Giuliani: The Lawyer At The Center Of The Ukraine Affair, And The Path That Led There

Dec 13, 2019
Originally published on December 13, 2019 9:34 am

As the impeachment inquiry against President Trump has unfolded, one name in particular has surfaced over and over again in both private hearing transcripts and public testimony: the president's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani.

Congressional testimony has placed Giuliani at the center of the Ukraine affair, with multiple witnesses telling House investigators that he helped spearhead an irregular diplomatic channel between the U.S. and Ukraine.

The aim of that effort, witnesses said, was to leverage the promise of a White House visit and millions in U.S. assistance for Ukraine in order to force Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. In the now infamous July 25 call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump tells the Ukrainian president to be in touch with Giuliani.

"Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great," the president says.

Giuliani's outsize role is nothing new for a public figure once known affectionately as "America's mayor." While his work as the president's chief defender has befuddled many, former colleagues say that Giuliani has hardly changed since his early lawyer days in the 1970s. In interviews with NPR, they say his penchant for the limelight, his refusal to give up, and his shrewdness for divisive political fights are not just trademark Giuliani, they match the style of his fellow New Yorker in the White House.

'It Fired Me Up'

Jeffrey Harris worked with Giuliani while they were young attorneys in New York. Giuliani was a junior federal prosecutor in the 1970s, and Harris was the deputy associate attorney general. They sometimes ate dinner together during the work week.

Rudolph Giuliani poses for a photographer in a New York City studio on Dec. 15, 1986.
Yvonne Hemsey / Getty Images

"I think it was pretty well by consensus that Rudy was among the very, very best — the top two or three," Harris said of Giuliani's work as a prosecutor.

Then, in the 1980s, Giuliani found fame as the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan thanks to his battles against the mafia. His success drew comparisons to the Prohibition-era crime fighter Eliot Ness.

Giuliani's deputies included former FBI Director James Comey, who wrote about his former boss in his 2018 memoir, A Higher Loyalty.

"As a young prosecutor I found his brash style exciting, which is part of what drew me to his office," Comey wrote. "I loved it that my boss was on magazine covers, standing on the courthouse steps with his hands on his hips, as if he ruled the world. It fired me up."

Giuliani got so much attention, Comey wrote, because he demanded it.

"The most dangerous place in New York is between Rudy and a microphone," Comey wrote.

In 1994, the Republican became mayor of New York. Mayor Giuliani was both popular and divisive, a strong manager whose many demands made enemies. He oversaw a reduction in crime, but people of color found many policies biased. Under Giuliani, police cracked down on minor offenses, like panhandling, which caused deep divisions when offenders were black and police white.

As mayor, Giuliani leaned into such divisive fights, but by the end of his time in office, his popularity was fading. Then came the September 11 attacks, which earned Giuliani the nickname "America's Mayor" for the prominent role he took calming a nation shaken by the terrorist attacks. He was even named Time's person of the year.

Mayor-elect Rudolph Giuliani holds a newspaper proclaiming him the mayor of New York after winning a tight race against Democratic incumbent David Dinkins in 1993.
HAI DO / AFP via Getty Images

Giuliani left office a national hero, and his reputation helped him launch a career in the private sector. He marketed his crime-fighting and management expertise through a firm called Giuliani Partners.

Among his partners at the firm was Bernard Kerik, the 40th police commissioner of New York and a former police detective who volunteered for Giuliani's mayoral campaign. They served as security consultants to foreign governments, like the leaders of Mexico City.

"I think you're paying for experience, you're paying for a reputation and the successes of the Giuliani administration," Kerik said of the firm's work. "So, when people look at Giuliani and they are looking for the same types of programs or success or just those types of achievements in foreign countries, they're going to call somebody that's actually done it."

A rebranding

In 2008, Giuliani ran for president, suffering a defeat that seemed to end his political career. But he remained a big name when he supported another New Yorker eight years later: Donald Trump.

Campaigning for Trump in 2016, Giuliani alleged that Trump's rival for the White House, Hillary Clinton, perverted U.S. diplomacy for personal gain during her time as secretary of state.

"She turned the State Department so corrupt. Pay money, get access. Pay money, get favors. Pay a lot of money, get big favors," Giuliani said. "You know what you call that? Bribery!"

