What Happened to America's Mayor?
This story appears in the June 2020 print edition of Rolling Stone.
Not long ago, Rudy Giuliani was traveling in a car across New York City with Jon Sale, his longtime friend, when some construction workers saw the former mayor and approached the vehicle. Giuliani lowered the window. “One of them,” Sale recalls, “said, ‘Mr. Mayor, I would like to shake your hand and thank you for what you did for New York. I wish you were still mayor.’ ”
This happens a lot to Rudy Giuliani, and it reflects what he once represented to most Americans: a man whose steady response to the attacks of September 11th, 2001, transcended partisan politics and transformed him into a national hero. Christened “America’s Mayor,” Giuliani for years was an immensely popular figure who appeared destined for a lucrative, decorated career at the spires of American business and government.
Two decades later, Giuliani is in free fall. The past few years on the national stage have left his reputation in tatters, marked in history for his role in the Ukraine extortion scandal that got a president impeached. He has seemed, at times, unstable and incoherent, contradicting both himself and the president in wild appearances on cable news, while spinning a web of conspiracy theories with Joe Biden at the center.
Giuliani’s ever-dwindling circle of friends — “I got about five friends left,” he was overheard telling someone near a reporter for the New York Daily News in one of his frequent phone mishaps — maintains that Rudy is still Rudy. A bit older at 76 (as of May 28th), sure, but still the same brash maverick he always was, and anybody who says otherwise has an ax to grind.
But others, even those with a deep affinity for Rudy, have been stunned as a man they barely recognize pokes at his iPad in Fox News interviews or drools through a boozy lunch with a reporter. Raoul Felder, his divorce lawyer, tells Rolling Stone “the Rudy Giuliani that I knew was a very careful, brilliant lawyer. . . . It’s hard to comport what I see and the way he was.”
Rick Wilson, the GOP political consultant who credits Giuliani with making his career, says he will defend to his dying breath the Giuliani of 9/11, but he adds, “It’s a cliché that if you live long enough, you’ll see your heroes become villains.”
As Giuliani’s friends have slipped away over the years, some have been replaced by people who the Rudy of 35 years ago would have put in prison. Now, the U.S. attorney’s office he once ran is taking a hard look at his Ukraine activities, while many in the White House view Giuliani as toxic and blame him for the president’s impeachment.
Countless reputations have been sacrificed in the fires of Trump worship, but Giuliani’s decline is remarkable given his once-towering stature. So what happened to America’s Mayor? How did this successful former prosecutor, New York City mayor, and national hero land so far on the wrong side of public opinion, history, and possibly the law. How did he become so completely beholden to Donald Trump, a man Giuliani once refused to let buy him breakfast? And why is he still pursuing a Ukraine investigation that has been both discredited and damaging for Rudy and his boss?
Lev Parnas, Giuliani’s unlikely former associate in the Ukraine investigation, spoke to Rolling Stone about his erstwhile partner, whom he once welcomed into his home for the bris, the Jewish circumcision ceremony, of his newborn son, where Giuliani agreed to be named an honorary godfather. “He’s a very lonely man. A selfish guy,” Parnas says. “He loves himself more than anyone else, that’s why he’s lonely. He loved the fame. He loved it when he walked in and everybody takes pictures. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have a relationship with wife and kids.”
Giuliani declined numerous opportunities to comment for this story. Told that Parnas, who has been indicted for election-law violations, had provided extensive on-the-record comments, Giuliani texted to say, “I’m sure most of it is not true. Lev has been caught in so many lies no objective journalist would use him as a source.” Giuliani rejected the chance to respond to specific allegations, saying that he does not respond to “proven liars” or those who listen to them.
For this story, Rolling Stone reviewed financial records and court documents — as well as conducted interviews with nearly 20 of Rudy’s past and present friends, associates, co-workers, rivals, and critics — to understand the fall of Rudy Giuliani, uncovering numerous previously unreported details of the Ukraine investigation and Rudy’s role in it.
What emerges is a portrait of a man who was given a hero’s mantle, but it rested on flawed shoulders. Even the aftermath of September 11th, the defining point of Giuliani’s life, held the seeds of his undoing, as he has spent two decades alternatively exploiting and trying to get back to that transcendent moment when all of America embraced him. And yet, time and again, he has been undone by his all-too-human failings.
