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January 6 Was ‘Right Out of the Giuliani Playbook’

Photo: Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images/TNS

One of the most frequently mentioned people in Jack Smith’s latest indictment of Donald Trump is an attorney for the ex-president who was allegedly “willing to spread knowingly false claims” to keep him in office. For anyone paying attention, the lawyer, referred to only as “co-conspirator 1” in the indictment, is clearly identifiable as Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani is all over the 45-page document, in which he is presented as a henchman unable to execute Trump’s impossible task of finding evidence for something that did not happen. Along the way, he gets himself into embarrassing situations with election officials, all while being made fun of by senior members of Trump’s campaign.

While his alleged behavior in the indictment may represent a new low for the former New York City mayor, it’s hardly out of character. Andrew Kirtzman, who covered Giuliani in City Hall and wrote two biographies of the former mayor, says that his 2020 putsch was “right out of the Giuliani playbook.” I spoke with Kirtzman about his takeaways from the indictment and what they mean for the legacy of a once widely admired New Yorker.

What was your impression of the indictment?
First of all, I was appalled. The level of criminality that’s spelled out so well in it is just breathtaking. The cynicism, the malevolence — it’s just sad, and it’s shocking. But in another sense, it’s not surprising that Giuliani acted the way that he did. He adopted the effort to subvert the election as a moral crusade, which is the way Giuliani sees everything that he does. It justified all sorts of immoral acts.

One of the things that’s fascinating with Giuliani over the decades is his relationship with morality, how everything becomes a moral issue to him on principle even when what he’s doing is grossly immoral. This is kind of the ultimate illustration of that. He set out to bludgeon the opposition into submission and used every legal lever available to him, including the fake-electors scheme. That was right out of the Giuliani playbook going back to his mayoralty. Except when he was mayor, there was a lot more rigor and strategic logic to what he did. But the Giuliani of today is not the Giuliani of the ’80s and ’90s.

Something that struck me was Giuliani’s incompetence in trying to prove his election-fraud claims. In his defense, it is difficult to prove that something that is fake is real. But when he was in communication with the Republican House Speaker in Arizona, he had to admit that “we don’t have the evidence, but we have lots of theories.” In Georgia, Trump’s team was frustrated with Giuliani and his “conspiracy shit.” What do you think of these moments? They’re almost funny but also kind of sad.
I don’t think he can see past his own warped beliefs anymore. That is sad, but it’s also frightening. The Giuliani of today is a lost soul, someone who doesn’t have the — not common sense, because there was never common sense — but doesn’t have the strategic discipline he once had. He’s an older man now, he’s had drinking issues, and he’s often lost in a fog. The outright incompetence he showed wasn’t surprising in that light. It wasn’t that different from the debacle in Ukraine that led to Trump’s first impeachment. There was a really slapdash quality to that as there was to this.

You’ve written on the way that Giuliani sabotaged his own legacy. How much worse is it post-indictment?
When he was mayor, he was extraordinarily effective, whether you loved him or hated him. I covered Giuliani at City Hall for many years. He was incredibly adept at excoriating his adversaries. He used every legal lever expertly. No one wasn’t afraid of Giuliani back then. He was one of the most effective mayors of our lifetime. You could argue that his tactics were racist and that he governed like an authoritarian. But he was extraordinarily effective. Even among his critics, there was a certain respect for his abilities.

That’s all faded now. Few people respect Giuliani anymore. Few people fear him. People laugh at him. It’s a tragic story. In reporting for my book, I spoke to dozens of those Giuliani loyalists who were appalled at what had happened. These are people who once boasted about their relationship with Giuliani and now have to apologize for it.

Giuliani has not been charged and has said he has not received a target letter. But it’s still pretty brutal, legacy-wise, for a former U.S. Attorney to be named so frequently in such a high-profile indictment.
Years have passed now, and there’s a generation that has no memory of Giuliani as mayor, no memory of 9/11 or even of his time as U.S. Attorney. I remember someone who was not necessarily moral but who was extraordinarily competent and effective. I wrote my first book before 9/11, just based on his mastery over the mayoralty and over the city. And then I was with him on 9/11. He was more impressive in person even than he was to the millions of people watching on television. His arc is one of the great rise-and-fall stories of our lifetime.

During the Ukraine scandal in 2019 that led to Trump’s first impeachment, Giuliani said something fascinating to The New Yorker: “I am afraid it will be on my gravestone — ‘Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump.’” What do you think of that quote now?
If you read the next sentences, he says, “I have a sense of ethics that is as high as anybody you can imagine. I am doing what I believe in.” That is the key to understanding Rudy Giuliani. It’s the certitude in his own beliefs. He’s right when everyone else is wrong. And that’s been a hallmark of his since high school. I think what he was saying then was that he didn’t care that it would be his legacy. He’ll go to his grave believing he was right. In the case of this indictment, he would go to prison believing he was right, if it came to that. He’s a true believer in his own delusions.

He spent most of his legal career working for the Justice Department. He worshipped the institution. To be standing on the brink of indictment by DOJ is a crippling blow to someone in his position, an evisceration of everything he’s spent his life working for.

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January 6 Was ‘Right Out of the Giuliani Playbook’