As Trump rode to victory, Giuliani offered advice, including one piece that seems especially meaningful, in light of recent events. It was about Trump's Muslim ban.

At the time of Trump's call for the ban, even fellow Republicans denounced the idea as unconstitutional. But Giuliani told Fox News he helped improve it.

"When he first announced it, he said Muslim ban. He called me up [and] he said 'Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally,'" Giuliani said.

Giuliani worked to narrow the ban to a few countries seen as dangerous so that it could be rebranded as an anti-terrorism measure.

Giuliani stands with president-elect Donald Trump before their meeting at Trump International Golf Club on Nov. 20, 2016 in Bedminster, N.J.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

'Talk with Rudy'

The Ukraine affair has included a similar rebranding attempt.

Giuliani has been advising Trump since he took office, and eventually joined his legal team in 2018. He has kept serving foreign clients.

Some of those clients were from Ukraine, where Giuliani started doing business in 2017. One of his companies signed a security contract with the city of Kharkiv, the home city of anti-corruption activist Daria Kaleniuk.

"Unfortunately, the city is not lucky and the current mayor of the city has roots to organized and crime corruption," Kaleniuk said. She said Giuliani met a range of people with checkered reputations, including two businessmen who've since been indicted for alleged campaign finance violations.

The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are among the sources Giuliani relied on as he sought the investigations that Trump brought up on the phone with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy.

"I was very much surprised because I had a feeling that Rudolph Giuliani was a good guy, a prominent mayor of New York, and I wouldn't expect such kind of person to meet the most toxic people in Ukraine, which have ties to organized crime and links to Russia," said Kaleniuk.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and William Taylor, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, are among the diplomats who've testified to Giuliani's role in the Ukraine scandal.

"President Trump directed us to talk with Rudy," Sondland testified.

Giuliani and Trump have justified their dealings with Ukraine much in the way they branded the Muslim ban. Rather than call it a probe of Biden, they have called it a probe of corruption.

"We have an obligation to investigate corruption, and that's what it was, in my opinion, that's what it was is corruption," Trump said in October.

Some former friends remain mystified by Giuliani's work for the president, including fellow former prosecutor Jeffrey Harris.

Giuliani walks to a news conference at the Grand Hyatt in Washington on May 5, 2018.
Andrew Harnik / AP

"If I could get him in in a candid moment where he'd really tell me what he thought, I'd ask him why he's doing this. What's going to be the first paragraph in his obituary, if we sort of put it in those terms," Harris said. "I'd say to him, 'Rudy, why did you take such an excellent career where you got accolades every step along the way and associate yourself with the kinds of activities that, other than the hardcore Trump supporters, most people think you have become a joke?"

Kerik rejects the idea that Giuliani did anything wrong.

"I think that's bulls***. That's a complete bulls*** argument. The people that's responsible for this mess are the members of Congress that's putting on this scheme of an impeachment, this fraud of an impeachment argument," Kerik said.

For his part, Giuliani recently told NPR he should be thought of as a hero and that he deserves a medal. In similar comments to Fox News, he said:

"I actually think they should all congratulate me because if it weren't for me, nobody would've uncovered and faced massive corruption by the vice president of the United States. In fact, I am a legitimate whistle blower."

Giuliani said the president would like him to give evidence to the Senate. But as the chamber prepares for a possible impeachment trial, top Republicans have indicated he's not a witness they need to hear.

Lilly Quiroz and Shannon Rhoades produced and edited this story for broadcast. Heidi Glenn adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have the story of a central figure in the Ukraine affair. We are reviewing the history of Rudolph Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. He is an oversized figure in public debate, as he has been for decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One of the world's greatest news sources, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani.

INSKEEP: So said a journalist who introduced Giuliani at the National Press Club in 1987. He was the U.S. attorney in Manhattan whose cases included prosecuting mafia figures.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What advice do you give to witnesses who feel intimidated?

RUDY GIULIANI: This is not a game. You're dealing with people who still take out guns and shoot people down in the middle of Manhattan in the middle of the rush hour.

INSKEEP: His battles against men who thought they could shoot someone and get away with it brought him fame. People compared him to the Prohibition-era crime fighter Eliot Ness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Will you be: A, FBI director; B, attorney general; C, senator or D, governor?

