rudy giuliani
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Rudy Giuliani was a shoo-in for attorney general or secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in a nascent Trump administration. Not only was Giuliani “America’s Mayor” following his command of the situation on 9/11, he was a former federal prosecutor, presidential candidate, and an early validator—if late endorser—of Donald J. Trump.

Life looked pretty rosy for the ambitious pol, with a clear path to power and privilege, given his expertise.

He didn’t want the jobs proffered, however. He wanted something bigger.

Whether he was done with the law or just wanted something that approximated the power and prestige of the presidency, he postured and heavily lobbied to be Trump’s secretary of state. As the former mayor of America’s most important city, he was regularly in the company of foreign dignitaries and, of course, 9/11 gave him a global stage from which to show off his leadership skills.

But translating international experience and foreign hobnobbing into policy focused on America’s global role required diplomatic skill not often associated with New York moxie. It would have been a hard sell—even to a pliant Republican-dominated U.S. Senate. After all, John McCain—and even Lindsey Graham 1.0—were actively looking out for America’s national security interests back then.

Giuliani’s jones-ing to become America’s lead diplomat seemed to have more to do with a desire for his own publicly financed jet and private traveling press corps than any real interest or ability to negotiate long, hard hours toward solutions that required uncomfortable trade-offs. He wanted the position’s perks and platform more than the work—or the extraordinarily demanding work schedule that comes with the job.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Giuliani scorned by Jared Kushner has become the roiling Rudy who plays Donald Trump’s personal attorney on TV. Giuliani has never met a Sunday news show he doesn’t like. Trump has turned to this anti-matinee idol and put personal business and state policy in the hands of a freewheeling, out-of-control—and sometimes crazed—Giuliani. His uncanny ability to stay simultaneously both on message and off—yet claim to be reliably consistent and coherent—has allowed him to play rough in all positions of Trump’s political defense and remain untouched.

Until now.

Now he’s all lawyered up, as investigators in the U.S. House release State Department officials’ closed-door testimony implicating Giuliani in Trump’s move to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Giuliani so desperately needed to play the globetrotting role of secretary of State that he got to become Trump’s “Shadow Secretary.” In that role, he used presidential proximity to guide America’s foreign activities, fire its diplomats, bully its allies, and bank on the nation’s sheer power to leverage lethal aid into forced foreign state-sponsored oppo research on 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Biden became the target of the externally run, illicitly operated Giuliani Shadow State Department, doing the Trump-Kushner-Pompeo trio’s dirty work while operating with Oval Office assurances that his free hand and opaque operation was guarded by attorney-client privilege. This questionable privilege was also supposed to protect Michael Cohen, Trump’s previous personal attorney. Cohen is now serving a prison sentence for doing Trump’s shadowy business.

A one-man, oversight-free, power-drenched Shadow State Department is a heady thing. Giuliani recognized that he no longer had to play by the same rules as a government agency. He could operate the way Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, did with his paramilitary organization, Blackwater. Renamed Xe, Blackwater was a private entity conducting a contracted war, freed from the constraints of treaty obligations, multilateral engagement, long-standing bilateral relations, protocol, congressional oversight, budgetary limits, press access, or full transparency.

Giuliani was as free to disregard established foreign policy and practice as Prince’s locked-and-loaded organization was to end-run military rules of engagement. Bonus points: Giuliani also was able to profit as a free agent. Who was going to question his private authority when the imperial presidency, with its seemingly unchecked privilege, had his back and could dangle a potential blanket pardon?

Giuliani wanted to run the world. With a distracted and delegating president, Giuliani was not only on track to fulfill his wildest career fantasy, he was executing his capricious and cynical plan while laying the groundwork for four more Trump-Giuliani years. What nobody counted on was him getting caught. After all, the whole team has been expert at covering its tracks, hiding intentions, and burying transcripts on dark White House servers.

There is loose talk about a Deep State that is out to get Trump and overthrow his presidency. Too little attention has been paid, however, to the Shadow State and the president’s use of private contractors and legal machinations to keep this government’s questionable practices from ever seeing the light of day.

Giuliani is just one of Trump’s many bit players—albeit a big grifting one—in an operation full of self-righteous and self-aggrandizing people out to do seemingly justifiable work at the expense of sound policy supporting American interests and values.

Rudy should have stuck with the law.

Markos Kounalakis

Markos Kounalakis is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a former NBC Radio Moscow correspondent and the author of Freedom Isn’t Free: The Price of World Order (Anthem Press, 2022).