Almost 20 years ago, while President George W. Bush climbed into a bunker in Nebraska on 9/11, Giuliani stood in the debris-choked chaos of New York when the city — and the country — needed him most. He remained a calm and unwavering presence, even as he knew that close friends lay buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center. He said what needed to be said, condemning the attacks while urging tolerance of New York’s Muslim community, and never shirking from the truth: “The number of casualties,” he said, “will be more than any of us can bear, ultimately.”
Giuliani with George Bush at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, when the nation embraced his leadership.
Giuliani was named Time’s 2001 Person of the Year “for having more faith in us than we had in ourselves.” Oprah Winfrey introduced Giuliani as “America’s Mayor” at a 9/11 prayer service at his beloved Yankee Stadium, and the name stuck.
“I remember riding in Rudy’s van after 9/11,” Felder says. “He would pick up calls and talk to the president and talk to whoever was in the news that day. He was extraordinary.”
Giuliani addressed the United Nations General Assembly and was knighted by the Queen of England. He couldn’t walk into a restaurant without getting a standing ovation. “Karl Rove was calling to vet people that they wanted to bring into the administration,” says Rick Wilson.
Long before September 11th, Giuliani made a name for himself as a rising young star in the U.S. Justice Department. He still loves to tell the story of the 1974 trial of Rep. Bertram Podell, when he delivered a cross-examination so withering that Podell broke down on the stand and changed his plea to guilty.
In 1981, during the Reagan administration, Giuliani became the youngest person ever to hold the Number Three job in the Justice Department. There, he had an early clash with Joe Biden when he recommended a veto of the senator’s bill creating a cabinet-level drug “czar.” Two years later, he left Washington to become the top prosecutor in Manhattan, a job he once said his mother saw as a demotion. Often using bare-knuckle tactics, Giuliani took down symbols of Eighties excess on Wall Street like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, and he spearheaded prosecution of the Mafia.
But the “modern-day Eliot Ness,” as he was called, hid a deep family secret that a Giuliani confidant says goes a long way to explain why his self-worth has wavered throughout his life. Rudy’s father, Harold, was a neighborhood tough who did time in New York’s Sing Sing prison for armed robbery. This underworld background, revealed in muckraking journalist Wayne Barrett’s biography Rudy!, might help explain the chip Giuliani has carried on his shoulder throughout his career.
Giuliani left the prosecutor’s office at the end of the Reagan administration and set his sights on City Hall by promising to crack down on crime. After his first campaign for mayor, in 1989, failed, he won four years later with more vitriol. Giuliani joined 10,000 off-duty police officers in a protest that boiled over with bursts of racism aimed at the city’s first black mayor. But harnessing outer-borough anger at Manhattan liberals was a key to victory that, in retrospect, was an ominous preview of the resentments that Trump would later stoke on a national scale.
After early successes as a crime-busting mayor, Giuliani became deeply unpopular during a disastrous second term, as his successes were overshadowed by outrage over police brutality and racism. By 2001, his personal life was in shambles, too. While his wife and children slept in Gracie Mansion, Giuliani was staying at a friend’s place on the day that terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center.
But for Giuliani, his handling of the 9/11 attacks eclipsed his past failures, and the possibilities for his future seemed limitless. He saw his new status as a springboard for national power, including the White House. First, however, he set to the task of getting very, very rich.
As a prosecutor and then as a mayor, Giuliani had been a frugal man who walked around on hole-ridden shoes. “A pizza-and–Diet Coke guy” is how former spokesman Ken Frydman describes the Rudy he met in 1992. He brought takeout for City Hall secretaries and ate with them.
“Part of his charm — maybe that’s the wrong way to describe him because he’s not charming — he was a simple guy,” a former aide says. “He liked a simple bowl of pasta and a glass of wine.”
Giuliani’s recent divorce case revealed how much had changed. He was living a $232,000-a-month lifestyle, with six homes and 11 country-club memberships. His now ex-wife’s divorce lawyer announced in court that Rudy had spent $12,000 on cigars and $7,000 on fountain pens within the space of a few months.
