said he believed Giuliani was in Ukraine largely for personal business reasons. The Trump-hostile Fiona Hill, a former National Security Agency official, had a similar view in her deposition during the early impeachment hearings, asserting the former mayor’s travel to Ukraine, “was part of what seemed to be a package of issues that he was pushing for, including what seemed to be the business interests of his own associates.”
Perhaps that will also come out as a result of the FBI’s search warrant, which reportedly involved a familiar cast of characters from the first impeachment, including: Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman; former Ukraine Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who said he was fired for investigating Burisma; another former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko; and even former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Chillingly in the mix—from a free press perspective—is journalist John Solomon. It’s concerning when the government investigates communications between a journalist and a source regardless of the circumstances.
Lutsenko, the prosecutor who replaced Shokin, tried to hire Giuliani to arrange a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr about efforts to recover Ukrainian assets that had been looted. Giuliani admitted he considered taking the job but determined it “would be too complicated” to do so while acting as the president’s personal attorney. If he was being paid from sources in another country to influence the U.S. government, the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) would require him to register as a foreign lobbyist.
The FBI is investigating a FARA violation, a law enforced a little more often than the Logan Act. If FARA is all that’s going on here, then the Justice Department might be on the verge of embarrassing itself again. But, it’s not uncommon for law enforcement to use a lesser offense as the pretext for getting a warrant to build a bigger case—quite possibly to flip against Trump on some yet unknown grounds.
During the Trump administration, when foreign clients knew Giuliani was close to the president, he took up some interesting work. He didn’t seem to hesitate in taking international clients, such as Ukrainian oligarch Pavel Fuks in 2017. Also in 2017, before he was Trump’s lawyer, Giuliani pushed for the Trump administration to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, an enemy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That same year, Giuliani separately tried to stop the federal prosecution of his Turkish-Iranian client Reza Zarrab, a gold trader accused of financial crimes and of helping the Iranian government evade U.S. sanctions. Both efforts were unsuccessful.
In 2018, Giuliani broke with the U.S. State Department—actually, the Trump administration—when he wrote Romanian President Klaus Iohannis to criticize the country’s anti-corruption laws, complaining of the “excesses” in enforcement. In the letter, he neither said who he was working for nor did he specify he wasn’t speaking for Trump. The former mayor was working for the Freeh Group, a consulting firm run by former Clinton FBI Director Louis Freeh. The Freeh Group represented Romanian businessman Gabriel Popoviciu, who had been sentenced to seven years in prison the prior year over an allegedly corrupt real estate deal.
So, it’s perhaps time for those on the right to give a presumption of—if not innocence—at least goodwill in the investigation of Giuliani. At the same time, let’s clearly state that Giuliani should have the same presumption of innocence as any other polarizing political figure under investigation, as difficult as that is for his enemies. Skepticism based on past conduct in the Russia probe is understandable and healthy. But conservatives should resist a knee-jerk assumption that every Justice Department action regarding a Republican is illegitimate.
For one, if this is an entirely politics-driven investigation from the Biden Justice Department, it seems a mighty risky one. That’s because much of what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine was investigating the Biden family’s international conflict-of-interest racket. Such a prosecution would only bring Hunter Biden’s profiteering at the time then-Vice President Biden was working with the country to the forefront.
It’s this riskiness that makes it seem that maybe, just maybe, the FBI is conducting its investigation despite—not because of—politics.
On another front, this FBI probe raises the specter that something illegal might have actually happened concerning Ukraine-gate. If or how that could tie to Trump isn’t at all clear. But what made Trump’s first impeachment the weakest in U.S. history was that no actual crime was alleged, only vagueness about “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress,” which relied almost entirely on guessing his motive.
As much of a central figure as Giuliani was for Trump’s first impeachment, he also loomed large in the second. After pushing a contorted legal argument that the 12th Amendment allows Congress to send the election results back to state legislatures, he spoke at the Jan. 6 rally. The key mitigating factor for Trump’s second impeachment on charges of “inciting an insurrection” was that during his Jan. 6 remarks, he told supporters to march “peacefully and patriotically” to the Capitol. By contrast, Giuliani spoke before the president calling for “trial by combat,” which is far more open to misinterpretation by the few hundred violent thugs in the audience looking for a fight.
If there is ever a Mount Rushmore of mayors, Giuliani still deserves a spot. He hasn’t been charged with anything and might be entirely innocent in his current investigation. That doesn’t change the fact that in his post-mayorship, he has conducted himself in a way that has severely tarnished his reputation—and he’s solely responsible for that.
Fred Lucas, the author of Abuse of Power: Inside the Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump (Post Hill Press, 2020), is the chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal.
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