It seems like every time former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani opens his mouth or enters the conversation about the investigations into Donald Trump’s questionable activities, his reputation takes another hit. Giuliani’s performance as a Trump surrogate, from the moment he assumed a primary role after the Access Hollywood tape hit the news in October 2016 to his most recent gobsmackingly incompetent stints trying to explain what the president and his loyalists were doing in Ukraine, has been a disaster for his public image.
Trump loyalists put down criticisms of Giuliani as merely the determination by Democrats and their media cheering section to smear anyone connected to the president. Being a Trump crony undeniably put a target on his back. But his problems go deeper. At the same time, they are the flip side of a part of his public career receding further into the rearview mirror: his anti-crime successes as a prosecutor and mayor and his post-9/11 leadership in a smoldering city.
Giuliani’s murky role as Trump’s unofficial foreign representative in digging for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as the indictment of two of his associates on campaign finance violations linked to efforts by a Ukrainian businessman to get the U.S. ambassador to that country fired, has raised questions about whether he crossed the line from inappropriate conduct to possible criminal misbehavior.
Just as important in the besmirching of Giuliani’s good name is the consulting business he has operated since leaving City Hall that has resulted in the former firebrand of justice becoming a paid mouthpiece for some terrible actors on the world stage.
While not illegal, his work aiding regimes such as that of authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo seems unthinkable to those who remember the Rudy who once tossed Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat out of a Lincoln Center concert. Giuliani’s abandonment of principle was further on display when he aided the Turks’ efforts to get Washington to deport a leading dissident cleric back to the tender mercies of Ankara’s jailers.
Just as shocking, Giuliani Partners LLC, Rudy’s management and security consulting firm, has long done work for Qatar, a nation whose leadership is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore blamed by many of those who have long admired the former mayor for funding Islamist ideology and terror.
All of these factors have combined to make Giuliani something of a laughingstock for the pundit class. Giuliani is Trump’s personal attorney and is burdened with the hard task of defending presidential conduct that has transgressed previous norms, or, as Democrats claim, has crossed over into illegality. But the manner in which he has lashed out wildly against Trump’s accusers and sometimes contradicted his client’s claims of innocence on the Ukraine matter has made him appear as if he is more of a White House court jester than a legal adviser. Even those who wish to defend Trump against the Democratic assault on his administration have been forced to concede that Giuliani’s role in the debate about Ukraine has done his client more harm than good, while trashing his own reputation.
At this point, it’s getting hard to remember who Rudy Giuliani was before Trump. But it’s worth a reminder.
This was a man who built a reputation as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York as the fiercest foe of the mafia and the so-called “Sheriff of Wall Street.” During his eight years (1994-2002) as “America’s mayor,” Giuliani defied the skeptics, largely solved New York’s crime problem, and led its revival from basket-case city in an inexorable decline to a return to its former status as a glittering jewel that was still the business, media, and cultural capital of the nation. For a brief moment in 2007, polls even showed him to be the front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination before he crashed and burned in the early 2008 GOP primaries.
Giuliani’s descent from a point where he was a credible presidential contender and respected voice on national security, legal issues, and urban affairs to being dismissed as a clownish accessory to Trump’s White House circus and venal frontman for rogue regimes has puzzled some of his former advisers.
Ken Frydman, who was his campaign press secretary during Giuliani’s successful run for mayor in 1993, took to the op-ed page of the New York Times to speculate as to how his former hero had sunk so low.
Recycling a number of popular theories that have been floated in recent years by Rudy watchers, Frydman speculated that perhaps the 2016 death of Peter Powers, the former mayor’s close friend and chief political adviser, had removed a guardrail from his life. He also blamed Giuliani’s third wife Judi Nathan — whom Giuliani has now left in a messy divorce as his very public dismissal of second wife Donna Hanover — for leading him astray.
More importantly, he claimed that Giuliani’s acquisition of great wealth after transitioning from public service to lucrative legal and consulting work had fundamentally changed him from a “pizza and Diet Coke guy” to “an Upper East Side and Hamptons socialite and, worse yet, a Palm Beach neighbor of Donald Trump.”
