If there is a hero to the 30-year old book City for Sale, it is Rudy Giuliani. The authors say about him: “The deepest passion of this priestly prosecutor was apprehending crooked politicians [emphasis added], an achievement that gave him a richer sense of satisfaction than even catching drug traffickers, financial finaglers, and Mafia godfathers. ‘I don’t think there is anybody worse than a public official who sells his office and corrupts others,’ Giuliani once said, ‘except maybe a murderer.’ He had a moral comprehension of why political corruption subverted democracy and injured the commonweal. Giuliani regarded corrupt public officials the way Robert Kennedy thought of Jimmy Hoffa; the outrage was personal.”
The government officials, friends, and family around Trump today may not take the kinds of kickbacks Giuliani zealously prosecuted, but I wonder if the former U.S. Attorney ever thinks about the possibilities of the president and cabinet and other high officials using their offices to further enrich themselves. (I say “further” because all of them already seem to be fantastically rich.) Does he think that what happened in New York three decades ago injured the commonweal, but what may be going on around him currently does not? If so, how does he justify his conclusion?
Giuliani, however, continues to show personal outrage, but now his targets are not the office holders. His targets are those who are much like what he used to be, people seeking to find out whether government officials, politicians, and Trump friends and family have entangled themselves with foreign governments. His targets are people, like the Giuliani of the seeking, seeking to determine who may have sought access and political favors after donating or spending money that has aided Trump interests; who has lied about what they have done; who may have sought to obstruct justice and corrupt our electoral system.
And there is Giuliani himself. At least in one way he has remained consistent. Murder is worse than political corruption. Except now, apparently, political corruption is not so bad. He said about Michael Cohen’s corrupt actions that implicate the president, “Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed. . . . This was not a big crime.”
Certainly, Giuliani now thinks that advancing private business interests can go hand-in-hand with being the president’s lawyer. He was recently in Bahrain meeting the king and the interior minister. In Bahrain Giuliani was described as leading a “high-level U.S. delegation,” but he was not there performing official duties. He instead was seeking a lucrative contract for a firm he owns, Giuliani Security and Safety, part of a worldwide effort he has been making to get the firm more business. This may not be illegal since Giuliani is not a government official, but the odds are strong that at least some of the foreign officials will think it wise to hire Giuliani Security to stay in Trump’s good graces.
Thirty years seems to me as both a long time and but a blink. The Trump of today seems to be, to put it nicely, the same ethically-challenged Trump who appears in City for Sale. But for Giuliani, those three decades have been enough to bring an apparent reversal of ethical and legal standards.