A driving force behind much of that change, aides and friends say, was Rudy’s third wife, Judith Nathan. A woman with a taste for luxury, Nathan required a separate plane seat for her “Baby Louis” — her Louis Vuitton handbag — according to Vanity Fair.
“I know what happened to him. He really, really changed when he met Judith,” a former Giuliani aide tells Rolling Stone. “A lot of us thought she was a horrible person. I don’t think anyone could have predicted or foreshadowed what this guy was going to become.”
With the new wife came a new jet-set lifestyle and, critically, new people around him. “She did everything she could to separate his friends from him and insert her friends,” says another Giuliani acquaintance. Henceforth, Rudy only socialized with people that met with his wife’s approval. Giuliani once described his greatest skill as his ability to surround himself with the right people. Losing those friends who served as critical “guardrails” in Giuliani’s life helps explain the situation he finds himself in today, former aides say.
It was a lifestyle in search of an income, and there was no shortage of businesses and foreign governments willing to throw money at Giuliani and his new consultancy, Giuliani Partners. By 2006, Giuliani’s share of the firm’s profits was nearly $6 million, a former employee told Rolling Stone. He took home $4.1 million the following year, financial disclosure forms show.
Clients such as Entergy, an energy company seeking to renew its license for the troubled Indian Point nuclear reactors in New York, were willing to hire “America’s Mayor” for prestige alone. “If he says the plant is safe, people are going to believe him,” an Entergy spokesman told The Wall Street Journal.
Another client was Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, which paid Giuliani and his firm millions to convince the government that the company did nothing wrong when it aggressively marketed the pain pills that have claimed countless lives during the opioid crisis.
Giuliani also returned to the practice of law. The Houston-based firm Bracewell paid Giuliani a whopping $10 million to establish a presence in New York. The biggest source of income for “Rudy Inc.,” however, was speaking fees. In a 13-month period ending in 2007, Giuliani earned $11.4 million for 124 appearances, as he jetted around the world for $100,000 a speech.
Giuliani as a young U.S. attorney in New York, where he was dubbed a “modern- day Eliot Ness.”
Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images
A clear sign of how much Giuliani’s priorities had changed since leaving public service was his 2006 tenure on the Iraq Study Group, created by Congress to assess the deteriorating situation in Iraq. According to published reports, Giuliani failed to attend a single meeting. He skipped sessions that conflicted with paid speaking engagements, and when given the choice to show up or quit, he resigned due to “previous time commitments.” A year after leaving, Giuliani claimed he’d left because the bipartisan commission was insufficiently bipartisan. By then, Rudy was running for president.
At an early strategy session for Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, Adam Goodman, a former political consultant from his City Hall days, was stunned by what he heard.
“Grandeur had infected the team,” Goodman recalls. In a preview of the expensive strategy behind Michael Bloomberg’s failed 2020 campaign, Giuliani’s team eschewed the traditional focus on the early-voting states, arguing that fixating on Iowa and New Hampshire would be a “folly” of “Beltway insiders.” Instead, the campaign focused on the delegate-rich states of Florida and California.
Giuliani’s argument to voters was that 9/11 showed he had what it takes to be president, but he failed to see that the American public, weary from years of war, wanted a change. His biggest point of pride became a punchline for satirists, late-night comedians, and Joe Biden. “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11,” Biden quipped during a Democratic debate. Per multiple sources, Giuliani has never forgotten the remark.
The most popular politician in America, according to a 2006 pre-election poll, Giuliani saw his lead evaporate after questions were raised about his work for Qatar, which had been accused of turning a blind eye to terrorist financiers. A thumping in Iowa and New Hampshire made Florida Giuliani’s last-ditch stand. The end came swiftly when Florida’s then-governor, Charlie Crist, who had promised to back Rudy, changed his mind days before the vote and endorsed John McCain.
“I was with Rudy at the time when he got the information, and it was very upsetting to Rudy. Understandably. You don’t do that in politics. Your word is your bond,” says Bill McCollum, a former congressman who served as the campaign’s state chairman. Exit polls showed a significant number of Republican voters preferred Rudy but decided they would be wasting their vote for him, which McCollum blames on incessant “Giuliani can’t win” stories.