It’s that last point that seems to have stuck in Frydman’s throat and that of others who might once have liked or admired Giuliani. As in so many other aspects of American political discourse, Trump is the dividing line. Whereas he was previously willing to accept the fact that Giuliani had, as most other political figures, profited from his public achievements by subsequently accepting large honorariums for speeches and becoming a consultant, now Frydman sees Rudy’s post-9/11 speechmaking as pure self-aggrandizement and profiteering and his business work to be shameful acts of a man without a moral compass. So long as Giuliani was merely taking money for representing “every rich guy and tinpot dictator who called,” Frydman refused to publicly disavow his former boss. But now that he is “lying for Trump,” Giuliani has gone beyond the pale.
But those who see his current conduct as completely at odds with everything he did during his brilliant ascent to prominence are making a mistake. Giuliani was always a rule breaker and willing to engage in outrageous conduct to serve the causes he believed and to get what he wanted. Like many heroes of classical literature, the flaws in an otherwise exceptionally talented individual were always there in plain sight-threatening to destroy him.
The son of a working-class couple in Brooklyn, the future mayor has always seen himself as someone who had to fight for everything he got. Unlike many other leading legal and political personalities who boasted more privileged backgrounds, Giuliani has never taken either wealth or his status in society for granted.
Giuliani long portrayed himself as a product of the mean streets of his native borough, but he actually spent most of his childhood in suburban Nassau County, to which his parents had moved when he was 7 years old. As Wayne Barrett’s 2001 biography Rudy — still, the most insightful book about Giuliani available — detailed, the future mayor had several uncles who were policemen but one who was a loan shark and bookie with mob connections and for whom his father Harold worked as a part-time bartender and sometime debt enforcer. Harold Giuliani also served a year in prison for mugging a milkman.
Though Giuliani said he was unaware of his father’s legal problems until he read about them as an adult, Barrett said the family’s move from East Flatbush to lower-middle-class Garden City South, and then subsequently slightly more upscale Bellmore, was largely the product of his parents’ fears about their only child being exposed to bad influences (including his criminal relatives) in Brooklyn. The need to establish a dichotomy between law-abiding society and crime is deeply embedded in his background. But equally important was the imperative to get ahead and stay there — despite lacking the advantages that others with less humble backgrounds had — by any means necessary.
Though he lived the life of a suburban kid playing Little League baseball, Giuliani was raised with the sort of outer-borough, working-class, chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that’s hard to shake. Rudy commuted back to Brooklyn to attend Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, where he embraced its culture of draconian discipline and became a hall monitor and catechism instructor. He then attended Manhattan College, another Catholic institution located in the Bronx, on scholarship, the way most upwardly mobile middle- and working-class children did in that era, before going on to New York University Law School.
The youthful Giuliani who went on to compete with Ivy League-educated legal hotshots was a Democrat who admired John F. Kennedy and volunteered for his brother Bobby’s 1968 Senate campaign and then served as a party committeeman on Long Island. But he switched his registration to Independent just before taking a job in the Justice Department during the Ford administration and became a Republican after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, when, with the help of fellow Italian-American Sen. Al D’Amato, he became associate attorney general and then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Once installed there, Giuliani was able to unleash his ruthless streak in pursuit of publicity and ambition.
Though there was nothing unique about his office targeting the mafia, Giuliani’s tactics weren’t so much aimed at law enforcement but, as he later stated plainly, to “wipe out the five [crime] families” that had dominated the city for decades. He achieved some success in this respect, convicting the heads of three of the families and sentencing them to long terms in prison as well as, according to Giuliani, causing them to take out a contract on his life that was never collected. But while it’s hard to criticize his goal, the all-or-nothing nature of his approach shows he didn’t always stay inside the lines before he encountered Trump.
Even more insight into Giuliani’s modus operandi can be gleaned from examining his full-scale assault on Wall Street. Though he gained the approving attention of the news media for his widely publicized prosecutions of financial titans Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, most of those who came under the scrutiny of the Southern District never served time in prison. Giuliani’s standard tactic wasn’t so much the “overkill” of his targeting of organized crime figures as it was to humiliate and overcharge defendants before quietly dropping their cases.
