Rudy Giuliani: How a 9/11 hero became Trump's conspiratorial Ukraine fixer

President uses former New York mayor to constantly muddy waters

Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 28 September 2019 19:46 BST
Rudy Giuliani says he knew 'Washington swamp people' would try to kill him for looking into Biden

There is a celebrated photograph taken the day after the 9/11 attacks, of Rudolph Giuliani at his very best.

Wearing a deep-navy baseball cap, and a matching bomber jacket, the image shows him lowering his face mask in order to console Anita Deblase, whose son James was suspected to be buried beneath the debris. “He’s at the bottom of the rubble,” she told Mr Giuliani, as he clasped her hands with his and lowered his head.

The al-Qaeda assaults of 11 September, and the days that followed, changed the lives of millions, not least the likes of Ms Deblase, whose son worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. The offices of the financial services giant dominated four floors of One World Trade Centre, and James Deblase was among 658 of the company’s employees who lost their lives.

For Mr Giuliani, a former criminal prosecutor and two-term New York mayor, who had been both praised for his anti-crime efforts and criticised for measures such as “stop and frisk” that were disproportionately used against people of colour, the images of him touring southern Manhattan and grieving with victims, would be the pivot to a new career. The following month, he spoke at the United Nations General Assembly, pitching himself as someone ready to take on terrorism. “We’re right and they’re wrong – it’s as simple as that.”

Eighteen years later, with a brief stop for a failed 2008 presidential run, Mr Giuliani is still here, still in front of the cameras and still insisting that he is right. This week, the 75-year-old was named in the whistleblower complaint from a CIA officer who wanted to raise a red flag over Donald Trump’s 25 July conversation with the president of Ukraine.

During the conversation, Mr Trump asked Volodymyr Zelensky to push ahead with an investigation into Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. For doing so, critics of the president allege he made clear, the US would lift a freeze on military aid for Kiev.

“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple US government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election,” the whistleblower wrote. “This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals. The president’s personal lawyer, Mr Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney general (William) Barr appears to be involved as well.”

After the attacks of 9/11 Mr Giuliani was dubbed ‘America’s Mayor’ (Getty)

The accusations levelled in the complaint are the centre of formal impeachment proceedings announced this week by House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who displayed a new-found willingness to pursue such a censure. “The president must be held accountable,” she said. “No one is above the law.”

Mr Trump has dismissed the complaint and its allegations as the latest effort by critics to oust him from office. This week, he appeared with Mr Zelensky at an awkward photo opportunity on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly where he insisted he had not pressured his counterpart.

“If that perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine isn’t considered appropriate, then no future president can EVER again speak to another foreign leader,” Mr Trump tweeted.

The accusations of presidential misconduct have shocked members of both parties. They have also drawn attention to what appears to have been an effort dating back at least 12 months, in which Mr Giuliani sought to persuade Mr Zelensky and his aides to investigate Mr Biden, over his alleged interference in pushing for the firing of an allegedly corrupt prosecutor who was said to have been probing an an energy company, Burisma, that employed the former vice president’s son.

Ukraine's former Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin rejects claims by Donald Trump concerning Joe Biden

Even before the complaint was made public, Mr Giuliani was known to be lobbying on behalf of Mr Trump. This summer, The New York Times reported that he held a face-to-face meeting in Madrid, in addition to a series of phone calls, with representatives of the incoming president, and that his efforts to influence domestic decisions in Ukraine included threats about the future of US military aid to the country.

Mr Giuliani has since been on a tour of television studios and on the phone to reporters, to defend his actions and those of the president. “I’m the real whistleblower,” he told Politico.“If I get killed now, you won’t get the rest of the story.”

In a particularly colourful interview with The Atlantic, he claimed that he – not the whistleblower – should be considered a hero. “These morons – when this is over, I will be the hero,” he said. “I’m not acting as a lawyer. I’m acting as someone who has devoted most of his life to straightening out government. Anything I did should be praised.”

On Fox News he said he had been acting on behalf of the US state department and said that Kurt Volker, the US’s special representative to Ukraine, needed to speak out. “He should step forward and explain what he did,” he said. “I wasn’t operating on my own.”

Commentators point out the obsession with Ukraine by Mr Giuliani and Mr Trump, echoes some of that voiced by conspiracy theorist conservatives, who allege the Democratic National Committee, whose server was allegedly hacked by Russia in 2016, was actually kept in Kiev. California-based CrowdStrike was hired in 2016 by the DNC to investigate the origins of the hack. Mr Trump even told the Associated Press he was surprised the FBI had not investigated the whereabouts of the servers given CrowdStrike was owned by “a very rich Ukrainian”.

The US media has pointed out this week, CrowdStrike was established by Dmitri Alperovitch, a Russian-born American citizen.

According to the whistleblower complaint, one of Mr Trump’s requests to Mr Zelensky was "to assist in purportedly uncovering that allegation of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the US cyber security firm CrowdStrike”.

It added: “The president named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr Giuliani and attorney general Barr, to whom the president referred multiple times in tandem.”

Mr Giuliani did not respond to enquiries on Friday. His New York-based law firm did not reply to written questions.

Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University in New York, told The Independent she rejected any narrative that painted Mr Giuliani as a hero who had gone off the rails. She said his political career in New York had been based on race-baiting and discrimination. She said he once organised a riot involving off-duty white police officers to threaten David Dinkins, the city’s first African American mayor, who in 1989 had defeated Mr Giuliani.

She said he and Mr Trump shared the same beliefs and had known each other for many years in New York.

“Trump trusts him. He has no friends, but he trusts Giuliani because they see themselves as white, ethnic outsiders against the world,” she said.

Robert McCaw, director of government affairs at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Mr Giuliani had long been willing to do the president’s bidding on controversial issues, even as he was looked over for jobs such as secretary of state and attorney general.

In 2017, he helped put together the executive order that became the administration’s first Muslim ban.

“I’ll tell you the whole history of it,” he told Fox News, two years ago. “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’.”

Some believe Mr Giuliani’s willingness to defend the president at each and every opportunity, and try to turn the focus onto Mr Biden and his son, is something Mr Trump will use to push his re-election chances.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Mike Fraioli, a Democratic strategist based in Washington DC, said it appeared the former prosecutor once known for bringing down mobsters, did not care about how he was viewed by Mr Trump’s critics when he appeared on television.

“Rudy does everything Trump asks of him. He goes on television and makes a fool of himself,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if he makes a fool of himself. They just keep trying to muddy the water.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in