Giuliani quit and endorsed McCain. His campaign had spent $59 million, lost in every state, and won only a single delegate. But in other ways, the race cost him much more.
“The shine kind of came off his reputation after the presidential race,” said Andrew Kirtzman, who authored a book on Giuliani’s time as mayor. “He squandered the statesman’s image in pursuit of the nomination. Really he was seen as a partisan political figure rather than a larger-than-life hero.”
Judith Giuliani said that something changed in Rudy after 2008 that led to the collapse of their marriage. “It was an ongoing process,” Judith told New York magazine, “that began when he lost the presidential campaign.” Pressed for details, she replied: “For a variety of reasons that I know as a spouse and a nurse, he has become a different man.”
The fallout from the presidential race also affected Rudy’s business. “Revenue started going away,” a former employee says. “Basically, the place started to melt down a little bit.”
Giuliani had to look further afield for work. He advised Mujahedin e-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group that was, until 2012, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Another new client was a Ukrainian company with ties to the Kremlin. Giuliani traveled to Belgrade to advise Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s prime minister, who was the former information minister to Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who was prosecuted for genocide.
Increasingly, he took refuge on Fox News, one of the few places where he was still embraced as a hero. At a private dinner in 2015 at New York’s 21 Club for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Rudy arrived late and got on the microphone. “I know this is a horrible thing to say,” Giuliani said, “but I do not believe that [President Obama] loves America.”
The comments touched off a firestorm and inspired a sketch on Saturday Night Live, where Giuliani, played by Taran Killam, muses to himself, “How did we end up here? In this dump. You were America’s Mayor. Remember?”
Giuliani was on a rapid slide into irrelevance. And then along came Donald Trump.
During his 1993 mayoral campaign, Giuliani was having breakfast in the Oak Room at New York’s Plaza Hotel, which Trump then owned. Giuliani scanned the room and spotted Trump a few tables away. He leaned over to his aide, Liz Bruder, and whispered, “Don’t let Donald try to buy us breakfast. He’s going to try to do that.”
Sure enough, at the end of the meal, Bruder tells Rolling Stone, when she asked for the check, she was told that it wouldn’t be necessary. “Mr. Trump is taking care of that,” the waiter told her. Bruder got up and walked over to Trump and told him that as a candidate, Rudy couldn’t accept without falling afoul of campaign-finance rules. Trump relented. “All right, all right,” the mogul said.
Now, Giuilani finds himself tethered to the man he wouldn’t allow to buy him breakfast. Until recently, Giuliani and Trump had never been close. At City Hall, former mayoral aides described their relationship as transactional, although Rudy enjoyed dressing up in drag and hamming it up with Trump for a film shown at the annual Inner Circle political parody revue. “He always treated Trump with contempt,” says Rick Wilson. “He was a figure of fun.”
Little more than a month before the 2016 election, Giuliani made a fateful decision when he took leave from his law practice to join the campaign.
“I’m not so sure Trump’s president without Rudy,” Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign CEO and White House strategist, tells Rolling Stone. “I had him keeping Trump’s head in the game. People don’t realize how close this thing was. We drew an inside straight to win. That meant, in those last four weeks, everything went right for us and everything went wrong for her. One of the reasons we won is Rudy was there 24/7,” Bannon says. “Rudy was hardcore. He’s like a honey badger. He doesn’t give a fuck.”
In the aftermath of the release of the Access Hollywood tape, when someone was needed to defend Trump on Sunday talk shows, Giuliani’s was the only hand that went up. “I’ll do every Sunday show,” he said, according to Chris Christie’s book Let Me Finish.
“Everybody was throwing in the towel,” Bannon recalls. “Rudy’s the only guy that went out on a Sunday and took all the incoming. I told Trump then, ‘Rudy’s my guy.’ ” Trump has never forgotten those who formed what Kellyanne Conway has called “the October 8th coalition,” the group of die-hard loyalists that stood by him during his campaign’s darkest hour.
Giuliani with Trump, with whom he was not close and “treated with contempt” during the Nineties, says a former adviser.
