PARDON ME, BABE: Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, offering a new look to Donald Trump during the 2000 Inner Circle show, is now reportedly asking the President for a preemptive pardon at a time when he is known to be under investigation for possible improprieties in connection with his attempts last year to dig up embarrassing information on Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

When Richard Nixon died in April 1994, Mayor Rudy Giuliani told reporters in the City Hall Blue Room that the man who resigned the presidency in disgrace 20 years earlier was "a remarkable example of a person who through his own failure and problems and difficulties had reached the lowest possible point that a person could reach."

In his fourth month as Mayor, he quickly made clear he wasn't speaking to bury Mr. Nixon but to praise him as "a remarkable example to anyone who reaches the very depths that you can rebuild your life, that you can make great contributions." 

As he put it, the man whose career and reputation had been washed away by a scandal that amounted to a successful, if ultimately clumsy, attempt to fix his 1972 re-election campaign so he could run against an easier Democratic opponent than early front-runner Ed Muskie had rescued himself from the abyss. Mr. Nixon's wisdom about foreign affairs and lasting relationships he had formed with world leaders including those of Russian and China had allowed him to become an unofficial adviser to those who followed him as President and given him, Mr. Giuliani said, "years of great productivity, of great achievement."

It would be hard to imagine the same being said of President Trump or the former Mayor himself 20 years from now, and for reasons that go beyond both being more than a decade older than Mr. Nixon when he left the White House at 61. 

Barr Debunks Claim, Rudy Dismisses Him 

On Dec. 1, four weeks after the presidential election, Mr. Giuliani was still proclaiming that the election had been rigged against his principal client. After U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, who had served Mr. Trump at least as faithfully and a lot more effectively, stated that afternoon, "To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election," Rudy was quick to respond that he didn't know what he was talking about.

He said in an email, "With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of voter fraud."

It's possible Rudy was convinced that while Mr. Barr oversaw the Justice Department, having access to the nation's mightiest investigative tools was no match for possessing the Giuliani brain and all that was stored within.

But there was reason to surmise that even the man formerly known as America's Mayor didn't believe the tall tales he was telling. Because shortly before the Attorney General's assessment of the situation, the New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani had discussed with Mr. Trump as recently as a week earlier obtaining a preemptive pardon from the President.

He denied the story, tweeting, "#FakeNews NYT lies again. Never had the discussion they falsely attribute to an anonymous source."

The Times piece attributed the information to "two people told of the discussion." And while Rudy had no motive to share details of such a conversation with anyone, Mr. Trump has been known to gossip, and may have decided his personal lawyer deserved a bit more public embarrassment after having failed spectacularly to deliver on his pledge that he could get the election results thrown out. (When the paper updated the story that afternoon, it was simply to state that its sources indicated Mr. Trump had previously discussed preemptive pardons for his three oldest children, Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.)

A Credibility Mismatch

One of the bylines on the story belonged to Maggie Haberman, the estimable reporter whose rapport with Mr. Trump dating back to his days as a businessman, when she was toiling for the New York Post and Daily News, had been parlayed into sources in seemingly every corridor of the White House. After several truckloads of scoops that often embarrassed the President and always held up, her credibility is so strong that you could probably get higher odds in Las Vegas that Mr. Giuliani is telling the truth than on the Jets winning all their remaining games this season.

The possibility that the man who was the most high-profile U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in its history could wind up under indictment by his old office has been percolating for more than a year after Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the wild and crazy guys with whom Mr. Giuliani collaborated to convince Mr. Trump to remove Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch—who was known for fighting corruption in that countrywere indicted for using a shell company named Global Energy Producers to make a $325,000 contribution to the President's re-election campaign.

Lev called Rudy "a very dear friend of mine" who had golfed with him and dined at the steakhouse in the Trump family's Washington, D.C. hotel, in between their trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. 

Mr. Parnas's primary company, with the can't-make-these-things-up name of Fraud Guarantee, had paid Mr. Giuliani $500,000 for consulting and legal advice, the former Mayor has acknowledged. He has denied doing anything improper, but he is known to be under investigationin fact, there was speculation that the firing of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman by Mr. Trump six months ago was prompted by Mr. Giuliani cashing in what he described the previous November as "insurance" that Mr. Trump wouldn't "throw me under the bus."

