Washington Update: The President’s Man
Eighteen years ago this week, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against his city, Rudy Giuliani’s approval ratings stood at an incredible 79 percent. He was dubbed “America’s Mayor,” appeared on Saturday Night Live, and was named by Time as its “Person of the Year” in 2001.
Time said, “Giuliani became the voice of America” after 9/11 and “every time he spoke, millions of people felt a little better.”
Today, it is not a partisan statement to say that many Americans may not “feel better” when Giuliani speaks. According to a recent CNN survey, less than one-third of voters across the country have a favorable view of Giuliani. In an Atlantic article last year around the time of the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, national political reporter Dick Polman said it is “hard to square the Giuliani of 2001 with the Giuliani of 2018.”
Almost eighteen years remove from serving as hizzoner, Giuliani is now the personal lawyer to a president facing an impeachment. Inarguably, this is a difficult job, and that is what we focus on this week. We wanted to know: what does it meant to be the president’s personal lawyer? Who are some of the famous (or infamous) faces that have filled this role before? And how does this role differ from the role of the White House counsel?
But, before exploring the answers to those questions, a little bit more about Giuliani and how he came to fill this role.
Six years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “America’s Mayor” still was flying high in the polls. CNN said he was ”the clear front-runner in the crowded GOP presidential field,” in 2008, leading the late Sen. John McCain (the GOP’s eventual nominee) in early surveys. While he of course did not win the nomination in 2008, Giuliani was back at the top of polls early in the 2012 presidential primary.
Giuliani did not run that year, or in 2016, and quickly fell (back) into Donald Trump’s orbit. As The Atlantic’s Polman explained, Giuliani and the president have known each other since “at least 1989,” when Donald Trump endorsed Giuliani in his first run for governor.
The two are long-time political allies, if not friends.
A separate Atlantic report reminded readers that, in 2000, the current president and the former mayor appeared in videotaped skit for a political roast put on by New York City Hall reporters. (Giuliani appeared in drag and Trump pretended to “nuzzle” him.) Trump also endorsed Giuliani when he ran for the U.S. Senate against then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in 2000. Giuliani returned the favor years later, announcing in April 2016 that he would vote for Trump over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the New York state presidential primary.
Exactly two years later, in April 2018, President Trump retained Giuliani as his personal counsel.
As an outside lawyer, Giuliani has no official role within the White House. The position of the White House Counsel, which of course also will play a significant role in impeachment proceedings, currently is filled by Pat Cipollone. Cipollone and his team advise the president on official matters pertaining to Trump’s duties as president.
The distinction is important because of attorney-client privilege. Though there is controversy about how far this privilege extends – and we almost certain to see legal and public wrangling over this point in the months ahead – generally, attorney-client privilege between the White House counsel and the president does not apply to personal or campaign-related matters. The president does enjoy this benefit if he engages outside counsel like Giuliani.
Another distinction is who pays for these attorneys. It is not entirely clear who pays for outside counsel, and the White House is not obligated to explain who is footing the fees, which, as you might imagine, can add up quickly. According to National Public Radio (NPR),“When Hillary Clinton ran for Senate in 2000, as her husband was winding down his presidency, her personal financial disclosure showed they owed [outside] lawyers somewhere between $2.3 million and $10.6 million.”
The salaries and expenses for the White House counsel and his or her staff, on the other hand, are paid by the taxpayers.
President Trump’s league of White House lawyers has grown significantly over the last year. This past January, The Chicago Tribune reported the White House had hired 17 new lawyers “to prepare defense of Trump’s executive privilege.” As NPR pointed out, “Other presidents have brought lawyers into the White House counsel's office to handle those explosive issues — Richard Nixon, who resigned to avoid impeachment in 1974, and Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998 but acquitted by the Senate.”
President Nixon’s lawyers, particularly his outside counsel, were some of the most colorful. Presidents often have personal lawyers, and not only when they find themselves in hot water. Herbert Kalmbach, for example, filled for the role for President Nixon during his 1972 reelection campaign – before the commander in chief was embroiled in scandal.
As The History Channel explains, most Americans never would have heard Kalmbach’s name … if not for Watergate. Kalmbach was the one who “raised a slush fund to finance campaign sabotage and helped pay hush money to the Watergate burglars.” Instead of defending the president, Kalmbach was himself prosecuted.
He fared pretty well, however, reaching a plea deal. Kalmbach eventually “was only convicted of a small portion of the crimes prosecutors could have charged him with,” served just six months in prison, and paid a paltry $10,000 fine.
He also “never implicated” President Nixon in any of his activities.
President Nixon’s tax lawyer also eventually faced authorities. In 1975, Frank DeMarco, who was Kalmbach’s legal partner, “was accused of making false statements to Internal Revenue Service agents and of obstructing a Congressional inquiry into Mr. Nixon’s tax returns for the years 1969 to 1972.” That case was dismissed.
Not all personal attorneys have such a colorful history.
Robert Bennett served as President Bill Clinton’s chief outside counsel during the 1998 impeachment proceedings. Bennett’s client, we all know, ultimately won and, according to Business Insider, Bennett went on to work on “a number of other politically scandalous legal cases, including the case against New York Times reporter Judith Miller over the leaking of a CIA operative’s name” and representing “former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz in a huge scandal that led to his resignation from the bank.”
Ted Olson was President Ronald Reagan’s personal lawyer during the Iran-Contra scandal. He eventually served as the Solicitor General of the United States (the solicitor general represents the federal government before the Supreme Court) and “has twice received the United States Department of Justice’s Edmund J. Randolph Award, its highest award for public service and leadership.”
Time – and the ongoing inquiry in the House of Representatives and, reportedly, investigation by the Justice Department -- will tell on which side of the historical ledger Mayor Giuliani will end up following his legal representation of President Trump.
Steve Boms is the founder and President of Allon Advocacy, LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy consulting firm. Steve has spent his career focused on complex financial services public policy issues, having worked in the United States Congress on the committee with jurisdiction over banking. He has led advocacy efforts and public policy teams globally for equity options exchanges, large U.S.-based financial institutions, and leading fintech firms. In addition to working directly with Allon's clients, he is a frequent conference panelist and his perspective is solicited by reporters on the technology, financial services, and regulatory beats.
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