Rose Hartman/Getty Images
Giuliani wanted something in return: secretary of state. It was a chance to return to the heights of power that had long eluded him. According to two sources, during those final frenetic weeks of the election, Trump had promised the position to Giuliani in thanks for his loyalty.
After the election, Giuliani campaigned for the job in interviews with The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, where he listed his frequent world travel as his major qualification for the job.
Trump thought that Giuliani’s career in law made him a better fit for the job of attorney general. “The president’s instincts were right on,” says Adam Goodman, Giuliani’s former political adviser. “Rudy Giuliani was central casting to be attorney general.” But Giuliani’s mind was made up: secretary of state or nothing. Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, later lamented to FBI agents that Giuliani “overplayed his hand,” according to an FBI memo.
One stumbling block was Mike Pence, who never warmed up to Rudy and disapproved of what he viewed as moral failings, according to former Giuliani aides and advisers.
A bigger problem was Giuliani’s international consulting business, and current and former clients with ties to places like Qatar, Iran, and Ukraine. The transition’s vetting team produced a lengthy report, obtained by Axios, that showed Giuliani’s international business ties were going to make for a challenging confirmation. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would block Giuliani’s nomination out of the Foreign Relations Committee. In the end, Giuliani decided he didn’t want to go through with the brutal confirmation process and withdrew from contention.
Those close to Giuliani said his failure to become secretary of state was a stinging blow. It was “a bitter disappointment,” his now estranged wife told The New York Times, one that was followed by the collapse of their 15-year marriage.
Giuliani retreated to his favorite hangout, Manhattan’s Grand Havana Room, which sits atop a Fifth Avenue tower that Jared Kushner once owned. He was seen there before a bizarre appearance in May on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. (Giuliani told Politico he thought he was there after the show but couldn’t remember specifics.) “He drinks heavily, heavily, heavily,” a former aide says. Another former lieutenant, who recently watched Giuliani put away a lot of booze at a party they both attended, says, “I do wonder when I see him whether there is something wrong with him.”
As he came to know Giuliani in 2018, Lev Parnas, too, saw a deeply wounded man. “A) he thought he was secretary of state, or should be secretary of state, and B) at his age, he had nothing left,” Parnas says. “He had screwed up his business, he had screwed up his relationship with his wife, he had screwed up his relationship with his kids.”
But there was a road back into Trump’s Oval Office, and it ran through Ukraine.
In April 2018, the Russia probe was haunting Donald Trump, and Rudy Giuliani was determined to help. Trump viewed the Russia investigation as an attack on his greatest source of pride: his surprise 2016 win. That perpetual obsession grew more feverish as special counsel Robert Mueller investigated allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives.
And so, Giuliani set himself to the task of dismantling the Russia narrative, preparing a (never-to-be-released, it turns out) “counter report” to the one Mueller was preparing.
Giuliani had help from Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, who had earned a fortune in Ukraine during his years as an adviser to the country’s former, pro-Russian president. Giuliani started questioning handwritten accounting documents that showed Manafort had received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from the political party of his Ukrainian client. These documents, referred to as the “black ledgers,” had helped spur Manafort’s exit from the Trump campaign when The New York Times ran a story about them. They would become one of Giuliani’s obsessions, Parnas tells Rolling Stone: “The black ledger was always involved.”
Manafort is serving more than seven years in prison for fraud and hiding the proceeds of his illegal lobbying in Ukraine in offshore accounts. But when Giuliani reached out to Manafort’s lawyer to ask if there was a “black book” — a Johnnie Cochran-style narrow question that didn’t address the underlying crime — Manafort’s lawyer relayed that there wasn’t a black book. Giuliani brought that information to Trump, and the president wove that misleading sound bite into his personal reality. “They had a black book that came out of Ukraine,” the president said at a coronavirus briefing in April. “It turned out to be fraud.”
Giuliani also examined another debunked conspiracy theory: that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the Democratic National Committee’s computer server, and that information remains in its custody. This idea took hold in Trump’s mind because it rewrote the history of the 2016 election to make him the victim, not the beneficiary, of foreign influence. According to impeachment testimony, Russia’s intelligence services had promoted this theory.