But there's an old saying that you should never try to con a con man, and Mr. Trumpwho lives with the suspicion that the whole world is out to get himmay finally be realizing that his so-called legal team's combination of strong-arming and slapstick wasn't going to ripen into a second term and needs someone to blame other than himself.

Once Had a Moral Compass

And anyone whose legal skills are sharper than Mr. Giuliani's at this point could make a strong argument that Rudy deserves more of the discredit than his overwrought client. Unlike Mr. Trump, he demonstrated in his rapidly receding past life as a prosecutor that he knew the difference between right and wrong, as well as that what might play on the streets wouldn't pass muster in the courtroom.     

That's still obvious in his unwillingness to charge fraud in the courtrooms in several states where his calls to disregard hundreds of thousands of votes from Michigan to Pennsylvania were summarily booted by judges, more often than not Republican ones. In grittier surroundings, from a landscaping business next to a sex shop in Philadelphia to Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, Mr. Giuliani's penchant for hollering vote fraud without evidence stopped just short of howling at the moon.

That task he farmed out to Sidney Powell, a somber-looking woman who told reporters at the RNC that Mr. Trump had been the victim of an insidious vote-stealing scheme whose co-conspirators included some Republican candidates for high office and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom she linked to a balloting firm, Dominion Voting Systems, she said he had bankrolled. 

Never mind that Mr. Chavez, who except for his socialism exemplified the kind of strongman ruler admired by our President, died seven years ago. Ms. Powell was rolling and this was just one of her preposterous conspiracy theories, which got less attention than they might have if Mr. Giuliani hadn't picked that occasion to have streams of either hair dye or mascara come rolling down first his right cheek and then his left under the heat from the television lights.

He might have been relieved by Ms. Powell's ramblings, since they made him sound somewhat sane in comparison, but by the weekend Mr. Trump was aghast enough at the reaction to her theories that she was booted off what another member of the President's legal team, Jenna Ellis, likened during that press conference to an "elite strike force."

A more-accurate assessment came from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, once an ally of both Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, who said on ABC, "The competence of the President's legal team has been a national embarrassment." 

Buck Stops With Trump

It came to that point because the President's roster of capable attorneys with expertise in election law had bowed out of the case by then because pressing it without proof of significant fraud was damaging their standing in the legal community. That left him relying on Mr. Giulianiwhose handicaps besides a growing eccentricity included not having actually tried a case since 1992and Ms. Ellis (described as his legal protegee) and the exiled Ms. Powell.

The attempt to have the vote in Pennsylvania thrown out due to claimed irregularities in largely black areas of Philadelphia was slapped down by U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, who wrote that Mr. Trump's lawyers offered "strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations." He went on to thunder, "In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state."

Mr. Trump, naturally, opted to appeal the ruling, and got an equally stinging rebuke from the judge who wrote the majority opinion and happened to be a Republican. So, for that matter, is Judge Brann, a former official of Pennsylvania's state Republican Party and a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative organization that has been the prime source of recommendations for judicial seats all the way to the Supreme Court over the past four years.

In Michigan, the President's minions attempted to get two Republican officials in Wayne County  to disallow hundreds of thousands of votes in Detroit based on small discrepancies, only to have them bend to pressure from more-honest forces on the other side and certify the results. Ms. Ellis said the goal of the push by the Trump forces was get the Republicans who controlled the state's legislature to intervene and impose a pro-Trump Electoral College slate, notwithstanding Mr. Biden having captured Michigan by 150,000 votes.

But when Mr. Trump invited the state's GOP leadership to the White House to convince them to go along with this abrogation of democracy, they responded with what he considers a dirty word: no.

While this was going on, Christopher Krebs, who as Director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency oversaw protection of the vote, declared Nov. 17 that the election had been held without outside interference or evidence of serious tampering. There was never any question that Mr. Trump wouldn't take the opportunity to credit his administration for producing an untainted election after the questions surrounding the 2016 process; instead he fired Mr. Krebsanother registered Republicanthat night.

Received Death Threats

Other Republican officials stood up to intense pressure that included anonymous death threats to them and their families. Georgia's Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, ignored entreaties by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a golf buddy of Mr. Trump's who apparently was willing to risk criminal charges to keep him on the White House green, to reject enough ballots to wipe out Mr. Biden's narrow victory there. He insisted state voters should have confidence in the results despite the "massive amounts of misinformation that is being spread by dishonest actors" in service to Mr. Trump.

