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Serbia’s Mayor

Rudy Giuliani’s authoritarian clients.

Every week, thousands of Serbians bundle up in bed and flip on their televisions for their fix of “Evening with Ivan Ivanovic,” a cheesy “Late Show” knockoff complete with a live studio audience, a rock band, and an eager host clasping a coffee mug in front of a fake Belgrade skyline.

One evening this spring, Ivanovic proudly announced that his guest would be the first American ever to appear on the show. With gusto, the band struck up a brassy rendition of “New York, New York” and Rudy Giuliani, wearing his familiar toothy grin, descended a bright, glowing staircase to wild cheers. Ivanovic appeared starstruck, hitting Giuliani up for help landing a guest spot on Letterman. But he also seemed rather perplexed about what America’s Mayor was doing there. “We’re here to give Mr. Vucic, who is running for mayor, advice about economic development,” Giuliani explained.

Mr. Vucic—his first name is Aleksandar—is well-known to Ivanovic’s viewers. As Slobodan Milosevic’s minister of information, the former ultranationalist radical authored the notorious Information Law banning criticism of the government. Now he had brought Giuliani to Serbia to boost his campaign for the mayoralty of Belgrade. Vucic was running on the same ticket as presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolic—also known as “The Undertaker.” Like Vucic, Nikolic is a former member of the murderous Milosevic regime and an ex-acolyte of Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, who was recently convicted on contempt charges by a war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Earlier in the day, both men appeared with Giuliani at a news conference and introduced him as their “economic development adviser.”

Vucic’s opponent, the incumbent mayor, Dragan Djilas, had sarcastically suggested that afternoon that Vucic give Giuliani a tour of the bombed-out buildings that still remain from the NATO airstrikes Giuliani once supported. “How do you feel about [the bombings] now, after all this time has passed, after thirteen years?” Ivanovic asked. “I think the mayor should forget about it and move on to the future,” Giuliani shot back. There was a smattering of applause from the audience before Giuliani resumed his recounting of Compstat and other greatest hits from his tenure.

Giuliani may have been a hit on the show, but the U.S. Embassy in Serbia wasn’t so enthusiastic. On the day of the press conference, it issued a disavowal of his activities. Its displeasure most likely stemmed from the lingering questions about Vucic and Nikolic and their connection with Milosevic’s brutal reign. In recent years, both men have sought to repackage themselves as moderates. But many Serbians have been skeptical of this claim, and Giuliani’s appearance provided the candidates with a valuable endorsement at the height of their election campaigns. In late May, Vucic lost, but Nikolic won the presidency and a few weeks later denied on state television that atrocities had been committed in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces slaughtered 8,000 Muslims in 1995. “These are thugs,” says Tanya Domi, a Columbia University professor who worked in Sarajevo for the Clinton State Department. “What Giuliani is doing is shameful.”

Rudy Giuliani talked about becoming president ever since he was a student at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. But when he had his best shot at the office in 2008, entering the race as the Republican front-runner, he appeared unprepared and infuriatingly blasé. (Debate moderator: “Would the day that Roe v. Wade is repealed be a good day for Americans?” Giuliani: “It would be OK.”) In retrospect, it’s clear that by 2008 Giuliani’s almost primal pursuit of political power had started to give way to a more tangible goal: money.

In the years between the end of his term as New York City mayor and the start of the 2008 race, Giuliani built a consulting firm that grossed $100 million, according to The Washington Post. Giuliani Partners, composed of its namesake and his City Hall inner circle, leveraged the September 11 hero’s prestige, influence, and expertise on behalf of a wide array of corporations and foreign governments. Investigative reporters dined out for years on exposés about his work for questionable clients like the manufacturer of Oxycontin and the government of Qatar, and portrayed his strategic advice to the leaders of crime-ridden capitals such as Mexico City as little more than vain regurgitations of his zero-tolerance policies. Business dried up after his presidential campaign foundered, and loyalists from his City Hall days headed for the exits; joined his law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani; or, in the case of Bernie Kerik, went to jail. But Giuliani never stopped his consulting work.