In November 2018, Giuliani got a phone call from Bart Schwartz, who had worked in the U.S. attorney’s office under Giuliani and now headed a corporate investigation firm. As Giuliani himself related to NPR, Schwartz told his old boss that he had a source alleging what Giuliani had come to suspect: Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, and Joe Biden had played a material role in it.
To help further his efforts, Giuliani needed allies with ties to Ukraine, and Parnas fit the bill. According to Parnas, the two had previously met in the lobby of Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, a second home for the devoted circle that swirled around the president. “I’ve seen you around,” Giuliani told him. “It’s good to put a name to the face.” The two hit it off and began plans to help Parnas’ ill-fated business venture, Fraud Guarantee. But after Schwartz’s phone call, the Ukraine investigation became the focus of their work.
Parnas says he met with Schwartz’s source: Michael Guralnik, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen who attended the Soviet Military Academy and said that he once served as an asset for U.S. intelligence. (Guralnik declined to comment.) Giuliani continued to delve deeper and deeper into Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt political realm. Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, helped Giuliani reach current and former Ukrainian prosecutors who claimed to have dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma. Giuliani would use that information to pressure officials in Ukraine to initiate and publicly announce investigations against the Bidens. He also carried out the president’s direction to remove the country’s ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, by fueling a conspiracy-driven smear campaign against her. (Fruman’s attorney declined to comment.)
Giuliani with his former friend Parnas, who helped him investigate Biden in Ukraine.
As things progressed, Giuliani became fixated on the Bidens. “The more information he started getting, the more obsessed he got,” Parnas says. Soon Giuliani was referring to the former vice president as a “crook, moron, liar,” says Parnas.
White House officials were alarmed, fearing that Giuliani’s Ukraine investigation was indulging Trump’s worst impulses and taking the administration into ever-murkier legal territory. Watching events unfold, John Bolton, Trump’s since-ousted national security adviser, said, “Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up,” according to testimony at the impeachment hearings.
Trump saw it differently. He ushered Giuliani back into his inner circle and welcomed his new associates as well. Giuliani attended the 2018 White House Hanukkah Party with Parnas and Fruman as his guests. There, Parnas says, things became clear to him: They were working for a president who was personally involved in the investigation.
“We were escorted by the Secret Service to the private entrance of the White House. Rudy was taken to the president’s residence. We were taken where all the other guests were. Rudy spent 30 to 45 minutes with the president. They talked about Manafort and other stuff,” Parnas tells Rolling Stone. (Giuliani in other public comments has denied discussing the Ukraine investigation with Trump at the party.)
“Then Rudy came and joined us. The president also came out. So did the first lady, Jared Kushner, Mike Pence, and Karen Pence. At some point the Secret Service told us the president wants us in the Red Room,” Parnas says. “The president basically looked at me, looked at Igor, and said, ‘Great work, keep it up.’ By that time, Rudy spoke to us and told us everything is great.”
Ukraine had made Giuliani indispensable to Trump again. The president would be vindicated of the Russia probe and handed a corruption allegation against Joe Biden. “He felt that it was his duty to bring this thing to light and simultaneously secure Trump 2020,” Parnas says. Together, Trump and Giuliani built, and enjoyed, a shared reality.
Almost all of Giuliani’s Ukraine claims have been debunked repeatedly. In April, the Senate intelligence committee released the results of a three-year, bipartisan review of, among other things, the intelligence demonstrating Russia’s intrusion into the DNC network. The committee’s review confirmed that the intelligence community’s findings are “fundamentally incompatible with Trump’s conspiracy theories about Ukrainian involvement, for which there is no supporting evidence,” Sen. Ron Wyden wrote in the report. And unseemly as it was for Hunter Biden to accept the Burisma job, there’s no evidence that he — or his father — did anything illegal.
But Giuliani’s pro-Trump fan fiction didn’t really become a problem for both men until the president used it as the basis for U.S. foreign policy. On a July phone call with incoming Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, Trump raised the Biden corruption accusation and the DNC server, pushing investigations into the matter in exchange for U.S. military aid Zelensky was seeking to counterbalance Russia.
“I would like you to do us a favor,” Trump said to Zelensky in a phone call on July 25th, 2019. “The server, they say Ukraine has it.” The president added, “Rudy very much knows what’s happening, and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him, that would be great.”
