The story of Rudy Giuliani’s development is epic. He was a well-known criminal who put Wall Street crooks and mafia bosses in jail and brought down mafia bosses. He used trust and integrity to show that Republicans could still be elected as mayors of big cities.
His compassion and authority on 9/11 in New York City made him a worldwide figure and a true blue legend.
The new CNN Original Series, “Giuliani: The Man Behind the Lies,” explores how that man, who once received standing ovations whenever he entered a room, became former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory pawn who spreads lies about the 2020 election. What happened to the mayor of America?
The juxtaposition of Giuliani’s early success and subsequent shame is striking and depressing.
I got in touch with one of the series’ most important voices, CNN political analyst John Avlon, who later worked for Giuliani’s presidential campaign and was Giuliani’s chief speechwriter during his second term as mayor, including on 9/11.
Below are excerpts from our conversation regarding Avlon’s perceptions of the series and the events surrounding his former boss.
A significant player in the Trump story
WOLF: Today’s Giuliani is at the center of many of Trump’s issues. The first impeachment of Trump was helped along by Giuliani’s digging up dirt in Ukraine. The election denialism that resulted in the second impeachment of Trump was made possible by Giuliani. What role does he play in Trump’s political past, in your opinion?
AVLON: Rudy will likely be blamed for Trump’s numerous issues by some ardent Trump supporters, in my opinion. That, in my opinion, is an effort to avoid Trump’s responsibility for the chaos he caused.
However, Rudy is the first presidential lawyer whose actions contributed to not one but two impeachments, and you have to give him credit for that. That occupies a unique position in American history. Unfortunately, I believe that the very positive and constructive role he played throughout his life will be overshadowed by this tragic final chapter.
I don’t think it’ll eventually overshadow 9/11 and his administration on that day. However, he destroyed his legacy in the name of Donald Trump and received nothing but disgrace, ignominy, (potential) disbarment, and a reduction in his personal wealth.
He was also a hero, a mayor, and a fighter against crime.
WOLF: I think learning about those earlier chapters will surprise many people. This prosecutor is responsible for bringing down insider traders and mafia families. He is the mayor who made the city clean. How did that man become a proponent of conspiracy theories?
AVLON: That is, in large part, the subject of the documentary. It’s important, in my opinion, for people to keep in mind that he was a leading lawyer of his time who had a proven track record of success in taking on Wall Street and the mob.
He would have been a significant figure in modern American politics simply because of that. However, his work as mayor was truly remarkable. America’s most successful example of conservative governance, according to George Will.
In his second term as chief speechwriter, I worked for him at City Hall. If you just look at the data of what he did, it’s amazing:
He reduced crimes by 56% and murders by 68%.
He turned a deficit of $2 billion into a surplus of multiple billions of dollars.
He reduced New Yorkers’ tax burden.
Life was better because of him.
I believe that his policies started a new era of revival for urban America. I believe that Rudy and Michael Bloomberg’s 20 years together in New York City were instrumental in fundamentally transforming the city.
The man who believed that the law was a search for the truth ended up attempting to defend his client in the court of public opinion by using the law to pursue a lie. This is the tragedy—I use the word “tragic” intentionally because it is self-inflicted, but it is tragic nonetheless.
He probably ended up in a right-wing echo chamber, where he was completely invested in a completely hyperpartisan alternative reality and they couldn’t even imagine losing fairly.
So, in the end, they tried to overturn an election and our democracy using a pretty obvious lie without any evidence.
I won’t try to figure out how he’s changed. However, my judgment of the man I knew and worked proudly for is fundamentally flawed.
Is Giuliani a new person or has he already been discovered?
There are interesting moments in the documentary that hint at the Rudy of today, despite the perception that he has changed as a person. In comparison to the riot at the Capitol, we observe a police officer riot at City Hall in 1992. He suggested in 1989 that there had been fraudulent voting, but he did not pursue it. Is it true that he has changed, or has he only been discovered?
AVLON: A great line by Robert Caro is about how power reveals rather than corrupts. The adage that people become more mature as they get older always makes me more likely to believe it. The documentary makes numerous attempts to establish a narrative link between the police riot and January 6. Those incidents did not define the person I knew and worked for on a daily basis.
Character matters. I learned on 9/11 that you don’t have to be perfect to be a hero, which is one of Rudy’s positive and negative aspects. Rudy was not one of these politicians who made up excuses for their shortcomings.
He was conscious of the fact that he was a flawed individual and was actively interested in identifying his flaws and the factors that motivated him during low points. He was someone who considered politics philosophically.
He would openly discuss St. Thomas Aquinas and the debate over when life begins if you asked him about his position on abortion, for instance.
Also, he was the kind of person who considered becoming a priest but ended up working as a prosecutor. However, I believe his perspective has shifted.
People who aren’t at their most stable are more likely to join the Trump circle. Rudy’s legacy and reputation suffered as a result of his search for attention and relevance.
Does hero worship alter an individual?
WOLF: I learned a lot by reflecting on how much of a national hero he was after 9/11. How specifically did that, in your opinion, affect him? You witnessed it.
AVLON: First and foremost, there is a partisan misconception that Rudy was deeply unpopular prior to 9/11. Statistics show that’s not the case.
However, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t occasionally contentious and divisive. He would say that you must throw your shoulder to the wheel when turning a ship around at sea.
9/11 was a classic example of man and circumstance meeting. Rudy was frequently criticized by the New York Observer, which stated that he established himself as New York’s greatest mayor almost immediately.
Because of his instinctive response to a massive attack that had never been seen before, he came to be compared to Churchill in some ways.
Additionally, it was due to his sincerity and empathy. He was able to use his grief in a positive way. He was unfaltering. He was an inspiration to a world that was fundamentally shaken and horrified, declaring that the number of deaths was greater than any of us could bear.
In addition, it was remarkable. He would be greeted with standing ovations when he entered the room for months or even years afterward.
It seems a little too straightforward to say that implies that you will receive that kind of treatment wherever you go. However, I believe it brings attention to how tragic the fall has been.
And if he had maintained his credibility as a senior Republican centrist who was tough on issues that a lot of people care about, such as fiscal discipline and law and order, He could have been a significant stabilizing force within the Republican Party, including on social issues.
Because of his example of leadership on that day, which was the apex of his career, he could have been a name for parks, statues, and streets across the nation. That demonstrated the true strength and character of the individual.