Of course, Giuliani’s companies represent a gamut of above-board clients, including blue-chip corporations such as Apple and General Electric. However, it’s hard to get a complete picture, because the consulting firm has steadfastly refused to release its client list. And some of its work has been more dubious. Last year, Giuliani appeared with Keiko Fujimori, the right-wing Peruvian presidential candidate and daughter of the notorious former president, Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for (among other things) murder and kidnapping. Keiko, a Columbia University graduate with little political experience, has spent much of her career trying to rehabilitate her father’s name, which led to suspicions that he was running her campaign from prison. Unable to campaign on law-and-order issues without triggering memories of her autocratic father, Keiko did the next best thing and brought in New York’s famed law-and-order mayor. As in Serbia, Giuliani cast his consulting work for Fujimori as nonpolitical. “I’m not here to get involved in the politics of Peru,” he told a TV interviewer. “But if she gets elected, I’d be very happy to help her.” (Fujimori lost narrowly.)

Giuliani’s paid speaking gigs are no less controversial. In March, he traveled to Paris for the latest of several appearances on behalf of Mujahedin-e Khalq (commonly known as MEK), an Iranian-exile group appearing on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list. The group served as a militia for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war and assisted in Hussein’s slaughter of the Kurds in 1991. But MEK claims to have reformed itself and actively opposes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime. Giuliani joined a crowd of high-profile Democrats and Republicans who have been paid lavishly to argue that MEK’s members, branded as fanatical, violent, and cultish by the United States, are actually heroic freedom fighters. Giuliani has not revealed his fees, but others have been paid more than $150,000 to speak on MEK’s behalf and call for its removal from the terrorist list. Now the Treasury Department is investigating whether the speakers broke a law prohibiting Americans from doing business with designated terrorist groups. It’s ironic that Giuliani would appear before such an organization, but his image as an anti-terrorism warrior is precisely what MEK would prize.

The former mayor’s activities have troubled some of his long-time aides. “It’s totally mercenary,” says a confidant from his City Hall days. “It’s all about money.” That impression has been compounded by his growing presence on the Hamptons–Palm Beach–Upper East Side social circuit. Society magazines and blogs regularly feature Giuliani and his wife, Judith, mixing at galas with the likes of Tinsley Mortimer, Patricia Duff, and Countess Nathalie von Bismarck. Much of Giuliani Land is appalled. “These are people he wouldn’t even talk to,” says the former aide. “He wouldn’t look at them.” Says another, “It’s not the Rudy Giuliani we once knew.”

Giuliani himself declined to comment for this story, but Daniel Connolly, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani, argues that his boss is thriving in the post-political phase of his life. “I don’t see it as cashing in,” he says. “Taking experience and expertise and turning it into professional success, even in today’s America, it’s OK.”

In many ways, Giuliani is a victim of his own success. Short of becoming president, what else is left for a 68-year-old man who is admired around the world for his leadership, who was bestowed an honorary knighthood, and who was declared Time magazine’s Person of the Year? “I’ve told him, ‘You don’t owe people anything—you can do what you want,’” says his longtime political adviser Tony Carbonetti, who approves of Giuliani’s consulting.

Certainly, Giuliani does not have the kind of personality that’s suited to sharing the political limelight. This year, his efforts to remain politically relevant have proved awkward—during the GOP primaries, he played his cards badly, praising Newt Gingrich and lashing out at Mitt Romney with surprising venom. “He thinks he’s better than Romney,” says a confidant.

In the spring, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades reached out to Carbonetti, and the two arranged a meeting in which their bosses agreed to bury the hatchet. Giuliani subsequently endorsed Romney and took him to a Ground Zero firehouse on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing. But within weeks, Giuliani had botched his role as surrogate by boasting on CNN that he’d created far more jobs as mayor than Romney had as governor. (Associates say Giuliani later called Romney and apologized.) Giuliani’s advisers maintain he’s still a viable candidate for a big Cabinet post, but it’s not clear he’s interested in leaving the private sector.

Few would deny Giuliani the right to enjoy the fruits of his wildly successful career as a prosecutor and mayor. And to be sure, K Street is filled with former elected officials representing despots and dictators. But thanks to his September 11 heroics, Giuliani occupies a category of his own in American politics. At times, he has reached greatness, as anyone who watched him lead a terrified citizenry that day can attest. You can’t put a price on that, which is why you shouldn’t try to.

Andrew Kirtzman is the author of Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City. This article appeared in the August 2, 2012 issue of the magazine.