Opinion | Rudy Giuliani has only two safe options in Georgia
If he follows through with plans to use attorney-client privilege over Trump, Giuliani may be setting himself up for failure in Georgia.
News that Rudy Giuliani is now a “target” of the Fulton County, Georgia, criminal investigation into possible election interference came from his attorney on Monday. It is the latest accelerant in a fiery fall from grace. While it is not uncommon for politicians to become targets of criminal investigations, it is certainly rarer for former top law enforcement officials, in part because they typically understand the criminal justice system better than most.
His role in Donald Trump’s orbit over the years has led many to question whether Giuliani (a lawyer who also served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department) has forgotten how the system works. And hearing that he will probably use attorney-client privilege as a shield against the investigation in Georgia is the latest head-scratching instance. According to The New York Times, Giuliani’s lawyer mentioned the possibility in an interview. It is arrogant and misguided of Giuliani to think that invoking attorney-client privilege is an effective strategy.
At this point, he has only two safe options. He can invoke the Fifth Amendment repeatedly, or he can negotiate a cooperation deal with not only Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, but also the Justice Department. Such broad deals are often referred to as “global” cooperation and plea bargains, and it is the only way Giuliani may be able to put an end to what otherwise will be an ever-growing line of investigations and potential charges.
Any other strategy on his part is just wishful thinking. Attorney General Merrick Garland and other prosecutors may struggle over whether to take the unprecedented step of criminally charging a former president, but they will have little compunction about charging, prosecuting and seeking jail time for an allegedly crooked lawyer.
As it has time and time again, Richard Nixon’s presidency gives us the most recent historical context to understand what sort of corruption was happening while Trump was in office. The Watergate experiences of then-Attorney General John Mitchell and former White House counsel John Dean exemplify what can happen when lawyers are seduced away from their ethical standards by the attraction of currying favor with the powerful.
Mitchell, the only attorney general to be imprisoned, was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and lying under oath and sentenced to 2½ to eight years in prison for his part in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. After his release from prison, he was disbarred. Dean, who ultimately acted in good conscience and became a Watergate whistleblower, for which he is deservingly lionized today, was also convicted. He pleaded guilty to a single count of obstruction of justice for his part in Watergate and served time. His guilty plea, part of his cooperation agreement with the Justice Department, resulted in a lesser sentence of 127 days of incarceration, but it did not spare him from sharing Mitchell’s fate of being disbarred and losing his license to practice law.
Giuliani has not yet been charged or convicted, but if he is, he could end up sharing the fate of Mitchell and Dean, as his license to practice law has already been suspended in New York and Washington, D.C., for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election.