The man who escaped impeachment early this year solely due to indulgence by Senate Republicans who were motivated by political fear rather than good feeling for the President continued to excoriate other members of the party who didn't give him the same kind of twisted loyalty.

After the President attacked Mr. Raffensperger on Twitter, his predecessor Brian Kempwho while in that job was criticized for disqualifying voters who would have favored his Democratic opponent for Governor in 2018, Stacy Abramsdefended the hand recount that upheld the results. Naturally, Mr. Trump lashed out at him, calling him an ingrate after his endorsement helped him become Governor.

That left it to Mr. Krebs, appearing on "60 Minutes" Nov. 29, to defend his fellow Republicans against a man who, based on his political affiliations for most of his adult life, might best be described as a Meade Esposito Democrat. Mr. Krebs applauded Mr. Raffensperger as having "put country before party," and said of the repeated but groundless claims of election fraud, "What it was actually doing was undermining democracy. And that's dangerous."

The following day, the National Review, which under the late William F. Buckley became the voice of the revival of the conservative movement in America over the past 60 years, ran a scathing editorial under the headline "Trump's Disgraceful Endgame."

It stated that while some legitimate issues had surfaced about the voting process, "The chief driver of the post-election contention of the past several weeks is the petulant refusal of one man to accept the verdict of the American people. The Trump team (and much of the GOP) is working backwards, desperately trying to find something, anything, to support the president's aggrieved feelings, rather than objectively considering the evidence and reacting as warranted."

The Me-Me Generation

The truth is that neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Giuliani are true conservatives. Both one-time Democrats who switched party affiliations to advance their careers, they typify the kind of self-absorbed people who came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s and were characterized by Tom Wolfe as products of the "Me Decade."

Mr. Trump for his entire adult life has walked on the wild side of the law but avoided convictions for what was often dishonest and sometimes-criminal behavior. 

Mr. Giuliani pursued power through respectability as a prosecutor and then as Mayor, even while often behaving unethically to get what he wanted, whether in a courtroom or at City Hall. He, too, thought he could bulldoze his way through trouble.

He had worn out his welcome in much of the city he ran until his steady, eloquent presence on the evening of 9/11 and in the days that followed invested him with a kind of nobility. It wore off after a while, as he looked to monetize the admiration and then generate a run for President in 2008 that flopped badly after he started as the GOP front-runner. 

It is possible that he tried to dig up dirt on Joe Biden with the help of Lev and Igor with such zeal because during that campaign the then-Democratic presidential hopeful who later became Barack Obama's running mate punctured his veneer by saying Mr. Giuliani believed a sentence consisted of three elements: "a noun, a verb, and 9/11."

Just as Mr. Trump is believed to have decided to finally make a serious run for President after Mr. Obama justifiably mocked him during a 2011 Gridiron Club event as he sat in the audience, Mr. Giuliani is a man who has trouble shaking off ridicule.

They have other things in common: three marriages in which their infidelity figured prominently, and a lust for the spotlight that also leaves them hypersensitive to criticism. Recently they shared another distinction: their oldest children, Donald Trump Jr. and Andrew Giuliani, who's an aide to the President, contracted the coronavirus. So did Rudy, the President disclosed Dec. 6.

Not His Kind of Topic

It was an inadvertent reminder of everything Mr. Trump failed to do to encourage caution among his followers regarding the disease. He's been silent about his son's illness, and about the virus itself, in the month since the election, even as the American death toll continued to rise at a rate that could bring it above 300,000 by the end of the year.

The sense is that both men are consumed by dread over something further down the line and with a far-smaller potential casualty rate. It is why Mr. Giuliani may have been pressing the case for a pre-indictment pardon, and why Mr. Trump has seemingly abandoned any attempt to finish out his time in office on a somewhat-graceful note.

Each could wind up spending the next few years trying to avoid criminal convictions. There's something particularly humbling for once-powerful, even-revered men about spending the latter part of their lives as defendants, attracting attention for their falls from what once passed for glory. 

Richard Nixon, a man of deep suspicions besotted by self-pity, stepped away from the wreckage he had made of his life and political career to partly restore his reputation during his post-Watergate years, and earned respect and even admiration for the effort.

Will Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have the willpower to try something similar?    

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