Freedom of speech and freedom from compelled speech are protected rights in America, but nothing can protect Rudy Giuliani from himself.
In a video obtained by New York, the former mayor stars in an inadvertent public-service announcement on the dangers of operating a Cameo account while under criminal investigation and over the age of 75. For 52 seconds, Giuliani reads an endorsement of several journalists and activists who have reported critically on, or campaigned against, Derwick Associates, the energy firm founded by Alejandro Betancourt, a Venezuelan businessman reportedly represented by Giuliani. In 2020, Reuters published an extensive report detailing allegations that Giuliani sought to leverage his relationship with Donald Trump to help Betancourt out of a bind with the Justice Department amid charges of money laundering and bribery in Florida. Giuliani is under federal criminal investigation for similar foreign influence schemes involving Ukraine and Turkey. The message was recorded, Giuliani says, on behalf of Derwick Associates.
“Angus, Cesar, Orlando, Alek, Thor, Otto, this is from the staff of Derwick Associates,” Giuliani says, referring to Reuters investigative journalist Angus Berwick; independent Venezuelan investigative journalists Cesar Batiz, Orlando Avendaño, and Alek Boyd; anti-corruption activist Thor Halvorssen; and Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Venezuela, Otto Reich. “This is Rudy Giuliani, and the message they want me to deliver is: The employees and the field staff of Derwick Associates want to thank you for your honesty and devotion, that you have fought for them for years and that — um — you’re very, very exceptionally dedicated,” Giuliani says, addressing the camera from a dimly lit room, an eagle statue and a copy of his 2002 book, Leadership, positioned behind him.
“Well, that’s a nice thing!” Giuliani adds. “I really wish somebody would send me a message like that! I think you can be very, very proud of it. It sounds like it comes from the heart, and it comes from having done very hard work. I wish I knew more about it, I could say more, but that’s the message they gave me to deliver to you. And, again, I congratulate you on having done such fine work for the people that appreciate you so much!”
Last month, Giuliani all but invited a predicament such as this when he took an extreme step to expand his capacity for screwball antics by joining Cameo, the service that connects celebrities with civilians willing to pay for a custom video greeting. The premise is harmless enough: For a variable fee ($1,200 for Snoop Dogg, $50 for Janice Dickinson, $450 for Ice-T, $375 for Lindsay Lohan, and so on), a public figure will perform at your direction (a simple “happy birthday,” or general life advice, or updates on CDC guidance for the coronavirus). But the baseline potential for fuckery via the app is high — in theory, any for-hire famous person is vulnerable to embarrassment. That potential seems even higher for public figures connected to politics. And higher still for those who have used their decades of public life as a means of proving the existence of a fourth Stooge. On Cameo, Giuliani is listed in the company of Sarah Palin, Stormy Daniels, Donald Trump Jr., and Rod Blagojevich. His fee is $400.
Giuliani’s pronunciation of the name “Derwick” leaves some room for interpretation, as his emphasis on the Der sounds Ter enough to suggest he may have been under the impression that he was saying something else altogether. New York reached out to Giuliani for clarity and to ask if he realized he was recording what sounded like an ode to the very people who have made a vigorous case against his client. Additionally, New York asked if there is a screening process in place for his Cameo requests. Giuliani did not return multiple requests for comment. A separate attempt to reach Giuliani through his spokesperson was also unsuccessful, perhaps because she reportedly quit her job this week.
Whatever his awareness, the self-own is “fitting,” said Halvorssen. Who but Giuliani could be counted on to screw up in such an entertaining way? “It’s hilarious, pitiful, surreal, and illustrative of his moral rot.” Halvorssen, who previously sued Betancourt and Derwick Associates, accused Giuliani of “getting millions of dollars in stolen money” from Betancourt, whom he called a “mob boss.” The video, he added, is “a mockery of himself and his client.” As for who orchestrated this delightful prank? Halvorssen claimed to have no idea.