A staple of New York media coverage of Giuliani of the time was for him to arrange for reporters and cameras to be present when traders and Wall Street executives were frog-marched out of their offices in a televised “perp walk” while he expounded on their alleged crimes. Yet many, if not most, of those who got this treatment were not only never convicted but also never charged since the flimsy basis for their arrests wouldn’t stand up in court.
Giuliani’s record of convictions never matched the amount of attention he got for what he claimed was a crusade aimed at helping small investors victimized by large and unscrupulous firms. If rules had to be bent or broken in order to get another story lionizing him as the champion of the little guy, that’s what Giuliani did.
The same was true after he was elected mayor of New York City on his second try in 1993. Giuliani ran roughshod over existing political norms that had hampered the efforts of his predecessors to rein in corruption or to assist the police in cracking down on crime. He pushed through the adoption of a “broken windows” policy aimed at zero tolerance for crime, which had a domino effect on more serious transgressions.
Giuliani rightly earned the admiration of the city for doing something most smart people thought as impossible: reversing the city’s economic and social decline. On his watch, the city’s police culture changed fundamentally, putting prevention first, with techniques and technological innovations that became national models. Murders dropped 67% and total crime dropped 64%. Giuliani reduced benefits fraud and cleaned up the welfare rolls. Rudy saw his own plucky ability to stand on his own two feet reflected in the city. “With the President out of sight for most of that day,” Time’s Eric Pooley wrote about the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, “Giuliani became the voice of America. Every time he spoke, millions of people felt a little better. His words were full of grief and iron, inspiring New York to inspire the nation.”
But while this period of his career is not unreasonably viewed in retrospect as a time of golden achievements, it was only accomplished by ignoring the complaints of civil libertarians and those who worried about the disproportionate impact of his policies on minority populations.
His stint in Gracie Mansion also exposed the ruthless and even reckless sides of his personality. He squelched the careers of any subordinate whose good coverage rivaled that of his own, such as his brilliant first commissioner of police, William Bratton, and preferred the assistance of yes men and sycophants.
Nor was he constrained by the normal rules of politics where his political feuds were concerned. He had broken with his former patron, D’Amato, because he didn’t give a pass to the senator’s friends in the investment world. So he crossed party lines to endorse Mario Cuomo’s reelection bid for governor of New York in 1994 to spite D’Amato — the GOP candidate, George Pataki, was a protégé of his enemy.
The same principle extended to his personal life when, after becoming estranged from his second wife and the mother of his two children, Donna, over her suspicions of his infidelity with an aide, his affair with Judi became publicized. Donna learned of her husband’s plan to divorce her by watching him announce it at a televised press conference. There is nothing new about his uncontrolled public behavior since he became Trump’s attorney.
As for his pursuit of wealth, it might best be explained as not so much a newfound taste for luxury as the only outlet for his always-outsized ambition once his presidential hopes were exploded.
It’s true that putting the fear of God into mob bosses and Wall Street moguls — or challenging public sector unions and enforcing “broken windows” policies to stop crime — aren’t morally equivalent to lobbying for an Islamist authoritarian in Turkey or doing Trump’s dirty work. But the qualities that made it possible for Giuliani to dare to do things that caused people to treat him like a hero are the same ones that give him the chutzpah to perform less admirable activities.
He has gotten a lot wealthier and perhaps sloppier about providing his enemies with the ammunition they will use to try to destroy him. But today’s fatally flawed Giuliani is not a fundamentally different man from the one who once was considered presidential timber.
The Rudy of 2019 who has no shame about his lobbying or in making patently absurd or even false statements in defense of Trump is the same kid from a working-class, outer-borough family who pushed the envelope of acceptable behavior in all his endeavors on his way to becoming “America’s Mayor.” Those who were willing to forgive the rule-breaker who was the heroic Giuliani may have no tolerance for the less attractive figure, who now finds himself in the crosshairs of Trump’s critics and prosecutors. But those claiming that his character was fundamentally transformed or traduced by his association with the president, his ex-wife, or the money he has made are ignoring the fact that the tragic flaws — or hamartia, as the Greeks labeled the failings of the heroes of classical mythology — were always there to be seen.
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Date Posted: Friday, November 15th, 2019 , Total Page Views: 2017
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