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI: No, no, maybe, maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Who is the man who saw those opportunities in 1987? We've been talking with people who've known him. Though not all agreed to be recorded, they had differing perspectives on Giuliani, and they include a lawyer who was once a close friend.

JEFFREY HARRIS: My name is Jeffrey Harris. And I was the deputy associate attorney general when Rudy was associate attorney general. Prior to that, we were assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York.

INSKEEP: Giuliani was a junior federal prosecutor in the 1970s and sometimes ate dinner with Harris several times per week.

What was he like as a prosecutor?

HARRIS: I think it was pretty well by consensus that Rudy was among the very, very best - the top two or three.

INSKEEP: Was he ambitious?

HARRIS: I think that's the wrong way to put it. I would say at that period his ambition was to win his cases.

INSKEEP: In 1981, President Ronald Reagan brought him to Washington. Then Reagan returned Giuliani to New York as U.S. attorney, the top federal prosecutor there. Giuliani's deputies included a future director of the FBI. James Comey writes of Giuliani in his memoir.

JAMES COMEY: (Reading) As a young prosecutor, I found his brash style exciting, which is part of what drew me to his office. I loved it that my boss was on magazine covers, standing on the courthouse steps with his hands on his hips, as if he ruled the world. It fired me up.

INSKEEP: Comey writes that Giuliani got so much attention, in part, because he demanded it.

COMEY: (Reading) The most dangerous place in New York is between Rudy and a microphone.

INSKEEP: Attention-grabbing but effective, a U.S. attorney manages other prosecutors who argue cases in court. But friends recall Giuliani boldly argued big cases himself. As his fame grew, in 1989, he ran as a Republican for mayor of his Democratic home city.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIULIANI: I've just spoken to Mayor-elect David Dinkins.

(BOOING)

GIULIANI: No, no, no.

INSKEEP: When Giuliani lost and his supporters booed the victor, Giuliani told them to stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIULIANI: Quiet. Quiet. I can be tough. The other part is sometimes more difficult, but I assure you, I'm also nice.

INSKEEP: He didn't give up, running four years later and winning the mayor's office. His then-wife, Donna Hanover, voiced one of his campaign ads.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

DONNA HANOVER: Integrity - that's the first quality that comes to mind when I think of Rudy.

INSKEEP: Mayor Giuliani was both popular and divisive. He was a strong manager whose many demands made enemies. He oversaw a reduction in crime, but people of color found many policies biased. A New Yorker named Margarita Rosario spoke up for her son and nephew killed in a confrontation with police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARGARITA ROSARIO: The mayor of New York City, who is a racism (ph) himself and continues to partake in the abuse of our sons, fathers, brothers and daughters.

INSKEEP: Under Giuliani, police cracked down on minor offenses like panhandling, which caused deep divisions when offenders were black and police white. The mayor leaned into such divisive fights. By the end of two terms, his popularity was fading. But then broadcast networks spread the news of an attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, my God. Another plane has just hit another building. It flew right into the middle of it.

INSKEEP: The mayor met reporters near the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIULIANI: People tonight should say a prayer for the people that we've lost and be grateful that we're all here. And tomorrow - you know, tomorrow New York is going to be here, and we're going to rebuild. And we're going to be stronger than we were before.

INSKEEP: Giuliani left office a national hero for his leadership. His reputation then helped him launch a career in the private sector. He marketed his crime-fighting and management expertise through a firm called Giuliani Partners. He brought along former deputies from New York's government.

BERNARD KERIK: My name is Bernard Kerik. I'm the 40th police commissioner of the city of New York.

INSKEEP: Kerik was a onetime police detective who had volunteered for Giuliani's mayoral campaign. Giuliani, famously loyal, promoted him and kept him close. They served as security consultants to foreign governments, like the leaders of Mexico City.

KERIK: I think you're paying for experience. You're paying for a reputation and successes of the Giuliani administration. So when people look at Giuliani and they are looking for the same types of programs or success or just those types of achievements in foreign countries, they're going to call somebody that's actually done it.

INSKEEP: Eventually, Giuliani recommended Kerik to serve as President Bush's Homeland Security secretary. He quickly failed a background check and later went to prison for lying to White House officials and tax fraud. But Kerik says Giuliani remains his friend, and they still meet for dinner. In 2008, Giuliani ran for president, suffering a defeat that seemed to end his political career. But he remained a big name when he supported another New Yorker in 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIULIANI: If you want change and you want to make America great again, who do you vote for?

