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The Evolution Of Rudy Giuliani

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Rudy Giuliani - next to the president, he is one of the people most closely identified with the impeachment scandal that's overshadowing just about everything else in Washington.

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RUDY GIULIANI: Everything I did was to defend my client. I am proud of what I did.

CHRIS CUOMO: So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden.

GIULIANI: Of course I did.

CUOMO: You just said you didn't.

GIULIANI: And Schiff pretended that he did...

CORNISH: Before he was the president's lawyer, Giuliani was the U.S. attorney who went after the mob, the mayor who cleaned up New York and, in the days and weeks after 9/11, America's mayor. Andrew Kirtzman covered Giuliani for years. He joins us now to walk through the evolution of his career.

Welcome to the program.

ANDREW KIRTZMAN: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: I want to start with Giuliani's inaugural address when he's elected as mayor of New York in 1993 and he sets out his priorities.

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GIULIANI: American cities can't survive as we know them if they remain so violent. Our priority must be to reduce the violence.

CORNISH: Give us a sense of context here - Giuliani's kind of tough-on-crime reputation at this point.

KIRTZMAN: Giuliani came into power at a time when New York City was in terrible shape. There was a sense of disorder - the high crime and the deteriorating quality of life. The economy was terrible. I mean, there were racial crises. And Giuliani kind of came to office as someone who could kind of take control of the city.

CORNISH: New Yorkers brought him back, but that doesn't mean he was without controversy, right? And you alluded earlier to issues of race and civil rights.

KIRTZMAN: The Giuliani mayoralty was a tumultuous event. It was like watching an opera. And, you know, it served the city well, and it served it badly. His kind of cleaning up the streets and his attack on crime allowed the city to flower, but there was also this lack of proportion where Giuliani felt that it was worth the violation of the civil rights of a generation of young black men. It was fascinating watching someone who is so kind of morally ambiguous, who could achieve great things and someone who could care less about the rights of so many people.

CORNISH: He's term-limited and then runs for Senate against Hillary Clinton in 2000. He has a very troubled campaign - right? - a marital scandal. And he drops out.

KIRTZMAN: Right.

CORNISH: And then there's 9/11, and that sort of changes everything for him in terms of public perception. Can you talk about that shift?

KIRTZMAN: The city was exhausted by Giuliani - the fight with the minority community and the continuing dramas. And then came the morning of September 11. And, you know, I was with Giuliani that morning. You know, he and I, you know, in a kind of motley band of his aides, went running for our lives when one of the towers fell. And I just watched him close up as he demonstrated extraordinary leadership.

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GIULIANI: Good afternoon.

KIRTZMAN: And his tone changed.

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GIULIANI: Today is obviously one of the most difficult days in the history of the city.

KIRTZMAN: You know, there was a sense of kind of softness and compassion in his voice.

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GIULIANI: My heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this horrible and vicious act of terrorism - acts of terrorism.

KIRTZMAN: The slate had been wiped clean, and he had saved us.

CORNISH: Right. At one point, there's this prayer service at Yankee Stadium, and Oprah Winfrey introduces him with this very rich introduction.

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OPRAH WINFREY: I know you want to hear from him. He's the man of the hour, a man whose extraordinary grace under pressure in the days since this devastating attack has led him to be called America's mayor. He's the mayor of New York City. Ladies and gentlemen, Rudy Giuliani.

KIRTZMAN: It was just his presence, his competence, his sense that things were under control. When George W. Bush was out of sight, it was really Giuliani that the world saw as the person who was kind of taking control of an inherently out-of-control situation.

CORNISH: He takes this reputation, and he later - many years later - runs for office, right? He runs for president in 2008. I remember following that race in New Hampshire, and it wasn't clear that he was quite a good fit for the party, right? And people also thought he was relying too much on his reputation out of the September 11 attacks.

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JOE BIDEN: Rudy Giuliani - there's only three things he mentions in a sentence - a noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else.

KIRTZMAN: I mean, he was a terrible candidate. It looked as though he was kind of winging it. He skipped the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. He bungled the abortion question at a debate. There was a sense of entitlement that he had that I think doomed him.

CORNISH: I want to talk about 2016 because this is when the public begins to tie him with Donald Trump, right? He becomes Trump's No. 1 surrogate. Here's an example of him at the Republican National Convention.

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GIULIANI: Who would trust Hillary Clinton to protect them? I wouldn't. Would you?

KIRTZMAN: I always saw that speech as almost a primal scream out of his frustration for having been relegated to the sidelines and humiliated in the presidential race. Then comes Donald Trump, and it was an opportunity for Giuliani to kind of get back into the fight.

CORNISH: Why do you think he attached himself to Trump, though? Do you think there's a greater connection there, especially as we have this new information coming out from the whistleblower complaint?

KIRTZMAN: Well, people look back on Giuliani's history, and there's been a lot of revisionist talk about how, well, he was always like this - you know, that Giuliani is taking a lot of the blame for kind of whispering in Trump's ear about the conspiracy of the Bidens in Ukraine. I don't buy that. I think that Giuliani has changed. You know, he's become more reactionary and more inflammatory and more of a loose cannon as he's gotten older. What's happened to Giuliani is tragic. He was a person who achieved greatness at one point. And he squandered it now, and it's sad.

CORNISH: Andrew Kirtzman was a longtime New York political reporter. He's the author of "Rudy Giuliani: Emperor Of The City."

Thank you for speaking with us.

KIRTZMAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.