Very few people have remained constant in President Donald Trump’s orbit amid three years whipsawing between scandals. And then there’s Rudy Giuliani.
The former New York City mayor has ties to two indicted Ukrainians, has consorted with a third whom the Trump administration says is a conduit for Russian propaganda and figured in Democrats’ impeachment case against Trump more than 500 times on the Senate floor. The left loathes him and some Republicans have counseled the president to cut him off. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has even “told the president that having him around is bad for the administration and America,” a spokesman confirmed this week.
Yet there he’ll be on Thursday, the final night of the Republican National Convention, making a prime-time case for Trump’s reelection — even as he has come under scrutiny from the feds. To Trump’s defenders, it’s the ultimate display of loyalty to a man who has protected and stuck with him throughout his presidency. But to his fiercest critics, it’s confirmation that the president continues to elevate his own interests above those of the country.
“He doesn’t care that his intelligence agencies are warning the country that Russian disinformation is being laundered. He is willing to use one of the launderers in prime time during the convention,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager in the president’s Senate trial, in an interview.
Schiff, whose committee unsuccessfully sought documents and testimony from Giuliani during the impeachment inquiry, said the decision to put Giuliani on a pedestal “tells you all you need to know about Trump’s lack of moral character, his willingness to once again accept foreign help, his eagerness to advance Russian conspiracy theories.”
Giuliani’s brash defenses of Trump have endeared him to the president while others have grown skittish of the former mayor’s influence. Trump has defended him as “a little rough around the edges” when others thought Giuliani was setting Trump’s impeachment defense ablaze. To Trump, Giuliani’s image is frozen in time in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, when his hard-charging resilience helped ease the pain of a city and nation in mourning. And he earned Trump’s loyalty when he stood by then-candidate Trump in 2016 after the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced.
“So now they are after the legendary ‘crime buster’ and greatest Mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani,” Trump said as the House’s impeachment battle raged, adding that he considers Giuliani “a great guy and wonderful lawyer.”
Giuliani’s appearance Thursday, on the final night of the convention when the president himself is set to accept the GOP nomination, underscores the extent to which Trump has turned the GOP convention into a celebration of himself rather than his party.
“It’s the president thumbing his nose at everybody, thumbing his nose at the impeachment,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who also served as an impeachment manager for the Senate trial.
Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
If Giuliani’s Twitter feed is any indication, his speech Thursday will be similar to his address at the 2016 GOP convention, when he went after Hillary Clinton for, among other things, the Benghazi attack. It’s unclear if he will seek to relitigate the spurious charges he has leveled against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, but he appears poised to take shots at Trump’s rivals.
“I finally succeeded in getting the number of words in my convention speech below the number of small time Marijuana smokers Comrade Kamala put in prison,” Giuliani wrote on Twitter this week, referring to Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic vice presidential nominee whose record as a prosecutor has drawn scrutiny.
Trump’s aides and some of his Capitol Hill allies have at times been exasperated by the president’s embrace of the former mayor.
Giuliani was at the center of Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter over discredited corruption allegations, pushed by pro-Russia forces in Kyiv, that formed the basis of the Democrats’ impeachment case. He leaned on top Ukrainian officials to further the effort, and Trump repeatedly urged aides and diplomats — and even Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky — to connect with him.
Giuliani helped engineer the smear campaign that preceded the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the career foreign service officer and longtime U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He also helped amplify a debunked Russia-backed theory that Ukraine, not the Kremlin, interfered in the 2016 election and hid a server full of evidence. Trump asked Ukraine’s president about that server during a July 2019 phone call that helped precipitate the impeachment effort.
During the House impeachment inquiry last year, Republicans routinely criticized Giuliani in private and sought to separate the president from Giuliani in public, as Democrats were seeking to make the case that Trump knew the intimate details of, and even directed, Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden.
One of those Republicans, then-Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who has since become Trump’s chief of staff at the White House, sought to portray Giuliani as a solo actor, telling POLITICO at the time: “I would not, on my dime, send a private attorney looking for some server in a foreign country.” Meadows also frequently emphasized that Giuliani may have been acting on his own in Ukraine, despite Trump’s consistent embrace.
“This is an impeachment of Rudy Giuliani. The last time I checked, he’s not the president,” Meadows told reporters during the House impeachment hearings.
Last month, Meadows appeared on Giuliani’s podcast, and the two shared a moment lamenting the investigations and impeachment that had the potential to topple the Trump presidency.
During the Senate impeachment trial, Trump’s legal team even dedicated an entire segment to defending Giuliani, led by attorney Jane Raskin, who heaped praise on the former mayor and accused Democrats of using him as “a colorful distraction.”
“One might argue that he is everything Clarence Darrow said a defense lawyer must be — outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rogue, a renegade,” Raskin said.
Yet after three months of an impeachment inquiry and trial, some Senate Republicans who insisted on Trump’s innocence nevertheless torched Giuliani, saying he imperiled the president and U.S. foreign policy.
