“Dean Manning, distinguished faculty, honoured guests, and graduating class of Harvard Law 2020. Thank you for that warm greeting, particularly for someone from the NYU law school. I imagine if I’d been from Yale, there would have been tar and feathers involved. Or maybe feathers and tar.
It is a common thing for graduation ceremonies to feature someone such as myself to give a speech, to wish students well as they leave the academic world and go out into the working world. In your case, into the world of lawyers. Harvard has a long tradition of sending out lawyers into the world to do good and to do bad and all that other stuff that we do as lawyers. After all, there are reasons people hate lawyers.
Now I could just give you a conventional motivating speech about the rule of law and holding fast to what’s right.
But given the way my legal career went before I retired, that might be hypocritical.
So instead I thought I’d tell you the story about when I decided to retire. And why.
It should have been years before. I mean, there I was, a prosecuting attorney, and a damned good one. I went after organized crime, built up a reputation as a real law and order kind of guy. I parlayed that into the mayorship of what’s still the best city in the world.
I should have stopped right there.
I could have finished off my time as mayor, retired from public life entirely, contented myself with doing business in the private sector, maybe writing some books.
Instead I wanted something bigger.
But I should have stopped.
I should have had some friend take me aside and say, ‘Rudy, don’t do it.’
Or some enemy, I don’t know. Either way would have been fine.
So I mused about running for governor. Threw my hat into the ring for the Republican nomination for President a couple of times. Came up short. Or long. That depends on how you define throwing your hat into the ring.
But even though I didn’t get the nomination, it gave me a certain amount of weight in the party. A reputation as a fixer. A place on the talk shows to explain policy. And hey, everyone who’s ever met me knows I like to talk. Maybe I talk too much. Or too little. That depends on if I’ve said something that might backfire.
You know, much has been said about what happened two years ago. About the crazy things I said in public. About moving the goalposts and implicating my client in collusion and making things worse. About truth not being truth. Old friends asked, ‘have you seen a doctor lately? We’re concerned about you.’ I was the subject of pundits and cartoonists. Not as many as my client, but my fair share.
People have said that I was a bootlicker. That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? Or maybe not harsh enough, I don’t know. I was brought in as a fixer. The latest in a long line of aides who were in and out of the place trying to hold back the tide. You had all the allegations that were out there, the investigations, the accusations of collusion with Moscow, the hookers, the porn stars, the daily screw-ups and rants on Twitter. It was getting out of control, and on some level he knew it. He and I had known each other for years. He called me in, asked me to make it all go away. I told him, ‘don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of everything.’
I just didn’t explain what I meant by taking care of everything.
Here’s the thing. You go through life as a lawyer, first working insane amounts of hours a week in the private sector like most of you are going to do, trying to make partner in a firm with old bastard senior partners who are having champagne lunches. Or you’re public and working as a prosecutor against a never ending flood of crime. Either way you start hating yourself. You wonder, ‘why didn’t I go into farming? Or medicine? Or anything else but the law?’ And you start thinking of an exit plan. For some of us, that means politics. For others, it means just building up your assets so you can eventually retire. I went both ways for awhile.
But retirement was always there in the back of my mind. Like I said, I should have done it years earlier. It would have been better for my peace of mind, my quality of life, that whole thing. Instead I stayed on, kept my hand in things, did the whole talk show circuit on the morning newcasts. Brought up Nine Eleven a lot. Because you can’t Nine Eleven without a Nine Eleven.
Anyway, that’s beside the Nine Eleven point. So there was the country, deeply divided. There we had ourselves a new occupant to the Oval Office who was out of his depth. And it showed. The scandals were coming left and right, aides coming in and out of their jobs all over the place. It was chaos. It was mayhem. It was exactly what a lot of people predicted what would happen when you elect a guy with no pertinent experience but lots of ego to the world’s most stressful job.
That might be shocking to hear me say that. Like I said, people called me a bootlicker where he was concerned. But that’s not really the truth. And I don’t say that in a truth isn’t the truth sort of way.
Here today I’m going to tell you the truth. Or the facts. Depending on how you see it.
See, I always found him to be a boor. A self absorbed twit. Failed casinos, failed businesses all over the place, and the world’s biggest ego. Called himself a successful businessman, but really? Point out those successful businesses to me, because I don’t see them. What I saw was this blowhard who the banks wouldn’t touch, who was going to Russian banks to prop his interests up. And let’s face it, if you’re going to the Russian banks, that means you’re going to Putin. Because Putin owns everything out there.
My point is, I didn’t like him. His term had started in chaos. One official after another turfed, no discipline in the administration, and no discipline in the man himself. Three years ago that was the status quo. I was at a point where I was quietly looking for a way to completely withdraw out of public life. I didn’t need to work anymore. I was in a position to retire, even when you factor in the alimony that I keep owing. Complete aside here- alimony sucks. I didn’t need to keep going on the news shows, putting my foot in my mouth on a regular basis. I could just retire. Spend my days in my pajamas doing the crossword puzzle in the Times. Go down to Delmonico’s for lunch. That was my plan.
Then Donald Trump asked me to be his lawyer.
