Giuliani, maverick Trump lawyer, courts stormy waters

New York (AFP) –


Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, 9/11 hero and prosecutor who jailed the mafia, was thrust into a gathering storm Friday, accused of exacerbating Donald Trump's already fraught legal woes.

Appointed to the president's personal legal team on April 19, the 73-year-old maverick dropped a bombshell when he went on Fox News to disclose that Trump had paid back hush-money given in October 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Some saw Giuliani's revelations as a calculated -- if risky -- ploy to protect Trump from a looming legal threat: he argues that because the president reimbursed the $130,000 sum to his lawyer, it cannot be viewed as an illicit contribution to his election campaign.

But in orchestrating the media blitz -- and undercutting Trump's past statements -- legal analysts and US media suggested Giuliani may have given investigators new avenues of inquiry to chase.

And the ensuing uproar certainly dampened the suggestion Giuliani, the man famous for prosecuting Wall Street crime, jailing the mob and steeped in crisis management could turn out to be his old friend's knight in shining armor.

A breathless US media went into panic overdrive. "Rudy Giuliani throws Trump's legal team into disarray" shrieked CNN. "Giuliani outs Trump: did the president just admit to a campaign finance law violation?" wondered The Washington Post.

Trump faces numerous legal challenges, including the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible links between his campaign and Russia, and possible obstruction of justice; allegations that women he slept with were paid money to stay quiet; and challenges over his family businesses.

"You won't see daylight between me and the president," Giuliani hit back on CNN, denying that his intervention had been uncoordinated.

But has Giuliani's straight-talking, loose cannon reputation already heaped more damage on the US president? On Friday, it seemed not even Trump was sure.

- 'Blow it up' -

"He started yesterday. He'll get his facts straight," the president said. "He's a great guy," he added, lacing his ticking off with an endorsement.

But if the loudest voices come down heavily against the man once admired for his leadership as "America's Mayor" in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, others have urged caution.

"I think it's a mistake to write off any experienced lawyer as an object of casual ridicule. If you look at Mr Giuliani's career he has a lot of relevant high-level experience," a former Manhattan federal prosecutor told AFP.

Critics say few lawyers worth their salt would spout so publicly in the media, but Giuliani is not someone who operates in the shadows.

"Giuliani has an operatic quality. He likes to kind of walk into a situation and blow it up. Sometimes for strategic reasons... also because he just likes it," Andrew Kirtzman, the author of a Giuliani biography published in 2000.

Neither is he only a lawyer. Mayor of New York from 1994-2001, he presided over a 57 percent fall in overall crime that turned him into a cause celebre.

He chairs an international security consulting firm, he is a multi-millionaire and perhaps most crucially, he is close to the mercurial Trump.

"Giuliani's value is not just as a lawyer but as a friend and a confidante," says Kirtzman. "Those were in short supply in the Oval Office these days."

Both men are of the same generation, of similar temperament and both created in New York, at home in the rough-and-tumble world of the tabloids.

- 'Lobbying' -

But many question whether Giuliani is still at the top of the legal game that in the 1980s made him US Attorney in Manhattan, a highly prestigious job.

"It's not clear that he still possesses those skills," says Rick Hasen, professor at University of California Irvine School of Law.

"I don't think he's been doing that kind of work for many years. He has been doing more lobbying and government relations," he added.

His public performances have become increasingly extreme. He ran a disastrous campaign for president in 2008. He was one of Trump's most ardent surrogates during the bitterly divisive 2016 presidential campaign.

His hero-status after 9/11 has also taken a major hit.

Hoping to become Trump's secretary of state, Giuliani dropped out after coming under scrutiny for business dealings that could pose conflicts of interest. Instead he was tapped to advise the administration on cyber security.

When it comes to his legal strategy for Trump, it may still be early days.

"Who could realistically judge that at this point? It's so early in Giuliani's involvement, there's no way to know exactly what the longer-term strategy is at this point," the former federal prosecutor told AFP.