The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has long been a shining symbol of America’s grit, strength and steadfast devotion to the rule of law.
Nestled in lower Manhattan near Wall Street, the office’s Manhattan bureau is teeming with lawyers who would be multimillionaires if they were working a few blocks to the south – elite legal minds who forewent Ferraris and Brioni suits for the opportunity to wage intellectual warfare with some of the world’s most sophisticated criminals.
The list of office alumni includes governors, Congressmen, Attorneys General, FBI directors, Supreme Court justices and lawyers of world renown from every era throughout history. The list also includes James Comey and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom served at the top post in the office – considered by more than a few to be the most prestigious prosecutorial job in the country aside from U.S. Attorney General.
Comey and Giuliani had starkly different leadership styles: Giuliani was brash and outspoken; Comey low-key and conservative. But both were tremendously effective, and their careers would continue to flourish once they left the office.
Giuliani would become mayor of New York during 9/11, while Comey would pursue other leadership posts within the Department of Justice – ultimately serving as FBI director. Both men commanded respect, having earned as much over many years of hard work and successful leadership.
Then Donald Trump entered their lives.
Comey can now be found on the press circuit, hawking a new autobiography and trading jabs with the president and his coterie of advisors. The events surrounding his firing by Trump have been played and replayed in the media ad nauseam over the past year, and Comey’s decisions as FBI director have been scrutinized by politicians and talking heads on both ends of the political spectrum.
Few public figures have been as polarizing over the past year – some consider Comey a liar and a hack, while others find him to be a good and honest man who did the best he could in the face of immense pressure and unprecedented circumstances. At this point, it is an open question as to how Comey’s legacy will be treated in the annals of American history.
Giuliani has made the rounds on the press circuit as one of Trump’s most staunch defenders since before the election, and his latest incarnation is in the role of Trump’s legal quarterback for the Russia investigations.
But it is quickly becoming clear that Giuliani is not a great fit for this role – his erratic behavior and dubious grasp of the facts will not serve the president well in the long-run – and he now runs the risk that his work as U.S. Attorney and “America’s Mayor” will be forever obscured by his relationship with this controversial president.
One thing seems clear: Both men will bear scars from Trump for the rest of their lives. Regardless of how much money Comey makes on his new book, it’s a safe bet that he’d rather still be running the FBI, and that he would rather restore his reputation to its pre-2016 election stature.
Giuliani is losing in his role as Trump’s attorney and chief apologist. Trump already passed Giuliani up for a top post in his administration, and his curious performance as the president’s newest lawyer will do his reputation no favors.
Trump has even pitted the two men – once trusted colleagues in the DOJ – against each other. The two men once shared prosecutorial assignments, but they have now been reduced to trading barbs on the television set.
It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. Both men will emerge from Trump’s orbit with scars that will never heal.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.