“One certainty from this episode is that America’s Mayor shouldn’t be any president’s lawyer. It’s time for the president and adults on his team to usher Rudy off the stage,” Sasse wrote the day before voting to acquit Trump, warning of Giuliani’s “murky financial interests.”
Other Republicans said Giuliani had damaged America’s foreign policy in Ukraine, which has centered on efforts to combat Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
But Trump was never prepared to ax Giuliani, and insider accounts have since confirmed the president’s intentions.
Madeleine Westerhout, Trump’s former executive and director of Oval Office operations , recounted in her recent book that Giuliani had earned Trump’s “eternal, unwavering loyalty” for sticking with the embattled GOP presidential nominee at the lowest point of the campaign — the day the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged about groping women without their consent, was leaked.
“[Trump] has been hurt so many times by people he trusted that when somebody comes through, as Rudy did, he will remember it for the rest of his life,” Westerhout wrote, later recounting how “a group of us” would “practically beg” Trump not to allow Giuliani on television because he was “embarrassing himself and the administration.”
“The president would hear none of it,” Westerhout added, quoting Trump as saying: “He is the only one who stood up for me. Rudy is my guy.”
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said the president, who signs off on all convention speakers, wanted Giuliani to appear. Miller credited Giuliani with helping defeat “the impeachment witch hunt.”
“He has a larger than life footprint. He’s the personal lawyer and friend of the president,” Miller said. “He’s one of the most loyal, smartest and hardworking people that I ever met. We’re lucky to have him in the convention.”
The other lawyers who worked alongside Giuliani to protect Trump from indictment and impeachment said they are unsurprised that Trump is willing to feature Giuliani on the final, most high-profile day of his convention.
“I have known Rudy for over 40 years. He is very able and demonstrated his excellence as mayor of New York,” said John Dowd, Trump’s former lawyer. “He is a great friend to and very effective advocate for the president. I think he has served the president very well and I am delighted he was chosen to speak … He is a great American.”
Jay Sekulow, who defended the president with Giuliani amid special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year Russia investigation, similarly hailed Giuliani as “a tremendous leader and lawyer.”
Yet Giuliani has continued to court controversy even since the impeachment trial ended.
Most notably, federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the Justice Department’s criminal division in D.C. were eyeing Giuliani, though the status of those probes is unclear. And Giuliani’s own investigations targeting Biden and other Democrats have included meetings with Ukrainian officials who have a history of pushing false, debunked narratives that are often echoed by the Kremlin. More recently, U.S. intelligence officials named one of them, pro-Russia Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, as being engaged in a foreign disinformation plot aimed at denigrating Biden.
“It just shows you what a group of grifters are at the heart of Trump’s GOP — that they would choose to profile someone who has been knowingly trafficking with someone who the intelligence community identifies as advancing Russian propaganda,” said Schiff said.
Derkach did not respond to requests for comment.
Giuliani was also deeply intertwined with two Ukrainians — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — who were indicted last October on campaign-finance charges and are scheduled to go on trial in February. Giuliani, who is not facing charges related to the pair, deployed Parnas and Fruman to Ukraine as on-the-ground fixers to access senior government officials and lean on them to investigate Biden.
Parnas has since renounced his alliance with Giuliani and cooperated with House investigators during the impeachment trial. He says it’s no surprise Trump continues to hug Giuliani close.
“Their bond is even deeper than it appears — they have skeletons in the closet between the two of them. I’m aware of a few,” Parnas said in an interview. “He knows Rudy’s going to go out there and speak on his behalf. What he doesn’t understand is that Rudy doesn’t have that same impact he did back in 2016.”
Since Parnas and Fruman’s indictment, Giuliani has also met with Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who has promoted an unsubstantiated claim that the Ukrainian government colluded with the Democratic National Committee in 2016. The FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force briefed a GOP-led Senate committee about Telizhenko as the panel was preparing to subpoena him in an investigation involving Biden’s son, Hunter, and his role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. POLITICO reported at the time that the briefing touched on Telizhenko’s unsubstantiated theories, and the committee later withdrew the subpoena effort.
In a text message to POLITICO, Telizhenko said it was “very positive” that Giuliani was selected to speak at the GOP convention, noting that Giuliani is “close to President Donald Trump who I think [trusts] Mr. Giuliani.”
For months, there have been questions about whether Giuliani remains legally exposed in the case that landed Parnas and Fruman under indictment. A shake-up at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, orchestrated by Attorney General William Barr in June, led some Trump critics to worry that efforts were underway to upend investigations of the president’s allies. Last week, the office indicted Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign boss and senior adviser, on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering in connection with an alleged plot to use a fundraiser for a border wall to pay personal expenses.
“You know, the president only has so many options of people to surround himself with who are currently out of custody,” Schiff quipped. “And Giuliani, I guess, is one of them.”
Anita Kumar contributed to this report.