WASHINGTON — President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in recent weeks has engaged in a near-nightly ritual of going on television to defend the White House against the Ukraine scandal and the ensuing impeachment inquiry. These appearances have left some of Trump’s allies concerned that the former New York mayor is doing more harm than good, but according to those close to the president, Trump still trusts Giuliani and is unlikely to rein him in.
A former Trump adviser told Yahoo News that the president views Giuliani’s belligerent cable news appearances as “highly entertaining” and “must-watch TV,” and some in the president’s inner circle say Trump always expected Giuliani to be an attack dog.
“I don’t see the circumstances where we could get the president to distance himself from Rudy,” the former adviser said.
In his cable news blitz, Giuliani loudly insulted anchors as he advanced a dubious allegation that Joe Biden, during his vice presidency in 2016, pushed to have a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating a company his son worked for ousted. There is no evidence to support this claim, however: Biden was among several international leaders who called for the prosecutor to be fired due to allegations of corruption. The investigation into the company had reportedly been closed before the push for the prosecutor’s removal.
This questionable accusation is central to the Ukraine scandal. Democrats announced the decision to launch an impeachment inquiry after revelations that Trump repeatedly pressed Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to work with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr on a potential probe of the Biden family’s activities in that country. The Trump administration withheld about $400 million of military aid to Ukraine while pressuring Zelensky to pursue the investigation of Biden’s son.
Joe Biden is currently running to replace Trump, and critics have argued that Trump was clearly asking a foreign nation to intervene in the election by hurting his rival. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and said his phone call with the Ukrainian leader was “perfect.”
On Sept. 19, hours after the first reports that Ukraine was the subject of a whistleblower complaint filed by a member of the intelligence community, Giuliani appeared on CNN’s “Chris Cuomo Prime Time.” During the half-hour interview, Giuliani repeatedly contradicted himself and branded Cuomo an “enemy.” The appearance generated widespread headlines and ended on a sour note when Cuomo said “good night” to Giuliani.
“You shouldn’t have a good night because what you’re doing is bad for the country,” Giuliani snapped back.
Some of the frustration with Giuliani in Trumpworld stems from the fact he has focused on the questionable claim that Biden sought the prosecutor’s firing rather than the general unseemliness of the foreign business dealings of the former vice president’s son.
“Rudy screwed the pooch,” the former Trump adviser said.
Prior to the drama over Trump’s outreach to the Ukrainian president, critics raised eyebrows over the fact that Hunter Biden had a highly paid position on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma as his father played a leading role in policy for that nation during the administration of President Barack Obama. The situation reportedly concerned White House officials at the time.
Part of Trump’s strategy to fight the impeachment inquiry has been an attempt to shift the focus to Biden. A former White House official said they believed questions about the propriety of Hunter Biden’s foreign work are a potent line of attack and expressed exasperation that Giuliani has fixated on suspect theories about the fired prosecutor.
“Rudy just ran with this,” the former official said. “He went streaking on the field during the Super Bowl.”
Giuliani and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Multiple sources who discussed Giuliani requested anonymity.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Attorney General Barr is among the members of the president’s inner circle who have disagreed with Giuliani’s tactics. The criticisms aren’t just about substance. Giuliani’s style is also raising eyebrows. His high volume, meandering, and angry television interviews have prompted mockery and questions about his mental state. On Wednesday, pranksters placed fake ads for Giuliani’s legal practice in the New York City subway system that called the ex-mayor “crazy” and “drunk.”
Some sources close to the president also expressed concern that Giuliani’s own foreign dealings could cause blowback for Trump. Since wrapping up his mayoralty in 2001, Giuliani has reportedly amassed a personal fortune of about $45 million. He has worked with foreign businesspeople and political figures through his former law firm, other legal work and his security consultancy. Public documents show Giuliani has been linked to work in more than a dozen foreign countries, and his dealings have included Ukrainian entrepreneurs and political figures.
Giuliani clearly has his detractors, but thus far the president seems pleased with the performance of his personal attorney. The pair have deep personal ties. In the late 1980s, Trump was an early backer of Giuliani’s unsuccessful first mayoral bid. The pair regularly attended the same parties on New York’s high society circuit. They took in the 2000 World Series together in Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s luxury box. Giuliani attended Trump’s second and third weddings.