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Campaigning for Donald Trump in 2016, Giuliani made an accusation. He alleged that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had perverted U.S. diplomacy for personal gain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIULIANI: Boy, oh, boy. She turned the State Department so corrupt. Pay money. Get access. Pay money. Get favors. Pay a lot of money. Get big favors. You know what you call that? Bribery.

INSKEEP: As Trump rode to victory, Giuliani offered advice. One piece of that advice seems especially meaningful now in light of recent events - his advice on the Muslim ban.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

INSKEEP: Even fellow Republicans denounced that as an unconstitutional ban on a religion, but Giuliani told Fox News he helped to improve it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIULIANI: When he first announced it, he said Muslim ban. He called me up. He said, put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.

INSKEEP: The ex-mayor worked to narrow the Muslim ban to a few countries that were seen as dangerous, so it could be rebranded as a normal anti-terrorism measure. After Trump took office, Giuliani served as his personal lawyer. He kept serving foreign clients, too. A witness tells us Giuliani met clients at a restaurant inside the Trump Hotel in Washington. Some were from Ukraine, where he started doing business in 2017. One of his companies signed a security contract with the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. It's the home city of anti-corruption activist Daria Kaleniuk.

DARIA KALENIUK: Unfortunately, the city is not lucky, and the current mayor of the city has roots to organized crime and grand corruption.

INSKEEP: Kaleniuk says Giuliani met a range of people with checkered reputations, including two businessmen who've since been indicted.

KALENIUK: I was very much surprised because I had a feeling that Rudy Giuliani was a good guy, a prominent mayor of New York. And I wouldn't expect such kind of person to meet the most toxic people in Ukraine, which have ties to organized crime and links to Russia.

INSKEEP: These are among the sources Giuliani relied upon as he sought investigations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORDON SONDLAND: President Trump directed us to, quote, "talk with Rudy."

INSKEEP: Gordon Sondland and William Taylor are among the U.S. diplomats who have testified to Giuliani's role.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM TAYLOR: The investigation of Burisma and the Bidens was clearly identified by Mr. Giuliani in public for months.

INSKEEP: Giuliani's efforts led up to President Trump's July 25 phone call, the one in which he asked for investigations of a political rival. Giuliani and his client justified this through the way that they branded it, much as they once branded the Muslim ban. Don't call it a probe of Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Call it a probe of corruption.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We have an obligation to investigate corruption. And that's what it was. In my opinion, that's what it was - is corruption.

INSKEEP: Some former friends are mystified by Giuliani's work for the president. One is his fellow former prosecutor, Jeffrey Harris.

HARRIS: You know, if I could get him in a candid moment where he'd really tell me what he thought, I'd ask him why he's doing this. What's going to be the first paragraph in his obituary, if we sort of put it in those terms? You know, I'd say to him, Rudy, why did you take such an excellent career where you got accolades every step along the way and associate yourself with the kinds of activities that - other than the hardcore Trump supporters, most people think you have become a joke.

INSKEEP: Some acquaintances suggest the onetime prosecutor changed. Yet our review of Giuliani's career reveals what has not changed - his energy, his fondness for divisive politics, his creative use of words, and his refusal to give up, all of which fit the style of his fellow New Yorker in the White House. Longtime friends insist Giuliani has been unfairly smeared. And his longtime friend, Bernard Kerik, rejects the idea that the ex-prosecutor did anything wrong.

KERIK: I think that's [expletive]. That's a complete [expletive] argument. The people that's responsible for this mess are the members of Congress that's putting on this scheme of an impeachment, this fraud of an impeachment argument.

INSKEEP: Though some around the president now blame Giuliani, he recently told NPR he should be a hero, that he deserves a medal. And he said this to Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIULIANI: I actually think they should all congratulate me because if it weren't for me, nobody would be - nobody would have uncovered and faced massive corruption by the vice president of the United States. In fact, I'm a legitimate whistleblower.

INSKEEP: Giuliani says the president would like him to give evidence to the Senate. But as they prepare for a possible impeachment trial, top Senate Republicans have indicated he is not a witness they need to hear. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.