He’d been having more than his fair share of trouble holding onto lawyers. When you’ve got a former FBI director personally investigating you, your attorney is paying off porn stars on your behalf and digging his own legal grave, you might think it’s a good idea to find another attorney. So he asked. And I accepted.
But it wasn’t to help him.
By saying that I would be taking care of everything, by making it all stop, I decided that I’d help the whole train wreck along. And that’s what I did.
You heard it.
I just admitted it.
I went on the news shows to stick up for him. I’d blurt out in the middle of a conversation things that tied him and his family directly to colluding with the Russians. I would admit that, sure, my client reimbursed his last attorney for the payoff to the porn star and the hush-hush agreement. I’d say things like truth isn’t truth and that lawyers do tend to pay off mistresses for their clients. I went back and forth all over the place as to if he’d testify or not if it came to it. Sure, I did mention that he probably forgot paying off that last attorney. Who, by the way, is still enjoying three square meals a day in federal custody. A shout-out to Michael Cohen, everybody.
Sure, there was that time I talked about going into their offices with a lance if they bothered Ivanka. That’s the day I decided I’d do some medieval references. And yes, I did say that a hundred thirty five grand is pocket change. Well, you can look at it one of two ways. To Vladimir Putin, that kind of money was pocket change if it meant keeping my client on a short leash. To my client, well, as much as he liked to pretend he was a billionaire, the numbers just never added up the way he wanted them to add up. So was that really pocket change for a guy who’s worth a lot less than the ten billion he claimed? I don’t know.
And yes, I laughed as if I was a bit unhinged that time someone asked if I might end up getting fired. It was deliberate. I wanted to come across as if my mind was taking a walk off the map. From the first day I got hired, I dedicated myself to doing my best to scuttle my client. And to do so in a way that guaranteed that no one would ever want to hire me again. Because all I wanted to do was retire.
And it didn’t really require that much effort. I mean, he was doing perfectly fine scuttling himself every time he tweeted. He left a big paper trail behind him that wasn’t that hard to follow, especially for someone as dogged and determined as Mueller is. Complete aside here- don’t ever play poker with Bob Mueller. The guy has the ultimate poker face.
So there I was, going on the news shows, putting my foot in my mouth as usual, making a fool of myself, confirming allegations and suspicions and all that other bad stuff about my client. There were days that I’d go off on a tangent and just say anything that came to mind. Like that Julius Caesar may or may not have been stabbed twenty three times by his friends, but if he was, he probably deserved it. And I did mention that Vlad the Impaler was misrepresented, and he impaled all those thousands of people in self-defense.
I could bring up that time I told Wolf Blitzer that an argument could be made that Jack the Ripper wasn’t murdering anyone, but cleaning up the neighbourhood. I took a lot of heat for that one. My client asked who Jack the Ripper was, and could we hire him for the EPA.
There was that infamous interview Megyn Kelly did with me. You’ve all seen it. We were talking about treason, and in the middle of it all, I pointed out that Benedict Arnold wasn’t a traitor. And then I doubled down on it, pointing out that at least when he sold out his country, he did it after he had saved it at Saratoga. And at least that part is true, right? And not the truth isn’t truth kind of true. My point was that Benedict Arnold’s actions should at least be put in context, and that if anyone was committing treason against their country, it was the rebels acting out against King George.
Yes. I said that. By that point my whole mindset was, ‘just say whatever the hell you want and who cares if you come across as crazy?’ It was all about helping along the process of scuttling the administration. Of course it didn’t help that when I came back to the Oval Office after that, my client asked if Benedict Arnold was ‘that guy with the funny accent playing Shylock Jones, and if he was, was he in the country legally.’
You all know where it went from there. That was near to the end. Impeachment, criminal charges, a trial, and imprisonment. For my client, that is. Not for me. No, I made sure that no matter what, I wouldn’t be going down with the ship. And so we find ourselves where we are today. President Pence isn’t making an effort for November. My client, the unfortunate former president, is languishing behind bars, deprived of his Twitter account. And I’m writing my next book, How To Screw Up Your Clients' Life Without Even Trying.
I’m going to leave you with this bit of advice as you go out into the real world of practicing the law and discover that you’re going to end up hating yourself. Look to your retirement, many years down the line. Keep that in mind. Get yourself ready for it. Live for it. Because you won’t always hate yourself. Someday you’ll get to be able to live a life of relative leisure and yell at kids to get off your lawn.
And if you find yourself in the meantime late in your career representing a client you hate, as I did, well, there’s nothing wrong with doing everything you can to screw things up for them, big time. Or bigly, as my client might have said before he was dragged off to federal prison for the next thirty years on a treason conviction.
I’m a big believer in a philosophical motto. If you’re going to go down, make sure you go down in a way that people remember you for. Even if you have to make a fool of yourself doing so.
I conclude with this: for all those times I said that Nine Eleven totally Nine Eleventh itself, that truth isn’t truth, and that sense is nonsense, there is still an argument to be made for the following- that Rudy Giuliani doesn’t exist, and that you’re all sitting here watching an empty podium.
Doesn’t that just blow your mind?”