As Giuliani went through his own divorce in 2000, Trump regularly played golf with Giuliani’s son, Andrew. Trump offered Andrew counsel, and Giuliani has credited the president with helping his relationship with his son following Giuliani’s split from his second wife. Andrew now works in the White House Office of Public Liaison, and multiple sources said he remains close with Trump.
During the 2016 campaign, Giuliani became one of Trump’s most visible surrogates. After Trump’s victory, a source said Giuliani was initially told he could be secretary of state, but the offer never came. Trump floated the idea of making Giuliani attorney general, but the ex-mayor was interested only in the State Department. Giuliani subsequently became Trump’s personal lawyer as the president faced special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Mike DuHaime, who managed Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, said the mayor was motivated to help Trump because he is a “very loyal person.”
“He’s been friends with Trump for decades,” DuHaime said of Giuliani. “So he’s got a friend who’s president of the United States who needs his help. He is going to be someone who jumps in and tries to help. He’s not going to be someone who stands on the sidelines.”
Giuliani’s work as a surrogate turned lawyer cemented his closeness to Trump. A source close to Giuliani noted that the president was particularly appreciative when Giuliani stood out as one of the only high-profile allies willing to defend him on the weekend after the infamous “Access Hollywood” video came out.
“For those in Trumpworld who want to criticize him, I would just say he’s been the most loyal to the president,” the source said. “There was nobody else on TV that weekend.”
The former Trump adviser said that since taking office, the president has also appreciated Giuliani’s discretion.
“Rudy has earned his trust. ... Trump hasn’t been able to have private conversations with people. It always gets leaked except when he talks to Rudy and Barr,” the ex-adviser said. “He’s sensitive on that issue, and Rudy’s earned his trust because he’s not a f***ing leaker.”
And Trump was also pleased with Rudy’s handling of the Mueller probe, which ended without the president being charged or even questioned in person by the special counsel. The former adviser said Trump was convinced of Giuliani’s “effectiveness” as he fended off Mueller. The source close to Giuliani agreed: “The president could not have gotten a better legal outcome in the Mueller investigation than he got.”
The source said Giuliani’s role as Trump’s personal attorney falls into two categories: Giuliani does legal work behind the scenes and serves as Trump’s “PR advocate” on television. While the source said Giuliani has clearly been “effective” as a lawyer, they conceded the former mayor’s public appearances during the investigation may not have played well.
“They, from a legal point of view, should take a victory lap. Now that doesn’t mean from a political point of view or a PR point of view it was perfect,” the source close to Giuliani said. “That’s where those two lines often blur. Is Rudy the attorney or a television advocate?”
Much of America knows Giuliani only as a flag-draped personification of post-9/11 leadership, so his irascible image on cable news has been something of a shock. But Trump and other New Yorkers might not be as surprised. Giuliani engaged in bare-knuckle politics for years in City Hall. One of the more infamous flashes of his temper came in 1999, when a man called in to his radio show upset about the city’s ferret ban. Giuliani called the man “deranged” for wanting to keep “little weasels” as pets. Four years earlier New York Daily News writer Jim Dwyer noted Giuliani had a penchant for vendettas against his political enemies.
“People who dissent from his world view are not mere opponents: They are evil cronies of the status quo,” Dwyer said of Giuliani.
Admirers say that Giuliani’s combativeness was honed during his years as a hard-charging prosecutor who was known for taking on the mob. And that toughness could be an asset as he sits in the eye of the current political storm.
DuHaime, the former campaign manager, recounted a story in which Giuliani was told there was a “credible threat on his life” from the five major Mafia families. Giuliani turned down a security detail. “He refused it because he said they would see it as a sign of weakness,” DuHaime said.
Giuliani survived the mob and, even with his temper, came out with a good reputation for his work as a prosecutor and mayor. Now that reputation is at risk, and Giuliani is on course to end his career facing constant criticism for defending Trump.
DuHaime has his own explanation for why Giuliani is going to the mat for Trump rather than spending the final stage of his career resting on his laurels and racking up speaking fees. DuHaime noted that Giuliani has had a long-held desire to maintain his influence.
“Rudy has always been someone who has wanted to be a person of consequence,” he said.
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