Rudy Giuliani is being portrayed as some sort of circus act in his new role as lawyer for President Donald Trump. There was indeed a slip-on-the-banana-peel quality at the outset, but I see something else as well: an experienced lawyer alarmed at how vulnerable his client is.
Giuliani may have seemed foolish for announcing on Fox News on May 2 that Trump really did pay for porn actress Stephanie Clifford’s hush money, but he had to spin the story before it surfaced through Trump’s annual financial disclosure report, which the president signed on May 15. The Office of Government Ethics quickly referred it to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in case there was any investigation of why the payments were not included in Trump’s 2017 disclosure form.
Giuliani would know how damaging this can be. As both a prosecutor and a politician, he made an art form of exploiting erroneous financial disclosure forms. His 1989 campaign for mayor of New York, begun the same year he resigned as U.S. attorney in Manhattan, leaned heavily on his accusation that Democrat David Dinkins had filed a false disclosure report three years earlier when he became Manhattan Borough President. Dinkins had allegedly misreported details of the transfer of his stock in a cable television company to his son.
Under the guidance of his media advisor, Roger Ailes, Giuliani asserted this was a “crime” and called for an investigation. “We need a mayor who has nothing to fear from prosecutors,” Giuliani said, accusing Dinkins of a “cover-up” and tax evasion. “You can’t evade a subpoena,” he declared. Dinkins was elected mayor and spent the first year of his administration fending off a federal grand jury investigation that produced no charges. To the best of my recollection, he didn’t complain publicly that he was being investigated by a Republican-run Justice Department where Giuliani had been a major figure for the previous decade.
Similarly, Giuliani’s boss at the Reagan administration Justice Department, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, landed in hot water for failing to disclose an investment on his financial disclosure form. This failure raised questions about whether Meese had assisted a corrupt Bronx defense contractor, The Wedtech Corporation, while counselor to Reagan in the White House. A special prosecutor was appointed, but Giuliani, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, launched his own probe of a close friend of Meese, lawyer E. Robert Wallach. The special prosecutor never charged Meese, but Giuliani obtained charges that Wallach took payments from Wedtech to influence Meese. After two trials, the charges against Wallach were dropped. Giuliani was able to portray himself as a prosecutor willing to go after his own boss.