By Archie Bland* The Guardian
President’s fixer, fireman and ‘first friend’ now looks to be heading for an end point
On election night, as it started to become clear that the presidency was slipping away from Donald Trump, his son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner was looking for a hero.
He wanted someone like James Baker, the New York Times reported, the former White House chief of staff, Treasury secretary and secretary of state, who led George W Bush’s legal team during the Florida recount in 2000 in a role that won him praise as a strategic and diplomatic genius.
He got Rudy Giuliani.
A fortnight ago, Giuliani was angrily defending himself after a clip from the new Borat film showed him apparently fiddling with his crotch as he lay on the bed in a hotel room where he had gone for a drink with a young woman who was posing as a Kazakh television journalist. “I was tucking in my shirt,” he explained later. He denied any wrongdoing and describing the footage as “complete fabrication”.
Now the president’s personal attorney is accusing his opponents of being “an embarrassment to our reputation throughout the world” and leading Trump’s last stand, helming the legal effort to keep Joe Biden out of the White House.
On Wednesday afternoon he tweeted that he was “en route to Philadelphia with legal team” to challenge what he called – without offering any evidence – “massive cheating”. Since then, six of his tweets have been flagged by Twitter as containing misleading information.
At a press conference on Thursday, he gave a speech in which he claimed – again without providing evidence – that one person could have voted 100,000 times. Giuliani, with no neck and a pocket square, declared his interest in launching a nebulous “national lawsuit” to challenge the results. “Do you think we’re stupid?” he asked. “Do you think we’re fools?”
His attempts to keep Trump in the White House, if they result in failure as most experts seem to think they will, may mark some sort of end point for the 76-year-old Giuliani, once a fearless criminal prosecutor and hero of 9/11 who few people disputed had earned his honorary knighthood and the title of America’s Mayor.
Three months after the twin towers fell, he completed his term in New York and embarked on a highly lucrative career on the speaking circuit, commanding as much as $200,000 per engagement, for each of which his contract demanded transportation in the form of a private jet that “MUST BE a Gulfstream IV or bigger”.
Over the next six years he brought in about $30m, he was a member of 11 country clubs and had six homes.
A run at the presidency seemed the next obvious step. But after a vastly expensive campaign for the Republican nomination ended with just a single delegate to his name, something shifted in public perceptions of Giuliani, perhaps nudged along by Biden’s timeless summary on the campaign trail: “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” Giuliani never forgot that slight, it is said.
Those closest to him noticed a change, too. Judith Nathan, his third ex-wife, told New York magazine in 2018 that the end of their marriage was “an ongoing process that began when he lost the presidential campaign. For a variety of reasons that I know as a spouse and a nurse, he has become a different man.”
Trump’s campaign for the presidency offered a chance at reinvention, and Giuliani secured for himself a role that Chris Christie, formerly a Trump confidante himself, summarised as “first friend”. When the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump boasted about sexual assault came out, surrogates and supporters began to melt away. Only Giuliani was prepared to defend him, appearing on every one of the five prominent Sunday morning talkshows that set the US political agenda. “This is talk, and gosh almighty, he who hasn’t sinned, throw the first stone here,” he said.
Steve Bannon, then Trump’s chief strategist, later described his role as indispensable. “One of the reasons we won is Rudy was there 24/7,” Bannon says. “Rudy was hardcore. He’s like a honey badger. ”
Giuliani was denied the reward he coveted as secretary of state, instead settling definitively into Trump’s personal orbit as his fixer and fireman, wholly reconciled to the accompanying loss of dignity.
In 1993, when the New York Times called him a “jutjawed lawman” whose “cultural and psychic sensibilities froze in about 1961”, he refused to let Trump buy him breakfast for fear of an appearance of impropriety. By 2019, he was acting as the president’s unpaid personal attorney, a gift that went undeclared.
He has also advised the president on the legality of his “Muslim ban” and as a “cybersecurity adviser”. Most notorious was his leading role in Trump’s attempt to dredge up a scandal about the Biden family in Ukraine – a role that led career diplomats to accuse him during the impeachment hearings of conducting a “shadow foreign policy”. He has appeared in ads for Cigar Aficionado magazine and seen his own daughter endorse Biden.
Assuming the failure of his so far eccentric legal representations, he now looks bound for a return to the peanut gallery. If such a welcome is all that is left to him in the city he once led, how will he feel?
Relaxed, he has claimed. “My attitude about my legacy is ‘fuck it’,” he said last year. In any case, he insists, he will be remembered fondly in the end. “I will be the hero,” he said during the Ukraine affair. ‘These morons – when this is over, I will be the hero.”
*Archie Bland is a senior reporter for the Guardian