One hundred and forty-six days after the Zelensky call, Trump became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.
In many ways, Trump’s political career has been the opposite of Giuliani’s. Trump entered politics with a fringe conspiracy theory about Obama’s birthplace, yet that bogus “investigation” fueled his meteoric rise to the White House. Giuliani started this century at the center, and now, after a long and painful slide, finds himself the chief prosecutor of a fringe conspiracy theory.
The way both men have fared since impeachment is telling. Trump’s impeachment will follow him into history, but in terms of his day-to-day life now, it’s behind him. Giuliani has not moved on, nor has he escaped the consequences.
Within weeks of joining Trump’s legal team, he was apparently ushered out of a law-firm job that paid between $4 million and $6 million a year. His partners at Greenberg Traurig were rankled by Giuliani’s comments on Fox News defending Michael Cohen’s use of his own funds to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels as a common legal practice. Far worse came on October 9th, when Parnas and Fruman were arrested while preparing to take their seats on a one-way flight to Frankfurt. Parnas and Fruman have both pleaded not guilty to charges they violated federal election laws by allegedly funneling money from Ukraine to U.S. politicians and political action committees.
“I was mesmerized by his power, I was mesmerized by his legacy,” Parnas tells Rolling Stone over the phone from his home in Boca Raton, Florida, where he remains confined as part of the conditions of his $1 million bond. “I trusted him to the point where I’ve been in this country 44 years, and I’ve never been arrested until I trusted him and the president.”
Ukraine has connected Giuliani with a host of unseemly actors. There’s Harry Sargeant III, a politically connected Florida businessman described as “notorious” in testimony at the House impeachment hearings. Former White House aide Fiona Hill testified that she grew alarmed that Giuliani’s activities might not be legal when she learned from her colleagues on the National Security Council that he was associating with people like Sargeant, Parnas, and Fruman. (“A libelous smear from someone who’s never met Mr. Sargeant,” his spokesman says.) Even more astonishingly, Giuliani allegedly aligned himself in the Ukraine investigation with Dmitry Firtash, an energy tycoon who has been charged in an international bribery conspiracy. Parnas says he and Fruman met with Firtash at Giuliani’s behest and encouraged Firtash — whom prosecutors in Chicago call an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime — to deploy his considerable resources to help Giuliani investigate the Bidens. (Firtash has denied any connection to organized crime.)
Giuliani has attracted the attention of prosecutors in the Manhattan office he used to run. Grand jury subpoenas suggest Giuliani is under investigation for possible crimes including money laundering, campaign-finance violations, making false statements, obstruction of justice, and acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist. (Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, declined to comment.)
Giuliani’s defense attorney, Robert Costello, blasted the subpoenas as an outrageous abuse of the grand jury system. “This is bullshit,” Costello tells Rolling Stone, adding that the U.S. attorney’s office has never contacted him or his client. “There is no proof that I’m aware of that Rudy Giuliani is under any jeopardy from any prosecutor anywhere in the world.” Costello says he’s seen more than one subpoena with Giuliani’s name on it, which he likened to a pressure tactic that might work on a less sophisticated client. “Rudy Giuliani is not intimated,” Costello said. “He’s annoyed. He’s pissed off. When is he going to get his good name back?”
Giuliani’s reputation has been reduced to a conspiracy-theory crank pushing coronavirus disinformation. “Why did the US (NIH) in 2017 give $3.7m to the Wuhan Lab in China?” Giuliani tweeted recently, apparently forgetting who was president at the time. He still makes the occasional appearance on Fox News, dancing on a string for Trump’s approval and the contempt of everyone else.
Giuliani maintains that the day will come when the world awakens to the Bidens’ Ukraine crimes — and celebrates the investigator who exposed them. As Giuliani well knows, anybody can make allegations, but what matters is whether his evidence can be admitted in a court of law — something that, to date, hasn’t happened. And in the meantime, Rudy slips further and further from the glory he once knew. His latest venture is a video podcast where, in between ads for Cigar Aficionado, he prosecutes Biden, defends Trump, and pushes unproven coronavirus cures. Reality is a stubborn opponent, and obsession is a dangerous game. But for Rudy Giuliani that seems to be all he has left.
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